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, November 30, 2017

The “Farmer” Starts to Speak 250 Years Ago

On 30 Nov 1767, two and a half centuries ago today, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser began to publish the series of essays signed “A Farmer.”

Those essays were quickly picked up by other printers, first in Philadelphia and then in other American ports. In 1768 they were collected under the title Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. They became the most influential political writing to appear in America until the Revolutionary War.

The “Farmer” was John Dickinson (1732-1808, shown here), already a prominent lawyer, politician, and estate owner in Delaware and Pennsylvania (which were then administratively linked). He had served as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, but the Letters made him a leading American Whig.

Dickinson’s first letter was dated 5 November. Three weeks was an unusually long gap between the composition of an eighteenth-century newspaper essay and its publication, and it’s conceivable that Dickinson took that time to write further.

More likely, however, he carefully chose the date of 5 November because it was auspicious in British history. That was the anniversary of the foiling of Guy Fawkes’s attack on Parliament in 1605 and also the anniversary of William III’s landing in England to depose James II in 1688.

The first grievance that the “Farmer” brought up wasn’t the Townshend Act but London’s insistence that the New York assembly supply basic necessities to the king’s troops in that province. That was a relatively small matter, affecting only one colony—the colony that benefited most directly from the business and protection of those troops. But Dickinson wrote that no such demands were permitted by the British constitution: “This I call an innovation; and a most dangerous innovation.”

By focusing on that issue first, Dickinson told his readers that there was more at stake than “external taxes” on imports from Britain. Colonists couldn’t assume the London government would stop with tariffs. And by taking up New York’s grievance, he signaled that no colony should have to resist alone; that first essay closed by chiding the Pennsylvania legislature for not protesting on New York’s behalf.

In Massachusetts, Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette started reprinting the “Farmer’s Letters” on 14 December. Ironically, the only other local newspaper that published all of them was John Mein’s Boston Chronicle, which would soon become the voice of the royal government. But by spring 1768 all of Boston’s newspapers—even Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter—were filled with praise for Dickinson’s essays.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Thanksgiving Proclamation at Old South

The controversy over Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation in 1771 caused particular trouble in Boston’s largest meetinghouse, the Old South.

That church had not had a placid year. In 1769 its minister, the Rev. Samuel Blair, had suddenly resigned and moved out of the colony. The congregation spent more than a year recruiting a new permanent minister, finally deciding in January 1771 to hire two men:
But then Blair got back in touch, and church committees spent several more months settling with him. That meant the new team of Hunt and Bacon wasn’t installed until 25 September.

A month later, Gov. Hutchinson issued his holiday proclamation. Boston’s Whigs started to organize congregations into pressing their ministers not to read it, aiming their efforts for 10 November because by custom ministers in Boston shared such announcements two Sundays before the Thanksgiving.

But on 3 November, with Hunt home in Northampton, Bacon read that proclamation at Old South.

Ten days later, Samuel Adams wrote to Arthur Lee:
[Bacon] being a Stranger in the province, & having been settled but about Six Weeks, performd the servile task a week before the usual Time when the people were not aware of it, they were however much disgusted at it.
The 11 November Boston Gazette went further:
It is said the Worshipping Assembly at the Old South Church, whose Pastor had so prematurely as well as unexpectedly in the Absence of his senior Colleague, read the Governor’s Proclamation with the exceptionable Clause, stopped after divine Service was ended Yesterday, and express’d their great Dissatisfaction at that Part of the Rev. Mr. Bacon’s conduct.
The “senior Colleague,” Hunt, was actually younger and had fewer years as a minister than Bacon, though he had graduated college a year earlier.

The 25 November Gazette ran a longer commentary on the controversy at Old South. The Thanksgiving holiday had already passed, but printers Edes and Gill said that the letter had been left at their office the previous week when they didn’t have space in the newspaper.

That article tried to lift the blame off Bacon, saying:
Mr. Bacon desired the brethren of the church and congregation to stop after divine service was ended, in order (as is usual before our anniversary thanksgiving) to vote a collection for charitable and pious uses; after which a motion was made, the import of which was to consider whether our public thanks should be agreeable to the tenor of the exceptionable clause in the Proclamation; not a word was said in the meeting about Mr. Bacon’s conduct.

It is generally supposed (and I have reason to think justly) that Mr. Bacon being a stranger, and not having been informed of the usual time of reading the proclamation, conceived a propriety in its being read as soon as might conveniently be done after it came to hand. Nor do I know of any reason that can be given why it is not as proper to be read three Sabbaths before the day appointed for publick thanksgiving, as two; especially as custom is various in this respect.

It seems to be represented as a great piece of imprudence in Mr. Bacon to presume to read the proclamation in the absence of his Senior colleague. As to the terms Junior and Senior, I think them hardly worth mentioning, and I hope our kind Pastors will never be disposed to contend for the chief rooms, or who shall be the greatest. . . .
The essay was signed “S.C.” Those were the initials of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper of the Brattle Street Meetinghouse, one of Boston’s most respected and politically active ministers. Did Cooper write this letter to exonerate Bacon? Did someone else borrow his initials to do so? There’s no way to know, but it’s notable that in his detailed letter on the Thanksgiving controversy Cooper claimed that the Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton was the only Boston minister to read the proclamation, shielding Bacon.

Bacon didn’t have a long tenure at Old South. The church dismissed him in February 1775 after the congregation had come to dislike his theology and preaching style. He moved to Stockbridge, took up the law, and entered politics, eventually serving one term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As for Hunt, he died back home in Northampton in December 1775. Which meant that after the siege ended, Old South had to look for a permanent minister again. That process took until 1779.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Proclamation “read in our churches last Sunday”?

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper no doubt had an inside view of the Boston Whigs’ efforts to organize political resistance to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and his 1771 Thanksgiving proclamation.

Indeed, Cooper was probably one of the Boston ministers who came out early to promise he wouldn’t read the proclamation to his congregation. In his 14 November letter to London, he described the controversy:
The Governor’s Proclamation for an Annual Thanksg., was to have been read in our churches last Sunday, in w’ch among other things, we are call’d upon to give thanks to Heav’n for the Continuance of our Privileges. This was deem'd by the People an open Insult upon them, and a prophane Mockery of Heav’n. The general cry was, we have lost our Most essential Rights, and shall be commanded to give Thanks for what does not exist.

Our congregations applied to the several Ministers in Town praying it might not be read as usual, and declaring if we offer’d to do it, they w’d rise up and leave the Ch[urc]h. And tho no little Pains was taken by the Governor’s Friends to get over this Difficulty and to explain away the sense of the clause by saying all were agreed we had some Privileges left, and that no more was meant by the Public Act than such Privileges as we in Fact enjoy’d, all w’d not avail.

