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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Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Checklist of Carrier Verses

It’s a Boston 1775 tradition at the turn of each year to share at least one carrier verse or address.

Back in eighteenth-century America, apprentice printers would make those flyers and distribute them to customers around New Year’s Day as a way of asking for tips. The flyers offered a poetic review of the past year’s news, wishes for the customers’ prosperity, and reminders of the tough life of a newspaper carrier.

In 2000, Gerald D. McDonald (who that year turned ninety-five), Stuart C. Sherman, and Mary T. Russo published A Checklist of American Newspaper Carriers’ Addresses, 1720-1820. I treated myself to a copy this holiday season.

This book lists 1,001 carrier verses known from broadsides or republication in newspapers or books. The earliest appeared in New York in 1720, copying an English tradition. The custom continued after 1820, at least as late as the U.S. Civil War. The German-language newspapers of Pennsylvania provided their own examples. The book also lists 61 examples from Canada in both English and French.

As a bibliographic checklist, this book gives the basic details of each carrier address, including first lines if the text survives, but no more. Illustrations show several examples in full. That doesn’t replace the Readex Early American Imprints database that I used to be able to mine for interesting addresses, but it’s given me enough leads to fill a few more years.

A fraction of the addresses name the newspaper carriers who delivered them, and may have written them as well. Seven years ago I quoted the example from the Essex Gazette’s Job Weeden and traced his subsequent career. Five years ago I explored the life of Polly Beach of the American Telegraphe. Alas, I couldn’t find out anything more about Tobias Bond and Benjamin Welch, who delivered the Maryland Journal in 1780.

In a few cases, this checklist told me, famous authors wrote the verses for the carriers. Not just printers who became well known like Benjamin Franklin (he gets credit for the early Pennsylvania Gazette verses, but of course we give him credit for everything). Rather, gentleman poets like John Trumbull and Joel Barlow tried out the form. So I’m going to share one of those examples.

TOMORROW: A New Year’s greeting from the “Poet of the Revolution.”

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Best of Boston 1775 in 2017

This week I looked back on the year and chose the postings that please me most, especially if they braided together sources to present new information or correct misinformation.

“A Republic, If You Can Keep It.” A famous anecdote about the Constitutional Convention has Benjamin Franklin saying that to a lady. The anecdote goes all the way back to 1787. But the politician who recorded it also reshaped it for his purposes in the press, as have many later authors. Start here.

Samuel Adams’s Philadelphia Oration. The speech was published in London. But it was never delivered in Philadelphia. Who was behind it, and what does it say about “fake news” during the war? Start here.

Jane Crother and Joseph Whitehouse. She was one of the few women to witness the Boston Massacre. He was a British soldier stationed in town. A few days after the fatal confrontation, they married. Explore their lives, with help from Don Hagist, starting here.

The Unpopular Charles Paxton. How might issues of gender and sexuality have figured into Bostonians’ dislike for a Customs officer? Start here. (Paxton shown above, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.)

A Conspiracy Rumor from Nantucket. In 1738 a Boston newspaper warned about a Native uprising on Nantucket. With help from Nat Philbrick, start here.

The “Edenton Tea Party.” Plenty of evidence it happened in North Carolina. Plenty of inaccurate quoting of the women involved. Start here.

Getting to Know John Barker Church. The musical Hamilton depicts Angelica Schuyler marrying a man who’s “not a lot of fun” but rich and steady. In real life, her husband was even more of a firecracker than Alexander Hamilton. Start here.

The Killing of Henry Sparker. Sorting out quite different accounts of a fatal fight in 1768 Newport, plus what happened to the accused. Start here.

Jacob Frost and “The Young Provincial.” How a provincial soldier’s experience in and after the Battle of Bunker Hill became a magazine story, and how Nathaniel Hawthorne had nothing to do with it. Start here.

“Curer of Bacon.” Why did Loyalists apply that epithet to Samuel Adams? My best guess.

The Easiest Way to Carry Two Pails of Water. Use a hoop, historic sources say. (I’d love to see this tested at a summer reenactment.)

Newspaper Economics. How much did colonial American newspaper printers charge for advertisements and subscriptions? Start here.

The Massachusetts Legislature in Print. All the journals of the Massachusetts House in the Revolutionary period are online, along with the Provincial Congresses of 1774-75 and the last sessions of the Council. But you have to know where to look.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Extracts of Letters from Boston?

On 29 Dec 1774, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer ran the following items:
Extract of a letter from Boston.

“Every thing is at present quiet here, and the governor takes all possible precautions to keep things so. The people are continually tampering with the soldiers to desert; a corporal of the 38th regiment was last Monday addressed by one of their Agents, he pretended to consent to go off with him, upon which the fellow took him to a house, gave him a suit of plain cloathes and put his regimentals into the saddle-bags, he then put the corporal upon his horse and got up behind; they rode on together till they came to the Fusileers barrack, into which the corporal turned, the fellow instantly jumped off and made his escape, leaving the horse, saddle-bags and clothes, all of which have been given to the corporal as a reward for his wit and spirit.[”]

A Gentleman in Boston, writes to his friend here, of the 12th instant;—

Two ships of the line, viz. the Asia and Boyne, are arrived here, and the Somerset is now firing guns in the offing. The day before yesterday it was moved in Provincial Congress, that arms be immediately taken up against the King’s Troops; but one of the members got up and told them such a move was infamous, when at the same time the Members knew, that neither Connecticut nor any of the southern colonies meant to oppose his Majesty’s arms, on which account the Congress immediately dissolved, and a new one is to be chosen, to meet the tenth of next month.

At Plymouth they are now beating up for volunteers to attack the troops; the parties sent for a parson to pray for them, who refused to comply; but he was obliged to attend on being sent for a second time, on penalty of being shot.
James Rivington was then a strong supporter of the Crown, on his way to being put out of business by a Patriot mob and then sponsored by the royal government in occupied New York through the war.

On 1 Jan 1774, Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks reprinted the entire article in their Boston Post-Boy. In the preceding May they had taken over from Green and Russell and turned the Post-Boy into a strongly pro-government paper.

On 5 January, Isaiah Thomas printed the part about plans to attack soldiers instead of to suborn them in the Patriot Massachusetts Spy, crediting “the New-York Gazette,” but he added at the bottom:
[A d——d lie.]
And indeed there’s no evidence supporting the article’s claims about the congress. If Rivington had actually seen a letter from Boston with that story, he fell for an alarmist rumor—and it’s quite possible he just made it up.

Even so, the letter from “A Gentleman in Boston” was reprinted in several British magazines in early 1775, helping to shape public opinion there.

[ADDENDUM: Follow-up from Don Hagist.]

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Receiving A Cold Welcome

A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America by Sam White looks at early American history outside my usual timeframe. I picked it up looking for answers to a question that’s puzzled me for a while.

White focuses on the first decade of the seventeenth century when European powers made permanent settlements in North America. The Spanish established Santa Fe to go with their Florida outpost of St. Augustine. The French founded Québec. And the British, after failures at Roanoke and Popham, just barely created a permanent base at Jamestown. (In the following decades, the Dutch would come to Manhattan and the Swedes to Delaware, but they’re not part of this story.)

That decade of 1600-1609 was at the trough of the Little Ice Age that lasted from about 1300 to about 1850. “One of the steepest declines in Northern Hemisphere temperatures in perhaps thousands of years took place in the half century leading up to the founding of Jamestown, Quebec, and Santa Fe,” White writes. In fact, due to volcanic eruptions, the climate was even harsher than that around 1600, with cold winters, cool summers, and droughts. “The timing of this volcanic weather could not have been worse for European expeditions in North America.”

That concatenation has been well established. It exacerbated the European explorers’ bafflement at how the North American climate didn’t conform to their expectations. Québec is well south of Paris, but its winters are colder—yet summers in North America were hotter than in Europe. On top of that mystery, White writes, the Europeans were encountering conditions that were worse than a few decades before when the Spanish first explored the Americas.

My question was, given that the Europeans arriving in North America in the 1600s encountered the most difficult conditions in decades, why did those settlements succeed? Isn’t that like finding the best time to climb a mountain is during a blizzard?

White presents several factors to explain that pattern, one of which I’d thought of and others that were new to me. First, the Little Ice Age also put enough pressure on the European powers to make those societies and the people in them a little more desperate, more willing to take chances across the ocean. “Climate-driven sustenance crises in France and England left some in those countries looking for ways to dispose of hungry, poor, and vagrant subjects.” In the same way, evolutionary leaps take place when species are under pressure to survive, not when they’re happily propagating as they are.

In particular, the harsh conditions leading up to 1600 weakened the Spanish Empire through famine and epidemics in Castile. The Spanish crown had enjoyed over a century of gold and silver from South America, but forays into North America hadn’t been so lucrative. With resources at home becoming scarcer, the Spaniards were less inclined to guard North America against their European rivals to the north.

Furthermore, the changing climate also affected the North American powers, albeit in less documented ways. The Native nations experienced droughts and harsh winters, as well as the diseases they hadn’t yet developed immunity to. So for the English and French, there were openings in the early 1600s despite the climate.