Had the Ministers inclined it was not in their Pow’r to read it, a circumstance w’ch never before [took] Place among us. It was read only in Dr [Ebenezer] Pemberton’s Church, of which the Governor is a Member. He did it with confusion, and Numbers turn’d their Backs upon him and left the Chh in great indignation.
The 11 November Boston Gazette’s version of that event was:
We hear the Proclamation which has given so much Offence to the good People of this Province, was read in no other Congregational Church in this Town than the American Manufactor’d Doctors, which gave so much Uneasiness to his Hearers, that many of them took their Hatts and walk’d out while he was reading it.
Pemberton’s honorary doctorate in divinity had come from Princeton College rather than one of the prestigious universities in Britain.

The rural meetinghouses were a bigger challenge for the Boston Whigs, however. Cooper wrote:
It was I believe thro want of attention, and an opportunity of consulting one another, read by a Majority of Ministers in the Country Parishes. One Association of the Clergy happening however to meet at the Time, agreed to reject it: and it has been read by few Ministers, if any who have not declar’d either their Sorrow for so doing, or that they read it as a public Act, without adopting the Sentiments: and that it is their intention on the appointed day, w’ch is next Thursday, to give Thanks for the Privileges we enjoy, and implore of the Almighty God the restoration of w’ch we have lost.
The 18 November Boston Post-Boy reported, “the Ministers in general in the several Towns in the Country have read to their respective Congregations the Proclamantion for a Thanksgiving, as usual.”

Whig printers tried to highlight exceptional cases. The 12 November Essex Gazette of Salem stated:
One of the Reverend Ministers in this Town in reading the Proclamation for a Thanksgiving, last Sunday, omitted the Clauses which recommend the offering up Thanks for a Continuance of our civil and religious Privileges, and an enlarged Commerce.
The 22 November Massachusetts Spy quoted a clergyman from an unspecified place outside Boston as saying:
I am well informed that there is a proclamation issued forth by authority, appointing the next Thursday to be a day of public Thanksgiving. I would therefore earnestly request that the inhabitants of this place would assemble on said day, to render the utmost tribute of praise to our Divine Benefactor, for the mercies which we REALLY enjoy, through the unmerited bounty of his providence. Not forgeting, at the same time to bewail the loss of those Previledges of which we are deprived by our fellow men, through his permission; upon which it will manifestly appear that our rejoicing ought to be with trembling.
That last line was a reference to Psalms 2:11.

The Rev. Joseph Sumner of Shrewsbury added the words “some of” before “our rights and privileges.” The copy of the proclamation photographed for the Early American Imprints microfiche includes that insertion (as shown above), so it might be the Shrewsbury copy, or someone else may have made the same change.

Boston also had three congregations in the Church of England, and their ministers usually supported the royal government. But they didn’t read the governor’s words. As Samuel Adams wrote, “it has not been customary ever to read” Thanksgiving proclamations in Anglican churches. That was a Puritan holiday, and Anglicans reserved their celebrating for Christmas.

TOMORROW: The controversy at Old South.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Governor’s Thanksgiving Proclamation as a “solemn mockery”

By law, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation for 1771 was supposed to be read out by the ministers of all the meetinghouses in Massachusetts.

That’s why the colony commissioned Richard Draper to print the proclamation in broadside. Those sheets were distributed across the province. The four weeks between the proclamation and the holiday left time for the announcement to reach the far corners of British settlement.

Those weeks also gave the Whigs time to organize resistance. As I noted last week, the first sign of opposition was Boston’s most radical newspapers not printing the governor’s proclamation. But the real battleground would be in the province’s pulpits.

On 7 November, Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy carried the Whigs’ message to congregations inside Boston and out:
We are informed that the ensuing Thanksgiving affords matter of more serious thought, and general conversation than any thing of the king that has yet happened in New-England. Is it not amazing indeed, that the Governor should recommend it to the ministers and their congregations to return thanks to Almighty God, that he has been pleased to continue to them their civil and religious privileges?

It is said some of the clergy have already come to a resolution to leave out that extraordinary clause, as they cannot in conscience carry on such a solemn mockery before their people; and many gentlemen of character have declared, that in case their ministers should read it as it stands in the proclamation, they will immediately depart the meeting.

It is full time to put off that false and dangerous compliance, which can only encourage our enemies to make farther experiments of what we will bear.

We can assure the public, that a number of the members of one of the Worshiping Assemblies in this town, waited upon their Reverend Pastor yesterday,…and that their minister expressed his hearty concurrence with them in sentiment, and declared that he should omit reading the Proclamation.

A second reverend clergyman has declared, that it is against his conscience to offer up such an insult to the Deity, and shall therefore read no part of the proclamation.

We have authority to say that a number of the Rev. Pastors of the CHURCHES in this town, are determined, not to offer up on the day of our Thanksgiving, the solemn mockery recommended to them by Mr. Hutchinson in his proclamation, “for continuing to us our civil and religious privileges” which he well knows are RAVISHED from us.

It is hoped the Clergy in the country will follow the laudable example. The favours of providence are innumerable, and it is among the first of them that we unanimously agree, to resist TYRANNY. Let us be unfeignedly thankfull for them all, and in sincerity express it on that day.
The Boston Whigs of course had the most influence in Boston and nearby, and the merchants in Massachusetts’s smaller ports shared many interests with the Bostonians. But most of the province still consisted of country farming towns, and they had never been as militant about London’s new measures.

TOMORROW: How well did that campaign work?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Shorto on Revolution Song in Boston, 30 Nov.

Back in 2009, Ray Raphael contributed a “guest blogger” posting here about his book Founders, which traces the history of the Revolution through seven individuals.

Ray wrote: “One of the characters is a given: George Washington. There is absolutely no way we can tell the larger story of the war and the nation’s founding without him. We know this. But who else?” That question prompted a couple of days of discussion of candidates.

Now journalist and historian Russell Shorto has taken up a similar challenge with his book Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom. It retells the Revolution through six figures:
Coghlan brings some scandalous glamour to the project since she and Aaron Burr were reportedly an item early in the war and she later became a courtesan in London. In Revolutionary Ladies, Philip Young presented evidence that Coghlan died years before her Memoir was published, suggesting that at least some of its tales were fraudulent. Shorto argues instead that Coghlan faked her death and fled to Paris. So that’s interesting right there.

Shorto will present Revolution Song at the Massachusetts Historical Society on Thursday, 30 November. The event will start with a reception at 5:30 P.M., and Shorto will speak and sign books starting at 6:00. Registration costs $10.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Why the 1771 Thanksgiving Proclamation Was “Offensive”

So why were Boston’s Whigs so upset about Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation for 1771? What was their problem with the phrase about thanking God for having ”continue[d] to them their civil and religious Privileges”?

For years those politicians had complained about new laws from London violating their established liberties. In 1771, though the Stamp Act and most of the Townshend duties had been repealed and the army regiments removed from town, the tariff on tea and the Customs Commissioners remained. And they no doubt could name other causes for concern.