Finally, White notes the importance of chance events. We wouldn’t be talking about Jamestown as the seed of Britain’s North American empire unless a resupply fleet had arrived off the coast at just the right time in 1610. Samuel de Champlain survived calamities at two French settlements and learned from them in order to establish a third. As White points out, even in the Little Ice Age North America wasn’t inherently unlivable; the new humans from Europe needed to survive just long enough to adapt.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Knox Museum May Close in 2018

The Knox Museum in Thomaston, Maine, built to honor Gen. Henry Knox, has announced that it may close next year if it can’t quickly raise $150,000.

The museum is a replica of Knox’s 1794 mansion, called Montpelier. The original fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1871, just two years before the first biography of the general was published. The current building was put up in 1929.

Likewise, most of the artifacts in the building linked to the general and his family appear to be reproductions.

Until 1999, the state of Maine owned the building and surrounding thirteen acres. Finding the site didn’t pay for itself, the state government sold the museum to a non-profit group called the Friends of Montpelier while retaining an easement on the property.

As first reported by the Portland Press Herald, the museum has been running deficits since then, but large donations and grants filled the holes. The Free Press Online identified those sources of money. No source of such funds is lined up for coming years.

The Friends of Montpelier could turn the property back over to Maine, but the state doesn’t view the replica building as historic and wouldn’t keep the museum open. As WABI reported, the collection could be dispersed and the building left empty or sold.

Tom Desjardins, Director of Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands, told the Press Herald that the Friends had “done an amazing job” with the programs and website, but “There just isn’t enough of a draw of people to generate the revenues” that the site would need to sustain itself.

The Friends of Montpelier will assess the results of the current fundraising campaign and its staff and programming costs in the new year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Digital Wallpaper at the Schuyler Mansion

Earlier this year Susan Holloway Scott of the Two Nerdy History Girls shared a look at the wallpaper of the Schuyler Mansion in Albany.

Philip Schuyler was, of course, a wealthy man. He wanted the mansion he commissioned in 1761 to look good. And that meant choosing fashionable wall coverings. Scott’s posting focused on the paper that Schuyler bought for his halls, upstairs and down.
Unlike most 18thc wallpaper which was block-printed, or “stampt”, this paper was painted entirely by hand in tempera paint in shades of grey – en grisaille was the term – to mimic engraved prints. In fact, the entire scheme of the papers was an elaborate trompe l’oeil to represent framed paintings and cartouches, all custom designed for the walls and spaces they would occupy.

This was, of course, extremely expensive, and as much a sign of Philip’s deep pockets as his taste. The wallpaper he ordered featured romantically scenic landscapes by the Italian painter Paolo Panini, and was called “Ruins of Rome.” The “Ruins of Rome” wallpaper was so rare and costly that there are only two examples of it known to survive in America: in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, MA, and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, which has installed the paper taken from the now-demolished Rensselaerwyck, the home of Stephen Van Rensselaer II, also near Albany. . . .

The scenic wallpaper had long been removed. But over the last few years, the state’s Peebles Island Resource Center, led by Rich Claus and Erin Moroney, has painstakingly recreated a high-quality digital reproduction of the “Ruins of Rome” based on the wallpaper from both the Lee Mansion and the Van Rensselaer installation in the Met, but redesigned to fit the Schuyler Mansion’s walls and woodwork as perfectly as the original once did. The new wallpaper was completed and hung as part of the Mansion's centennial celebration this year.
Both the Schuyler Mansion and the Lee Mansion are now closed for the season but well worth a visit in warmer months. The Met is of course open year-round.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Moses Brown’s Malden Christmas

In December 1775, Moses Brown led a delegation of Quakers from Rhode Island up to the Boston siege lines to bring relief to the suffering poor.

Brown and his comrades went to Gen. George Washington in Cambridge and explained how they wanted to go into Boston with money they had collected. A siege is of course an attempt to deny resources to the enemy, so the commander-in-chief couldn’t have been enthused about this idea.

Quartermaster general Thomas Mifflin was even more negative, thinking that such charity would prove unpopular with the Massachusetts populace.

In consultation with Washington and members of the Massachusetts General Court, the Quakers decided they would meet some of their contacts at the siege lines and hand over the money. But Sheriff Joshua Loring and Maj. John Small came out and told them that the poor in Boston didn’t need money and the town had adequate food.

So the Quakers went off to hand out their money to the poor people they found in Marblehead, Salem, Lynn, Chelsea, and the smallpox hospital at Point Shirley.

Soon enough it was Christmas Day, as Brown described in his report on the journey:
We went to Malden and Lodged at —— where were the Select men upstairs on business and below a Noisey Company of Soldiers fidling and Danceing after supper.

David [Buffum] and I proposed to see the Select Men and Inform them of our Business went up stairs and I spoke to them of the Noise etc not being sufferable it was not only rong in itself but contrary to Every prospect of the present time and Even the Congress Discouraged it by Resolves.

They allowed it was not agreeable but thought as they were Soldiers it must be allowed. It was what they called a Christmas frolich and they had been up all the Night before, were principaly of the Riflemen.
As an eighteenth-century Quaker, Brown didn’t celebrate Christmas. Neither did most New Englanders. But these riflemen were from the Middle Colonies, many of them transplants from Britain, and they didn’t adhere to Puritan customs. And thus we discern the limits of Moses Brown’s charity.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Lt. Martin Hunter Sent to Coventry in Boston

Lt. Martin Hunter did not have an enjoyable Christmas in 1775.

That wasn’t just because he was besieged in Boston with the 52nd Regiment and the rest of Gen. William Howe’s British forces. Having already experienced the Battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill before he turned eighteen, Hunter was presumably pleased that the fighting had reached a stalemate.

But the lieutenant wasn’t feeling jolly enough to participate in his fellow officers’ holiday revelry on 24 December. Decades later, as a knighted general, Hunter wrote in his memoirs:
On the evening of Christmas Day I was sent to Coventry for not singing, as I was desired. I was kept in Coventry three days, not a member of the mess speaking to me.
The 1793 slang dictionary Blackguardiana defines the term “To send to Coventry” this way:
a punishment inflicted by officers of the army, on such of their brethren as are testy, or have been guilty of improper behaviour, not worthy the cognizance of a court martial. The person sent to Coventry is considered as absent; no one may speak to him, or answer any question he asks, except relative to duty, under penalty of being also sent to the same place. On a proper submission, the penitent is recalled, and welcomed by the mess, as just returned from a journey to Coventry.
After three days, it appears, Hunter’s comrades thought he was sufficiently sorry. He later wrote, “I never refused to sing again.”

(The picture above is a 1752 view of Coventry from the London Magazine, available from Lindisfarne Prints.)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reprinting the Constitution by Hand

Since I’ve been looking at the effort of starting a new newspaper in pre-Revolutionary Boston, it seems appropriate to share the video on this page from The History List.

Lee Wright recorded Gary Gregory of the Edes & Gill Print Shop in today’s North End talking about how he researched, recreated, and now prints Benjamin Edes’s edition of the new proposed U.S. Constitution. Edes put that out ahead of the Massachusetts ratifying convention in 1788. The only surviving original appears to be at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The photo at right shows Gary holding a previous—and mercifully shorter—document that he’s also recreated: John Gill’s printing of the Declaration of Independence soon after that text arrived from Philadelphia in 1776.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Boston Chronicle “unbiassed by prejudice or party”?

When in October 1767 John Mein and John Fleeming circulated the proposal to publish a new weekly newspaper in Boston, their plan started with a long list of things “their friends” wanted to see in it.

That list concluded by quoting those advance subscribers as saying:
We sincerely wish you success, and will use our utmost endeavours to insure it to you, but unbiassed by prejudice or party, we will boldly claim the FREEDOM of FRIENDSHIP, and leave you with the following advice, which, we hope, nay, which we are persuaded, you will follow.

We suppose that you intend to study your own interests, if you will do it effectually, be of no party; publish and propagate with the greatest industry whatever may promote the general good.—Be independent;—your interest is intimately connected with this noble virtue;—if you depart from this, you must sink from the esteem of the public, to the partial praise of a party, who, when their purpose is served or defeated, may, perhaps, desert you; and then, how can you expect that those, whom you have reviled, will support you.
The first issue of the Boston Chronicle, dated 21 December, contained no advertising. It was eight pages long—twice as long as a regular issue of its competitors. Those pages were filled with:
  • A message to new readers, subscribers, and advertisers.
  • The first “Letter from a Farmer in Philadelphia,” already credited to “John Dickenson.”
  • A recent description of Constantinople by Lord Baltimore.
  • A essay by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu on marriage. (This was the longest article.)
  • Political news from London.
  • A discussion of planting grape vineyards in North America.
  • “A Traveller’s opinion of the English in general.”
  • A report on Linnaeus’s investigation of “smut in Wheat,” and an English farmer’s response.
  • A friendly exchange between the royal governor of Georgia and the legislature there.
  • A report on a convention of Anglican clergy in North America.
You can read the entire issue here, courtesy of newspaper collector Todd Andrlik.

The London political news proved problematic. It was dated 19 September, as the Duke of Grafton was trying to hold together a coalition government after Charles Townshend’s unexpected death. Among many other things the article said:
We are told the Dukes of Newcastle, Bedford, Northumberland [that would be Earl Percy’s father] and Richmond, the Marquis of Rockingham, the Earls of Halifax, Sandwich, Gower and Shelburne, the Right Hon. Mr. [William] Dowdeswell, and Mr. [Henry Seymour] Conway, and Isaac Barre and Edmund Burke, Esqrs. are all included in the intended new ministry.