Silently accepting Hutchinson’s statement that “their civil and religious Privileges” remained intact would lead, in the Whig way of thinking, to losing their claim to those rights and eventually to political slavery.

On 14 November, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper (shown above) laid out the thinking behind his party’s response in a letter to former governor Thomas Pownall in London:
It has been said that the Governor’s intention in adopting this obnoxious Clause, w’ch tho formerly a customary clause, has been omitted ever since the Stamp Act was to convey an Idea to your side of the water, an Idea that the People were become Sensible that they were really free and happy. If this was his intention He was unlucky in the meanes, and I believe wishes from His Heart He had never made the experiment. I mention these circumstances so particularly in Confidence and because nothing has of late occur’d among us from which you may so well Judg of the Sentiments of the People.

I had almost forgot to mention another Clause in the Proclamation w’ch respect the Increase of our Trade, which under our present Embarrassments, and the enormous Extention of the Pow’r of Admiralty Courts, was almost as offensive as the other.
Many of those Whigs also resented Hutchinson for, in their eyes, having used a Thanksgiving proclamation—a religious message—for a political purpose. One particularly devout politician, Samuel Adams, contributed a long piece for the 11 November Boston Gazette signed “Candidus” which said:
The sin which the people of Israel were prevail’d upon by Jeroboam the son of Nebat to commit, respected their religious worship on a Thanksgiving day: He had ordained a solemn festival to be kept at Bethel; in which, it seems, he had a particular view to serve a political purpose: And the people knew it, although he had artfully endeavored to colour it with a plausible appearance.
Subtle allegory, no?

COMING UP: The Whigs choose their battleground.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Publishing the 1771 Thanksgiving Proclamation

I’ve been considering Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation in 1771, one of the many bones of contention in Revolutionary Boston. Hutchinson’s own account may have been accurate in the basics but it wasn’t in all details, so I’m doubling back into other sources, starting with the newspapers.

On 17 October the Boston News-Letter, the paper closest to the royal government, reported that Hutchinson would name 21 November as the holiday. The Monday papers, most in opposition to the governor or neutral, repeated that news. People wanted early notice to plan for the holiday.

Gov. Hutchinson didn’t issue his official proclamation until 23 October. He might well have been working on its text. Some people later said “ONE of the council” had proposed reinstating language from before 1761 about the province’s “civil and religious Rights and Liberties.” Harbottle Dorr wrote in his newspaper collection that this Councilor was “supposed to be Colo. [William] Brattle.”

In 1765 Brattle (shown above) had marched with Ebenezer Mackintosh against the Stamp Act. He was one of Gov. Francis Bernard’s biggest thorns on the Council. In the 1770s he moved closer to the royal prerogative party, eventually sealing his fate as a Loyalist by setting off the “Powder Alarm” of 1774. But in 1771 Brattle might have sincerely still felt he was a Whig and that his colleagues should be pleased by the new governor acknowledging traditional liberties in traditional phrasing. Hutchinson probably liked the idea of reestablishing normalcy.

The governor’s final text went to Richard Draper, the printer with the contract from the province and Council to issue such official announcements as broadsides. Draper also published the News-Letter, and the proclamation appeared in that newspaper on 24 October. The Boston Evening-Post, Boston Post-Boy, and Essex Gazette of Salem ran the text on their front pages the following week.

Notably, Gov. Hutchinson’s proclamation didn’t appear in Edes and Gill’s 28 October Boston Gazette or in either 24 October or 31 October issues of Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy. Those were the most radical newspapers in Boston. Their printers appear to have made a choice not to give any space to the governor’s proclamation.

Those newspapers ran another item of Council business instead—Hutchinson’s complaint about the Gazette publishing an essay by “Junius Americanus” (the Virginia-born London lobbyist Arthur Lee) that called province secretary Andrew Oliver a “perjured traitor.” The Spy also published another in a series of essays signed “Mucius Scaevola,” this one complaining about the governor, the Customs Commissioners, and Secretary of State Hillsborough all at once.

TOMORROW: The Whig objections to Gov. Hutchinson’s language.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

“Our Civil and Religious Rights and Liberties”

In the last, posthumously published volume of his History of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson claimed that “the continuance of civil and religious liberties had constantly, perhaps without exception, been mentioned” in royal governors’ Thanksgiving proclamations.

Therefore, in using that language in his 1771 proclamation, Hutchinson said he was merely following tradition. So any objections to his phrasing had to be an artificial controversy.

But what does the historical record say? Gov. William Shirley’s Thanksgiving proclamation for 1754 [all these proclamation links lead to P.D.F. files] and Lt. Gov. Spencer Phips’s for 1756 do indeed include some variant of the phrase about civil and religious liberties.

Gov. Thomas Pownall (shown here), a favorite of the local Whigs, used such language consistently during his short administration:
  • Declaring a Thanksgiving on 27 Oct 1757, “to continue to the People of this Province their civil and religious Rights and Privileges.”
  • 23 Nov 1758, “to support Us in our Civil and Religious Rights and Liberties.”
  • 29 Nov 1759, “to continue to us the Enjoyment of our civil and religious Rights and Liberties.”
At first Gov. Francis Bernard adhered to that tradition:
  • 27 Sept 1760, for war victories “whereby the future Security of our Civil and Religious Liberties is put into our own Hands.”
  • 27 Nov 1760, mentioning “general liberties, as well religious as civil.”
But in 1761, coinciding with the ascension of George III, the writs of assistance case, and the emergence of political opposition under James Otis, Jr., Bernard stopped including language about Massachusetts’s liberties.

No such phrase appeared in the governor’s Thanksgiving proclamations for 3 Dec 1761; 7 Oct 1762, celebrating war victories; 9 Dec 1762; 11 Aug 1763, for peace; 8 Dec 1763; 29 Nov 1764; 5 Dec 1765; 24 July 1766, for the repeal of the Stamp Act; 27 Nov 1766; 3 Dec 1767; and 1 Dec 1768. In August 1769, Bernard left the province.

The responsibility of declaring Thanksgivings thus fell to Lt. Gov. Hutchinson. For the holidays on 16 Nov 1769 and 6 Dec 1770, he stuck to Bernard’s model, not mentioning “liberties.”

Thus, contrary to what Hutchinson the historian wrote, in 1771 Hutchinson the governor didn’t simply use language that “had constantly, perhaps without exception,” appeared in Thanksgiving proclamations. He returned to a tradition that had last prevailed over a decade before—a decade in which a lot had changed in Massachusetts politics.

(Incidentally, Gov. John Wentworth of New Hampshire had included phrases like “the Continuance of our Civil and Ecclesiastical Privileges” in his Thanksgiving proclamations since 1767. But the political conflict wasn’t so deep there.)