It is confidently reported that the E. of C[hatham]’s gout is only political, and that notwithstanding his late indisposition he will soon appear on the scene of action and struggle hard to guide the reins of government, but having lost the confidence of the people, whom he has deceived by his contradictions and changes, and never having been a favorite with the nobility, whom he always affected to dispise, he will while he exists be considered by every disinterested man as a miserable monument of wrecked ambition.
That last paragraph was about the elder William Pitt (shown above), who had set up that coalition government and then receded from it in a cloud of depression and gout. The report went on to praise the Marquess of Rockingham to the skies for how he had handled the North American opposition to the Stamp Act—so much so that it’s clear this item was written by someone from his faction. Bostonians thus got to see the maneuvering between two sets of London Whigs: those loyal to Pitt and those loyal to Rockingham.

Boston’s Whigs could have taken that article alongside the Dickinson essay as confirmation the Chronicle was sharing views from different sides. They could have reflected that they preferred Rockingham, despite his government’s Declaratory Act, over either the Tories had instituted the Stamp Act or the latest government’s Townshend duties. But all that Boston political leaders saw in the Boston Chronicle was the criticism of their hero, Pitt.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Launch of the Boston Chronicle

This is the Sestercentennial, or 250th anniversary, of the first issue of the Boston Chronicle.

For a decade Boston had been a four-newspaper town. The oldest weekly was Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter, founded in 1704 and almost always allied with the royal establishment. It appeared on Thursdays.

On Mondays three other papers came out: Edes and Gill’s radical Boston Gazette and the more middle-of-the-road Boston Evening-Post from the Fleet brothers and Boston Post-Boy from Green and Russell.

The Boston Chronicle joined the crowd on Mondays. It offered people a nicer reading experience with handsome typography and a little more white space on its pages. Starting in early 1769 the paper really shook things up by coming out on both Mondays and Thursdays.

The men behind the Chronicle were John Mein and John Fleeming. Unlike the printers of Boston’s other newspapers, they weren’t from old New England families. They had both moved into the colony from Scotland in 1764. Furthermore, they were both adherents of the Sandemanian or Glasite sect, which New England Congregationalists viewed with suspicion.

Mein was a bookseller while Fleeming was a printer. Together they published pamphlets, almanacs, and other items as well as the newspaper. Mein’s London Bookshop also functioned as a lending library; for “One Pound, Eight Shillings, lawful Money, per Year,” patrons could borrow any volume from his list of 1,200 titles. And by any volume, that meant one volume at a time.

Perhaps because of their closer ties to Britain, perhaps because of their church’s teaching to obey political authorities, perhaps because of political ideology, Mein and Fleeming’s Chronicle supported the Crown more strongly than any other Boston newspaper, even the News-Letter. The very first issue included an essay from London that harshly criticized William Pitt, a darling of American Whigs.

For a while the Boston Chronicle looked like a good business proposition. The Customs house and friends of the royal government supported the paper during the debates over non-importation and the Townshend duties. That support, in the form of printing contracts and advertisements, was probably what allowed the newspaper to start coming out twice a week.

In turn, Mein wrote and Fleeming printed slashing attacks on the Boston Whigs. Eventually Mein lost that fight (physically and fiscally) and had to retreat to Britain. Fleeming closed the newspaper on 25 June 1770 but stayed in town until the evacuation of 1776. Though the Boston Chronicle lasted only two and a half years, in that time it was a crucial voice in Massachusetts’s political debate.

(Front page of the 21 Mar 1768 Boston Chronicle above courtesy of Todd Andrlik’s Reporting the Revolutionary War website.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Seeing Jeremy Bentham

Several years ago, I took my mother to visit London for the first time. A friend she stayed with and I chose most of the places we visited, but Mom definitely wanted to see something at University College London.

Using a tourist map, I got us to the campus, but I forgot to factor in how a university can cover a lot of real estate. We entered at one corner and walked a long way, trying to find the right spot. As I recall, the hallways looked a lot like a suburban American high school, and they twisted a lot.

Finally we found a welcome desk staffed by what in the U.S. of A. we’d call security guards. Since since this was a British university, I’m going to assume that officially those men were porters.

Mom approached the young man seated behind the desk and said, “We’re looking for Jeremy Bentham.”

In his British way, the man looked torn between wishing to help these North Americans, embarrassment at not knowing how, and deeper embarrassment at having to embarrass us by asking for more information, thus showing that what we had supplied was grossly inadequate. He fumbled in a college directory. “Bentham. Is he a student here?”

“Oh, no—he’s dead,” Mom explained.

This didn’t improve the color of the young porter.