TOMORROW: The Whig reaction.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“They could not join in giving thanks”

Yesterday I shared the 1771 Thanksgiving proclamation issued by Gov. Thomas Hutchinson (shown here). It quickly became a source of controversy.

Why? In his role as historian, Hutchinson presented his side of the story this way:
It had been a long, uninterrupted practice for the governor, as soon as harvest was over, to issue every year a proclamation for a publick thanksgiving, and, among the enumerated publick mercies, the continuance of civil and religious liberties had constantly, perhaps without exception, been mentioned. The proclamation, by advice of council, was issued this year in the usual form.

After the people of the province had been prepared for such an attempt by the publick newspapers, a number of persons, in the character of a committee, attended upon the ministers of Boston, to desire that they would not read the proclamation to their congregations. One had read it; the rest, one excepted [the Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton], complied with the desire of the committee. There was not sufficient time to prepare the ministers of the country towns. Some, however, declined reading it; and some declared in the pulpit, that if the continuance of all our liberties was intended, they could not join in giving thanks.

It having been the constant practice to read such proclamations in all the churches through the province, a more artful method of exciting the general attention of the people, which would otherwise, for want of subject, have ceased, could not have been projected.
Hutchinson thus presented the objections to the phrase “the continuance of civil and religious liberties” as an artificial controversy, ginned up by the Whig political faction to attack him.

And it’s true that 1771 had been a quiet year. With no troops stationed in Boston and most of the Townshend duties repealed, Samuel Adams was having trouble finding ways to demonstrate the imperial government’s overreach that resonated with the people.

But Hutchinson overstated his case as well.

TOMORROW: Examining the Thanksgiving record.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“A Day of Publick Thanksgiving” in 1771

By tradition, the royal governor of Massachusetts proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in the province every autumn, usually in late November or early December.

(Governors sometimes also proclaimed Thanksgivings in response to military challenges or triumphs, but those special days didn’t replace the late-autumn holiday.)

On 23 Oct 1771, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson followed that ritual, announcing that 21 November would be a Thanksgiving. This was the first year he could issue that proclamation as governor rather than as lieutenant governor acting in the absence of a governor.

Hutchinson’s proclamation stated:
FORASMUCH as the frequent Religious Observance of Days of Publick Thanksgiving tends to excite and preserve in our Minds a due Sense of our Obligations to GOD, our daily Benefactor, the Mercies of whose common Providence are altogether unmerited by us.:

I HAVE therefore thought fit to appoint, and I do, with the Advice of His Majesty’s Council, appoint Thursday the Twenty-first day of November next, to be observed as a Day of Publick Thanksgiving throughout the Province, recommending to Ministers and People to assemble on that Day in the several Churches or Places for Religious Worship, and to offer up their humble and hearty Thanks to Almighty GOD, for all the Instances of his Goodness and Loving-kindness to us in the Course of the Year past; more especially for that He has been pleased to continue the Life and Health of our Sovereign Lord the KING—to increase His Illustrious Family by the Birth of a Prince—to succeed His Endeavours for preserving the Blessing of Peace to His Dominions, when threatned with the Judgment of War—to afford a good Measure of Health to the People of this Province----to continue to them their civil and religious Privileges—to enlarge and increase their Commerce----and to favour them with a remarkably plentiful Harvest.

AND I further recommend to the several Religious Assemblies aforesaid, to accompany their Thanksgivings with devout and fervent Prayers to the Giver of every good and perfect Gift, that we may be enabled to shew forth his Praise not only with our Lips, but in our Lives, by giving ourselves to his Service, and by walking before Him in Holiness and Righteousness all our Days.

AND all servile Labour is forbidden on the said Day.
That proclamation sparked a province-wide controversy with committees of protest, newspaper essays, ministers refusing to read the proclamation from their pulpits as written or being criticized by their congregations if they did.

Can you tell what was so controversial about Gov. Hutchinson’s wording?

TOMORROW: The offending phrase.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Visit to Marlborough, 28 Nov.

On Tuesday, 28 November, I’ll speak about The Road to Concord to the Marlborough Historical Society.

The town of Marlborough pops up multiple times in the story that book tells, starting with how it reportedly sent both infantry and mounted militia companies to the “Powder Alarm” on 2 Sept 1774.

The following February, British officers Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere came to Marlborough dressed in civilian clothing. They had a short but memorable visit, as DeBerniere reported to Gen. Thomas Gage:
At two o’clock it ceased snowing a little, and we resolved to set off for Marlborough, which was about sixteen miles off; we found the roads very bad, every step up to our ankles; we passed through Sudbury, a very large village, near a mile long, the causeway lies across a great swamp, or overflowing of the river Sudbury, and commanded by a high ground on the opposite side;

nobody took the least notice of us until we arrived within three miles of Marlborough, (it was snowing hard all the while) when a horseman overtook us and asked us from whence we came, we said from Weston, he asked if we lived there, we said no; he then asked us where we resided, and as we found there was no evading his questions, we told him we lived at Boston; he then asked us where we were going, we told him to Marlborough, to see a friend, (as we intended to go to Mr. [Henry] Barns’s, a gentleman to whom we were recommended, and a friend to government;)

he then asked us if we were in the army, we said not, but were a good deal alarmed at his asking us that question; he asked several rather impertinent questions, and then rode on for Marlborough, as we suppose, to give them intelligence there of our coming,—for on our entering the town, the people came out of their houses (tho’ it snowed and blew very hard) to look at us, in particular a baker asked Capt. Brown where are you going master, he answered on to see Mr. Barnes.—

We proceeded to Mr. Barnes’s, and on our beginning to make an apology for taking the liberty to make use of his house and discovering to him that we were officers in disguise, he told us we need not be at the pains of telling him, that he knew our situation, that we were very well known (he was afraid) by the town’s people.—

We begged he would recommend some tavern where we should be safe, he told us we could be safe no where but in his house; that the town was very violent, and that we had been expected at Col. [Abraham] Williams’s [tavern] the night before, where there had gone a party of liberty people to meet us,—(we suspected, and indeed had every reason to believe, that the horseman [Timothy Bigelow] that met us and took such particular notice of me the morning we left Worcester, was the man who told them we should be at Marlborough the night before, but our taking the Framingham road when he had passed us, deceived him:)—Whilst we were talking the people were gathering in little groups in every part of the town.—

Mr. Barnes asked us who had spoke to us on our coming into the town, we told him a baker; he seemed a little startled at that, told us he was a very mischievous fellow, and that there was a deserter at his house; Capt. Brown asked the man’s name, he said it was [John] Swain, that he had been a drummer; Brown knew him too well, as he was a man of his own company, and had not been gone above a month—so we found we were discovered.—We asked Mr. Barnes if they did get us into their hands, what they would do with us; he did not seem to like to answer; we asked him again, he then said we knew the people very well, that we might expect the worst of treatment from them.—