At this moment an older porter standing in a corner, who had rather been enjoying the conversation so far, stepped forward and pointed us toward the South Cloisters. Where indeed we found Bentham, seated in a wooden cabinet in the hallway, posters that students had made by hand and laser printer taped on the nearby walls.

In his will Bentham (1748-1832) insisted that his corpse be preserved and displayed. He wanted to make a point about practicality and the value of surgical dissection, though the method seems quite impractical.

Bentham’s surgeon donated the corpse to the university. By now it’s just a skeleton in a straw-stuffed suit with a wax head. The photograph above shows Bentham’s mummified head on a platter between his body’s feet, but for decades the head was stowed away in a vault.

This fall, Bentham’s head was brought out for display in an exhibit (up through February) titled “What Does It Mean To Be Human?: Curating Heads at UCL.”

And in the spring, Bentham’s body will travel to New York as part of the “Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now)” exhibit at the Breuer branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It will consider the evocation of the living, three-dimensional body through approximately 120 works from 14th-century Europe to present, joining artists like Donatello, El Greco, Auguste Rodin, and Louise Bourgeois with historical reliquaries, anatomical models, and wax effigies. Casts of bodies, automated figures involving blood and hair, and clothed sculptures will all examine how art attempts an approximation of life.
This won’t be the body’s first trip away from London; in 2002 it went to a similar museum in Germany. Mom would have been terribly disappointed if it hadn’t been there when we visited.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Smelling the Revolution

Chemical & Engineering News recently reported on various ways chemists are investigating, systematizing, and recreating the smells of the past.

This effort includes analyzing the smells of decaying books and paper and identifying the chemicals involved in that process, as shown above.

Other chemists are on “quests to deconstruct and recreate the odors of the past”:
Besides the technical difficulties of assembling a large number of molecules in the proper proportions, historian Mark Smith at the University of South Carolina cautions that interpreting these odors may be more difficult still. In previous eras, the omnipresent stench of unwashed bodies, manure, rotting fish, and wood smoke formed a nearly unnoticed olfactory backdrop that would likely overwhelm modern noses. Even if scientists recreate this odor landscape down to the last molecule, a 21st-century American will have a different experience with each inhale than a ninth-century Viking or a 17th-century Parisian. What we smell today will have an entirely different meaning to what they smelled back then.

“You have to ask whether your act of smelling something is the same as it was for them,” Smith says. The effort of interpreting historic smells “tells us more about us than it does the past.”

One example of our changing odor landscapes is the famous potpourri found at Knole, a 600-year-old manor house in Kent, southeast of London. Recipes helped historians create an accurate reproduction that is now for sale in the house’s gift shop. But Bembibre says that the potpourri, whose recipe dates to the 1750s, doesn’t always appeal to modern noses. The combination of dried flowers from the Knole garden, including lavender, bay leaves, and geraniums, and spices like mace and cinnamon, are foreign to some modern visitors, who aren’t accustomed to this combination of scents.
The Knole potpourri recipe was written down by Lady Elizabeth Germain (1680-1769), who left most of her fortune to Lord George Sackville, a descendant of one of her late husband’s friends. That man then changed his name to Lord George Germain and used the money to solidify his political standing. In 1775 he became the Secretary of State who avidly prosecuted the American War. We might say, therefore, that the Knole potpourri is one authentic smell of the American Revolution.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Why Wasn’t Henry Knox at the Boston Tea Party?

Considering how many families and authors have made claims for particular men to have participated in the Boston Tea Party, and how lionized Henry Knox has been since the Centennial, it’s surprising that no one’s made a claim that he helped to destroy the tea as well.

Instead, we have a plausible tradition that Knox was on Griffin’s Wharf on 15 Dec 1773, the night before the Tea Party.

That story first appears, so far as I can tell, in a series of essays titled “Recollections of a Bostonian” which ran in the Columbian Centinel starting in 1821.

One speaks in an interesting fashion about how the public memory of that protest had faded nearly fifty years afterward, a decade before the first book about George R. T. Hewes prompted Boston to celebrate the event:
There have been some doubts concerning the destruction of the tea on the 16th of December, 1773. The number of the ships, and the place where they were situated is not quite certain.—One gentleman, now living, over 70 years of age, thinks they were at Hubbard’s wharf, as it was then called, about half way between Griffin’s (now Liverpool) and Foster’s wharf, and that the number of ships was four or five.

Another gentleman, who is 75 years of age, and who was one of the guard detached from the new grenadier company, says that he spent the night, but one, before the destruction of the tea, in company with gen. Knox, then a private in that company, on board of one of the tea ships; that this ship lay on the south side of Russell’s wharf; and that there were two more on the north side of the same wharf, and he thinks one or two at Griffin’s wharf.

A gentleman now living, who came from England in one of the tea ships, thinks there were but two, but he is uncertain where they lay.

A song, written soon after the time, tells of “Three ill-fated ships at Griffin's wharf.” [I’ve found no other trace of this song.]

The whole evidence seems to result in this, there were three ships—but whether at Russell’s or Griffin’s wharf, or one or more at each, is not certain. The number of chests destroyed was, according to the news-papers of the time, 342.
(As Charles Bahne pointed out here, the number stated in East India Company inventories was 340.)

Henry Knox was indeed a member of “the new grenadier company” added to the Boston militia regiment in 1772. In fact, he was a founder of that company. That means he wasn’t “a private” but an ensign and then, by the time of the Tea Party, a lieutenant. But perhaps on the night of 17 Dec 1773 Knox was acting as a private, standing sentry like other men.

After all, that militia company had not been officially called out by the governor. Rather, Bostonians had decided on their own authority to patrol the docks and prevent the tea from being landed. At first the public meetings recruited volunteers ad hoc. After a few nights of that, leaders decided it would be a lot easier if the militia company commanders took turns calling for volunteers from their ranks.

Another, probably independent mention of the grenadier company taking a turn on the docks appeared in the Merchants’ Magazine in 1849:
Mr. Joseph Peirce, although a merchant of Boston, had, prior to the outbreak of the Revolution, organized a company of grenadiers, which he continued to command with Henry Knox, afterward Gen. Knox, as lieutenant, down to the day on which the tea was cast into Boston harbor. . . .

Capt. Peirce was in charge of the tea ships as guard on the night previous to the appearance of those world-renowned “Indians,” of whom his brother John was one. That event brought about the dissolution of the corps; but the friendship then formed between Gen. Knox and Mr. Peirce existed uninterruptedly to the death of the former, in 1806.
It’s not clear what that article meant by saying the Tea Party “brought about the dissolution of the corps.” Mills and Hicks’s almanac for 1775 still listed the grenadiers among the town’s militia units, Peirce and Knox among its officers. Perhaps the article meant that the Crown response to the Tea Party led to the British army’s clampdown on militia activity in 1775, the war, Knox’s departure, and the rest of history. Or perhaps the author was very confused.

In any event, there appears to be a strong tradition reaching us through two sources that Henry Knox helped to watch over the tea ships on the night before the Tea Party. So perhaps on the fateful night he was home resting.

Meanwhile, the artillery company or “train” had its turn patrolling the docks on 16 December—so those men, such as Ebenezer Stevens, John Crane, Samuel Gore, and Moses Grant, got to toss tea into the harbor. Some of them later served under Gen. Knox during the war.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

How Peter Slater Snuck Out to the Tea Party

Here’s another early insider’s account of the Boston Tea Party—made public only fifty-eight years after the event.

This account appeared in the obituary for Peter Slater, who died in Worcester in 1831. It was first published in the Newburyport Herald on 18 October and Slater’s home-town newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, on 19 October, and then reprinted with small changes in the November issue of the New-England Magazine:
Captain Slater was one of those persons who disguised themselves and threw the Tea overboard in Boston harbor, in December, 1773. He was then but a boy—an apprentice to a Rope maker, in Boston.

He attended the meeting of the citizens of Boston at the Old South Church, in the afternoon, where the question was agitated relative to the landing of the tea, and some communications were made to [Francis] Rotch, the consignee of the cargoes. His master, apprehensive that something would take place relative to the tea then in the harbor, took Peter home and shut him up in his chamber.

He escaped from the window, went to a Blacksmith’s shop, where he found a man disguised, who told Peter to tie a handkerchief round his frock, to black his face with charcoal and to follow him—the company soon increased to about twenty persons.

Captain Slater went on board the Brig [the Beaver] with five others—two of them brought the tea upon deck—two broke open the chests and threw them overboard—and Captain Slater with one other, stood with poles to push them under water. Not a word was exchanged between the parties from the time they left Griffin’s wharf till the cargo was emptied into the harbor, and they returned to the wharf and dispersed. This is the account of that memorable event as given by Capt. Slater.

He afterwards served five years as a soldier in the Revolution. He was a firm patriot, a brave soldier, a valuable citizen and an honest man.
Slater was born in 1760, thus thirteen years old at the time of the Tea Party and (contrary to the claim on his gravestone, above) seventy-one when he died. Though he was one of the youngest people who helped to destroy the tea, that wasn’t his first participation in political violence: he’d already been involved in the brawls that led up to the Boston Massacre.