Immediately after this, Mr. Barnes was called out; he returned a little after and told us the doctor of the town had come to tell him he was come to sup with him—(now this fellow had not been within Mr. Barnes’s doors for two years before, and came now for no other business than to see and betray us)—Barnes told him he had company and could not have the pleasure of attending him that night; upon this the fellow stared about the house and asked one of Mr. Barnes’s children who her father had got with him, the child innocently answered that she had asked her pappa, but he told her it was not her business; he then went, I suppose, to tell the rest of his crew.—

When we found we were in that situation, we resolved to lie down for two or three hours, and set off at twelve o’clock at night; so we got some supper on the table and were just beginning to eat, when Barnes (who had been making enquiry of his servants) found they intended to attack us, and then he told us plainly he was very uneasy for us, that we could be no longer in safety in that town: upon which we resolved to set off immediately, and asked Mr. Barnes if there was no road round the town, so that we might not be seen; he took us out of his house by the stables, and directed us a bye road which was to lead us a quarter of a mile from the town,

it snowed and blew as much as ever I see it in my life; however, we walked pretty fast, fearing we should be pursued; at first we felt much fatigued, having not been more than twenty minutes at Mr. Barnes’s to refresh ourselves, and the roads (if possible) were worse than when we came; but in a little time after it wore off, and we got without being perceived, as far as the hills that command the causeway at Sudbury, and went into a little wood where we eat a bit of bread that we took from Mr. Barnes’s, and eat a little snow to wash it down.—

After that we proceeded about one hundred yards, when a man came out of a house and said those words to Capt. Brown, “What do you think will become of you now,”…
Henry Barnes appears above in a portrait by Prince Demah, once one of his slaves. A few years before this encounter, Whigs in Marlborough had tarred and feathered Barnes’s horse to punish him for buying goods from Britain in defiance of the non-importation agreement. I’m sure he remembered that as he led the officers “out of his house by the stables.”

I expect a warmer welcome in Marlborough on 28 November. My talk is scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M. in the Little Theater of Marlborough High School, 431 Bolton Street. I’ll bring copies of my book for purchase and signing.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Bearded Portrait Painter in 1753

British and American gentlemen of the middle and late eighteenth century didn’t wear beards.

Revolutionary War reenacting groups have to decide whether their adult male members must shave off their beards, mustaches, or [most distinguished of all] sideburns for events to make the most accurate visual impression.

Sometimes people try to argue that merely because we don’t see beards in portraits doesn’t mean men never wore them. Beards may have been rare but still common enough not to provoke remarks.

Back in 2012 I wrote a couple of postings about the Boston shoemaker William Scott which refute that argument. For religious reasons he grew his beard long. And his appearance was so unusual he scared children on the street.

Recently I ran across another discussion of a bearded man in the eighteenth-century British Empire at the Walpole 300 site. Jean Etienne Liotard was a portrait painter who spent years in the eastern Mediterranean region. The Lewis Walpole Library explains:
European travelers to the Levant commonly adopted local costumes, including caftans and turbans, but upon returning to Europe, they shaved their beards and shed their oriental dress. (Gullström et al., 187.) Not so Liotard, who had taken a liking to the loose Turkish garments and continued to wear them throughout the rest of his life. In 1743, when the artist arrived in Vienna, he caused an immediate sensation with his oriental robes, large fur hat, and the long beard he had grown according to local custom while in Moldova at the court of prince Constantin Mavrocordato. He attracted the attention of Empress Maria-Theresa and soon received prestigious commissions at the imperial court.

In 1748, Liotard traveled on to Paris where he exhibited his beard and costume at the opera in order to stimulate interest in his person, and thus to enhance his business as a portraitist. In fact, some of Liotard’s critics claimed that his success depended entirely on his sartorial performance rather than on his talents as a painter. . . .

In 1753, Horace Walpole described Liotard’s arrival in England in a letter to Horace Mann, pointing out the artist’s exotic looks: “From having lived in Constantinople he wears a Turkish habit and a beard down to his girdle: this and his extravagant prices, which he has raised even beyond what he asked at Paris, will probably get him as much money as he covets for he is avaricious beyond imagination.” (Walpole, Correspondence, 20:362.)
The Lewis Walpole Library owns the miniature portrait shown above, which is inscribed “Liotard / by Himself / 1753.” Lady Maria Churchill gave it to Horace Walpole, her older half-brother. And I’m sure we can agree that that’s an impressive beard—especially since no other man in Britain was wearing anything like it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Preserving the Memories of Lesser-Known Bostonians

This month the city of Boston announced that it had established a “pattern library” for city websites and applications.

One purpose is to ensure that city websites have a common look so citizens recognize them as official and familiar. Another is to cut down on the number of decisions that city employees and contractors must make in setting up a new webpage.

Boston’s pattern library is named Fleet. That name also probably has two purposes. One is to signal the speed that it’s supposed to bring to the task of communicating with constituents.

The second is to keep alive the memory of Peter Fleet, the enslaved engraver and printer who worked on the Boston Evening-Post and many books and pamphlets in eighteenth-century Boston. In making that announcement, the city linked to this Boston 1775 posting about Peter Fleet.

So that’s cool.

Another piece of news this week: The Old North Church has received a generous “Mars Wrigley Confectionery US, LLC Forrest E. Mars, Jr. Chocolate History Research Grant” to fund new research into the life of Capt. Newark Jackson, owner of a chocolate mill in the North End in the early 1700s, and to share that work with the public in various forms, including a comic. I played a small part in that grant application and look forward to tasting the results.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Letter on London Politics

Edward Griffin Porter’s Rambles in Old Boston (1886) quotes this letter sent to the private teacher John Leach in Boston. It offers a glimpse of radical politicians in London and of the Boston Whigs’ attempts to make common cause with them.

The writer was the London printer John Meres (1733-1776). He had inherited the Daily Post newspaper from his namesake father, who had gotten in trouble multiple times for printing news the government didn’t like. The younger Meres followed in the family tradition.

Meres’s letter is datelined “Old Baily, May 21, 1769,” and evidently replies to a political essay Leach had sent to the imperial capital:
Dr. Cozn.,—

I had the Pleasure of receiving your political Creed accompanied with the Presents, the One agreeable to my Sentiments, the Other to my Fancy.

Your Letter I presented to Mr. [John] Wilkes, who read it with much Satisfaction; desired me to leave it with him & begg’d I would present his best Respects to you unknown & hoped there were many of the same Opinion as yourself; it was shown to Mr. Serjt. [John] Glynn [shown above], the only worthy Member [of Parliament] for the County of Middlesex, who thought it rather too dangerous for the Press except the Inflamatory Paper I now publish entitled the Nh. Briton, the Government having after a serious of Insults upon the People deprived me of printing The London Evening Post, & that Paper is now become the tame Vehicle for Ministers and their Ductiles. The Duke of Grafton promised me in private that nothing should be done prejudicial to me or my Interest, but are Jockeys Words to be taken? but alas! our Ministry consist of few others than that class—but to return.

Mr. Wilkes has been three Times elected Member for the County of Middlesex & was refused his seat in any House (except the King’s Bench). He was chosen by the Inhabitants of the Ward, Alderman for Farringdon Without (the largest in the City), in which I reside; the Court of Aldermen would not swear him in; the Inhabitants rechose him, Ditto, so that the Ward being without an Alderman, the Inhabitants will not pay the Taxes, not being properly represented & the Ward Books not signed by Mr. Alderman Wilkes.

I could add much more of the above Gentles. sufferings, but cannot write with propriety being much afflicted with the Gout…

I remain, your Lovg. Cozn.
The 103rd issue of the North Briton, dated 22 Apr 1769, says it was “Printed for W. BINGLEY, at the King’s-Bench Prison, and sold by J. MERES, in the Old Bailey.” The issue dated one day before this letter indicates that William Bingley was out of jail and back at his shop in the Strand. By then Meres was not only selling the latest issue but all back issues as well.

The magazines didn’t say who did the actual printing, but Bingley spent two years in prison without trial and is usually credited as the publisher of the magazine. However, at least to his cousin in Boston, Meres claimed in May 1769 to “now publish” the North Briton.

John Meres had two sons who became teen-aged Royal Navy officers during the Revolutionary War.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Gen. Gage’s Trunks

The Clements Library at the University of Michigan owns the papers of Gen. Thomas Gage (1719-1787), last royal governor of Massachusetts.

Back in the 1700s, gentlemen involved in politics maintained possession and ownership of the papers they accumulated in their public careers. (Indeed, up until the Watergate scandal Presidents of the U.S. of A. were the legal owners of their own Presidential papers; now those by law go into the National Archives.)

Because of that custom, Gen. Gage’s correspondence with his superiors in London, his intelligence notes, and other important documents went home with him after he sailed away from Boston in the autumn of 1775. He had a house in London and also spent time at the family seat, Firle Place.

Before he died, Gage answered questions about the American War from the historian George Chalmers (1742-1845), but he appears to have relied on his memory and impressions rather than consulting those papers. He never published self-serving arguments that he was right all along like some of his successors in the American command. Gage appears to have preferred to leave the that part of his life completely in the past. So his papers remained packed up.

Gen. Gage’s papers were still sitting in Firle Place when an American construction-equipment magnate called on his descendants in the early twentieth century. The Clements Library blog recently discussed the trunks that those documents sat in:
William L. Clements was fortunate to purchase the papers directly from General Gage’s descendants. Not only was their provenance perfectly documented, but the papers were even shipped from England to Bay City in the same twelve military document trunks in which they had been filed during Gage’s command and then sent to England in 1775. In 1937, following the settlement of Clements’s estate, the twelve boxes full of documents arrived at the Library in Ann Arbor.

The Gage Papers were mounted and bound to make them accessible to researchers. But what of the trunks? Each is a significant artifact of the American Revolution that had spent its days in America at the epicenter of the British command. Unlike the letters and documents, however, the twelve trunks were “realia,” (three-dimensional objects). To many archivists they were of little or no use in a research library. Over the twenty years after their arrival at the Library the trunks were gradually dispersed until only one remained. Even that one had been given away but was later returned to the Clements.

This lone box appeared to be of a standard design, 32 x 21 x 12 inches high, constructed of sturdy pine planks dove-tailed at the corners with wrought iron hinges and handles and a lock. The lid is covered with a sheet of canvas painted in “Spanish brown” (a reddish brown color) to repel water. The rest of the box is painted the same color. On the lid, spelled out in upholstery tacks is the message “Secty Off / N 7 / 1770.” We have interpreted this to mean “Secretary’s Office, Number 7, 1770.” The seventh year of Gage’s actual appointment as commander was 1770, which might explain the number and date. Coincidence? Inside is a level of built-in pigeonholes with 14 slots (2 x 7). Above this is a removable tray with another 14 slots. Small paper labels once identified the contents of each box.
Putting out a call to the Ann Arbor community brought out two more trunks, similarly constructed and marked. That means nine of Gen. Gage’s trunks are still unaccounted for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Voice from Nantucket

For the last couple of days I’ve quoted newspaper accounts from October 1738 about a violent uprising of Wampanoag people on Nantucket that not only never happened but was, contrary to the first reports, never even planned.

In the winter 1996 issue of Historic Nantucket, later adapted in his book Away Off Shore, Nathaniel Philbrick discussed another apparent account of the same fear, preserved in the Nantucket Historical Association’s archives.

This story was set down in 1895 by Eliza Mitchell, then close to ninety years old. She recorded a story she remembered hearing as a child in the 1810s from another woman who had then been about the same age—thus putting the origin of the tale in the 1730s.

Philbrick described the older woman’s recollection this way:
As the girl and her older brothers and sisters changed into their night clothes and tightened their beds, there was a sound at the front door. It was their father. He was clearly agitated and yet was trying desperately to remain calm, announcing that mother “need not retire or undress the children.” When asked why, he simply said that “there was trouble brewing with the Indians.” But all of them, especially her brothers and sisters, demanded to know more. Reluctantly, her father explained: The day before, an Indian had come into town and “carefully, though very privately” told of a secret plot by the two tribes to attack the English settlement and take over the island. Even though the character of the Indian informant was somewhat suspect, the town officials were inclined to take the warning seriously. When you lived on an island that was a three-hour sail from the mainland (in ideal conditions), you were not about to dismiss even the wildest rumor.

Word went out to all the men that they would be divided into several companies: some would stay in town to protect the women and children in case the attack materialized; other groups would head out to the various Indian villages in an attempt to discover if, in fact, an uprising was in the works. In the meantime, it had been “thought best not to inform their families until the last minute.”

But now the truth was out, and according to the old woman, there were “many fears and some tears.” Borrowing a page from the frontier towns in the western half of the colonies, the Nantucketers decided to consolidate the women and children into a few, easily defended houses, and so “the families gathered their little ones close around them, club’d together, well as they could.” The old woman remembered laying her head upon her mother’s lap, and gradually falling to sleep, “as children will.”

It was time for the men to search the darkness for Indian war parties. All night they patrolled the treeless moors in the swirling mist, their eyes and ears straining for some indication of the Indian bands their imaginations inevitably placed behind every rise of land and within every hollow. But by daybreak they had found nothing. Exhausted, they returned to town and made their report.

The next day, the town’s sheriff and “fifty well-armed men” set out to determine, if possible, the “meaning of it all.” Instead of finding the Indians in the midst of a war dance, “they found all quiet.” It was harvest time, and the Indians were “merrily husking their corn.” When they learned about the white people’s fears, the natives were deeply disturbed and demanded to know who had told them this false story.

As it turned out, the informant had spent the last three days in a drunken stupor, having used the money the English had paid him to purchase rum. According to the old woman, the Indians were “so highly incensed [that] they came near tearing him apart.” Eventually it was decided that he would receive no less than thirty lashes (the limit allowed by colonial law) at the town’s whipping post.
Mitchell went on to describe the punishment, saying it was the last public whipping on the island.

This story fits the mold of what I call “grandmothers’ tales”—historic stories we hear as children and never doubt, even though the original storyteller might not have meant them to be taken literally. Some of our best legends get into print that way.

In this case, however, the story matches some important aspects of the earliest Boston News-Letter report of the conspiracy: a single Native man alerting the white settlers on Nantucket, prompting a brief but consuming fear “wholly contradicted” a short time later. According to Mitchell, the man initially hailed in Boston as “an honest Indian Fellow” ended up being whipped for lying.

In his Early American Studies article “Inventing an Indian Slave Conspiracy on Nantucket, 1738,” Justin Pope blames John Draper of the Boston News-Letter not only for printing an unfounded rumor but for largely creating it. According to that paper’s abstract, Draper chose to “invent a sensational account of an imminent Indian uprising” based on “conventions established over years of reporting slave unrest.”

The Nantucket tradition that Mitchell wrote down suggests that the island’s British people truly were afraid of a Native uprising around the start of October 1738, enough to gather their women and children and organize patrols. With those “conventions” about uprisings already established, local whites could have sensationalized their fears themselves. Draper might have accurately reported the news that mariners from Nantucket brought to Boston. Or newspaper reports and local gossip could have built on each other in a spiraling account.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Nantucket Conspiracy “wholly contradicted”

Yesterday I quoted items from the Boston News-Letter of 5 Oct 1738 and the Boston Evening-Post of 9 Oct 1738 about a narrowly averted uprising of Wampanoags on Nantucket Island, and ongoing fears that the Native sailors on whaling ships might have risen up, too.

However, on 16 October the Boston Gazette, which had reprinted the News-Letter’s news the week before, stated:

The News that we had in the publick Prints of October 9th, that 16 Indians of the Island of Nantucket had lately a horrid Scheme contriv’d to set Fire to the Houses of the English inhabitants in the Night, and kill as many as they could, is wholly contradicted by a Vessel that arrived here a few Days ago:

This Report arose by a drunken Indian Woman of that Island being in Liquor reported such Things, and she and another Woman was brought before a Justice of the Peace and examin’d, an could make nothing of it but a drunken Story.
(One curious detail: None of the earlier reports I’ve seen stated that “16 Indians” had conspired. That number might reflect how details, true or false, circulated without initially getting into the newspapers.)

Other Boston newspapers ran the same correction, as did papers in Newport and Philadelphia that had printed the first story. But of course not everyone saw that second item—especially decades later.

As Justin Pope describes in his recent article, “Inventing an Indian Slave Conspiracy on Nantucket, 1738,” later historians found the initial report but not the refutation. Obed Macy’s 1835 The History of Nantucket and Alexander Starbuck’s 1878 History of the American Whale Fishery both used the News-Letter article as their authority for describing an actual Wampanoag uprising.

So, for that matter, did Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra, published in 2000. Except that Linebaugh and Rediker looked more favorably on that alleged bid for freedom. That reflects a larger ongoing debate among historians about whether slave uprisings in the New World were actual attempts by people to free themselves or imagined plots by paranoid slaveholders who coerced confessions from innocent people. The answer to that question offers different pictures of enslaved communities—as resistant rebels or as oppressed victims.

Other historians have caught the printers’ corrections and thus the real significance of this particular story as revealing colonists’ fears. In New York Burning Jill Lepore wrote:
If a single drunken Indian woman could come up with a plot and a completely plausible justification so compelling that it terrified an entire island of English colonists and was reported up and down the Atlantic seaboard, even though there were no fires on Nantucket that fall, the degree of panic inspired by actual fires like the ten that blazed in New York in March and April 1741 is hard to imagine.
TOMORROW: A memory of the fear on Nantucket.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A “horrid Scheme” on Nantucket?

On 5 Oct 1738, the Boston News-Letter published an article describing a planned uprising by Wampanoags on Nantucket Island:
We hear from Nantucket, That there has been lately a horrid Scheme conceiv’d by the Indians of that Island, to set Fire to the Houses of the English Inhabitants in the Night, and then to fall upon them arm’d, and kill as many as they could.

But the Execution of this vile Design was happily prevented by an honest Indian Fellow, whom they could by no means seduce to join with them in so desperate an Undertaking, but gave Timely Notice to the Inhabitants thereof, who accordingly keeping upon their Guard, the Indians have desisted.

It seems these Indians have for some Time past appear’d surly and discontented; and ’tis said the above Affair was conceived last Spring, before the Vessels sail’d on the whaling Voyages; and that the Indians who went out with the English on those Voyages were in the Confederacy, and were to do their Part by destroying the English on the Sea:

As several of those Vessels are not arrived tho’ long expected; and as the greater Number in the Crews were Indians, the Consequence thereof is much to be feared.
On 9 October, the Boston Evening-Post reprinted most of that item, adding in the middle:
The Pretence the Indians have for this cruel Attempt, is, as we hear, that the English at first took the Land from their Ancestors by Force, and have kept it ever since, without giving them any valuable Consideration for it;…

Upon the Discovery of the Plot, the English took to their Arms, and stood on their Defence, which discouraged the Indians from making any Attempt upon them; and we are impatient to hear whether their whaling Vessels are return’d in Safety, and what Measures have been taken to secure the Peace and Safety of the Island.
This summer, Missouri University of Science and Technology history professor Justin Pope published a study of this incident in the Early American Studies journal. The university proudly touted that publication, saying:
The “Nantucket conspiracy,” as Pope calls it, is also a cautionary tale for historians who rely on newspaper reports for their accounts of life in colonial America, Pope says. . . . The 1738 newspaper story began as a rumor that “would have passed into local lore if not for the newspaper men of Boston,” writes Pope. It began with printer John Draper, who first reported the account in his Boston News-Letter on Sept. 28, 1738.
That issue of the newspaper is actually dated 28 Sept–5 Oct 1738 on its front. That means it was printed and distributed on 5 October, collecting news that had arrived since 28 September.

Back to the university press release:
…the Boston News-Letter story “took off,” Pope writes. Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic ran with the story, which soon became the 18th century equivalent of a viral social media post. “Draper’s story made for good copy,” Pope adds.

“Within a week, his rivals in Boston had copied his version of the conspiracy verbatim,” writes Pope. Within two weeks, printers John Peter Zenger in New York City and Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia were running the story.
But that wasn’t the final word.

TOMORROW: “wholly contradicted.”

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Boles on Jefferson in Boston, 16 Nov.

Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty is a new biography of the third President by John B. Boles, a professor of history at Rice University. He was co-editor of the essay collection Seeing Jefferson Anew.

Jonathan Yardley, longtime book critic for the Washington Post, really likes this book. How much? He recently wrote in that newspaper:
“Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty” is perhaps the finest one-volume biography of an American president. Boles…has spent many years studying Jefferson’s native American South in all its mysteries, contradictions, follies and outrages, as well as its unique contributions to the national culture and literature. This biography is the culmination of a long, distinguished career. I admire it so passionately that, almost 2 1/2 years into a happy retirement, I had no choice except to violate my pledge never again to write another book review.
Boles will speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society this Thursday, 16 November. The event will start with a reception at 5:30, followed by the author’s remarks at 6:00 and book-signing to follow. The cost is $10 per person, free for M.H.S. members and fellows. Reserve a seat through this page.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

When Alexander Wished for a War

On 11 Nov 1769, a young clerk on the island of St. Croix wrote to his friend Edward Stevens, who had headed off to King’s College in New York.
As to what you say respecting your having soon the happiness of seeing us all, I wish, for an accomplishment of your hopes provided they are Concomitant with your welfare, otherwise not, tho doubt whether I shall be Present or not for to confess my weakness, Ned, my Ambition is prevalent that I contemn the grov’ling and condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune &c. condemns me and would willingly risk my life tho’ not my Character to exalt my Station.

Im confident, Ned that my Youth excludes me from any hopes of immediate Preferment nor do I desire it, but I mean to prepare the way for futurity. Im no Philosopher you see and may be jusly said to Build Castles in the Air. My Folly makes me ashamd and beg youll Conceal it, yet Neddy we have seen such Schemes successfull when the Projector is Constant I shall Conclude saying I wish there was a War.
The clerk who wrote this letter was Alexander Hamilton. He was either twelve or fourteen years old at the time; on reaching North America he consistently stated that he was born in 1757, but some earlier documents from the Caribbean suggest he was born in 1755 and thus revised his age in college to appear to be more of a prodigy. Whichever age Alexander was at this time, his letter is remarkable for its frank ambition.

Earlier this year the Library of Congress made its Hamilton Papers available online, as explained here. This 1769 letter, for example, can be viewed here.

Another source of new perspectives on Hamilton is Michael E. Newton’s blog Discovering Hamilton, which will roll out new documents and theories over time.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Clues to Young George’s Education

A couple of months back, the Oxford University Press blog ran an extract from Kevin J. Hayes’s George Washington: A Life in Books discussing the first President’s school days and early reading.

Here’s an extract from that extract:
Further evidence shows that at one point in his education Washington did attend school with other boys. Friend and fellow patriot George Mason mentioned to him a man named David Piper, whom he described as “my Neighbour and Your old School-fellow.” Like Washington, Piper would turn to surveying once he left school, becoming surveyor of roads for Fairfax County. He was also something of a bad boy. Piper was repeatedly brought to court on various civil and criminal matters. Together Washington and Piper could have attended school at the Lower Church of Washington Parish, Westmoreland County, where Mattox Creek enters the Potomac River, but there is no saying for sure. The story of Washington’s education is shrouded in mystery.

His school exercises indicate what he studied inside the classroom and out. They show him mastering many different subjects, learning what he would need to make his way through colonial Virginia whether that way took him down a deer track or up Duke of Gloucester Street. Some of the exercises are dated, revealing that this set of school papers as a whole ranges from 1743 to 1748, that is, from the year Washington turned eleven to the year he turned sixteen. Other evidence demonstrates that he continued his studies beyond the latest exercises in the manuscript collection. Altogether the exercises and the books Washington read during his school days reveal his early literary interests, his fascination with mathematics, and the genesis of his career as a surveyor.

Washington became curious about poetry in his youth, as two manuscript poems that survive with the school exercises reveal. When he first read these poems, he transcribed them to create personal copies he could reread whenever he wished. His copies reveal Washington’s ambition to excel in penmanship, and their texts shed light on his state of mind at the end of adolescence.
I’m not convinced about that last interpretation. A big part of a gentleman’s education in the eighteenth century was learning elegant handwriting, and boys learned that by copying models provided or written out by their teachers. These poems, which appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1734 and 1743, might therefore have been handwriting exercises, with their content mattering less than their form.

Certainly young George set down those two poems in a handsome hand. In the same copybook he wrote out twenty-one pages of legal forms, instructions “To Keep Ink from Freezing or Moulding,” and the famous “Rules…of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.”

Thursday, November 09, 2017

A Presidential Plodder

Plodding Through the Presidents is Howard Dorre’s ongoing blog about reading Presidential biographies, starting with Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensable Man and getting as far as, well, Andrew Jackson. So the important ones, really.

Dorre has a delightfully irreverent attitude toward this process, as shown in his discussion of Harlow Giles Unger’s treatment of two successive chief executives:
The Monroe Doctrine, in Unger’s words, “declared an end to foreign colonization in the New World and warned the Old World that the United States would no longer tolerate foreign incursions in the Americas.” It basically told Europe to stay out of the western hemisphere, and it still has impacts on our foreign policy today.

It’s widely known that [James] Monroe’s Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, had a major role in authoring the policy as part of Monroe’s annual address to Congress in 1823. But Unger didn’t see it that way. He wrote:
“Contrary to the writings of some historians, Monroe’s proclamation was entirely his own – not Adams’s. The assertion that Adams authored the “Monroe Doctrine” is not only untrue; it borders on the ludicrous by implying that President Monroe was little more than a puppet manipulated by another’s hand. Such assertions show little insight into the presidency itself and the type of man who aspires to and assumes that office; indeed, they denigrate the character, the intellect, the intensity, and the sense of power that drive American presidents.”
Not only does he make a wildly contrarian claim, but he also shits all over most historians in the process. And his main point seems to be that only a president could write the Monroe Doctrine – certainly not John Quincy Adams, even though he became president just a year later.

Three years after publishing his Monroe biography, Unger released John Quincy Adams. His thoughts on the Monroe Doctrine’s authorship seem to have magically evolved, as if he cared more about lionizing whoever his subject was than being consistent.

Unger wrote that JQA “wrote the core provision of the Monroe Doctrine” which the president included “verbatim, in his annual message.” He went on to say that “Monroe embraced John Quincy’s political philosophy and formally closed the Western Hemisphere to further colonization.”

So, according to Unger, it’s ludicrous to think John Quincy Adams “authored” the Monroe Doctrine but he did “write” it. And even though it was based on Adams’s own political philosophy that Monroe embraced, the doctrine was entirely Monroe’s and not Adams’s.
There are also postings drawn from other books, inquiries into Presidential myths and mysteries, and personal history, such as how Dorre’s interest in serial killers spurred him to investigate J. Q. Adams’s childhood reading.