Like Joshua Wyeth and Benjamin Simpson, who spoke for attribution about their experiences at the Tea Party in the late 1820s, Slater had moved out of Boston, and thus away from the ethos that kept such stories private. And of course by the time his account made it into print, he was dead.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The “Rally, Mohawks” Song of the Tea Party

In an address titled “Reminiscences of the Green Dragon Tavern,” delivered to the St. Andrew’s Lodge in 1864 and published in 1870, Charles W. Moore stated:
I have looked in vain for a copy of an old revolutionary song said to have been written and sung as a “rallying song” by the “tea party” at the Green Dragon. The following fragment, though probably not in all respects an exact transcript of the original, will indicate its general character:—
Rally, Mohawks!—bring out your axes!
And tell King George we’ll pay no taxes
On his foreign tea!
His threats are vain—and vain to think
To force our girls and wives to drink
His vile Bohea!
Then rally boys, and hasten on
To meet our Chiefs at the Green Dragon.

Our Warren’s there, and bold Revere,
With hands to do and words to cheer
For Liberty and Laws!
Our country’s “Braves” and firm defenders,
Shall ne’er be left by true North-Enders,
Fighting Freedom’s cause!
Then rally boys, and hasten on
To meet our Chiefs at the Green Dragon.
I regret not being able to give the balance of this song, but perhaps some curious antiquary may hereafter discover it, if it ever appeared in print. I am inclined to think, however, that it was a doggerel made for the occasion, and passed away when it ceased to be of use, or appropriate. The two stanzas I have re-produced, are given as nearly as my memory serves, as they were often recited more than a third of a century ago, by the late Bro. Benjamin Gleason, who, born near the time, was curious in gathering up interesting reminiscences of the revolutionary period of our history.
No other verses ever surfaced, nor any earlier printed source. Nonetheless, these lyrics were reprinted in Drake’s Tea Leaves, Goss’s Revere, Porter’s Rambles in Old Boston, and many later books to this day.

But are they authentic? Moore could trace them only to “more than a third of a century ago,” or about 1830—still more than fifty years separated from the Tea Party. Moore’s source, Benjamin Gleason, was a Grand Lecturer for the Freemasons. He was born in Boston in 1777—four years after the Tea Party. So what we have here is at least third-hand, passed on orally.

The internal evidence gives good reason to doubt that the men involved in destroying the tea sang these words that night. Why would people before or shortly after committing an illegal act declaim where they were meeting (“at the Green Dragon”) and who their leaders were (Dr. Joseph Warren and Paul Revere)?

There are more anachronisms:
  • As I wrote back here, it took years for Americans to make “Mohawks” the standard label for the tea destroyers.
  • In the Revolutionary turmoil, Boston’s political leaders tried to tamp down rivalries between different parts of the town, so they would discourage mentioning “true North-Enders” alone.
  • The American Patriots didn’t treat “King George” as their main villain until 1776.
The lyrics strongly hint that they were written decades after the Revolution, when Warren and Revere’s memory had eclipsed those of William Molineux, Dr. Thomas Young, and other street leaders of 1773. The Freemasons in the Green Dragon Tavern had particular reason to honor Warren and Revere, who had been leaders of their lodge.

As shown by John Johnson’s picture of the Green Dragon above, Boston’s post-Revolutionary Freemasons celebrated the link between their lodge and the destruction of the tea. Older members of that lodge knew Warren, and even younger men like Gleason probably knew Revere, who lived to 1818. And I think one of those men composed this song to honor their forebears’ actions—not to rally men behind them in 1773.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Assessing Benjamin Simpson’s Tale of the Tea Party

Yesterday I quoted Benjamin Simpson’s account of the Boston Tea Party, as he reportedly wrote it in 1828 and as it was published in 1830.

That’s one of the earliest descriptions of the event from someone who said he participated in destroying the tea. Men who remained in Boston must have talked about what they did, but they kept those accounts out of print. Simpson lived in Saco, Maine, so he might not have felt so much pressure to conform to follow that model.

According to a genealogy published in the Bangor Historical Magazine in 1891, Simpson was born in York, Maine, to Joshua and Maria Simpson on 2 Jan 1755. He was their first child, born four months after their marriage.

Simpson applied for a pension as a Revolutionary War veteran twice under different laws, in 1820 and 1833. Those documents described his military service in the Massachusetts militia and the Continental Army, including a stretch at Valley Forge, between 1775 and 1779. In those applications he didn’t mention destroying the tea, but that wasn’t germane.

Evidently something happened in 1828 that caused Simpson to write down his story about the tea. Perhaps he read accounts of Joshua Wyeth of Cincinnati. Wyeth was probably the first to speak to a newspaper-man about helping to destroy the tea, and he came up with the label “Tea Party” (for the participants, not the event). Like Simpson, Wyeth had moved away from Boston.

Simpson left behind some other documents about his life. One is a diary written from 1781 to 1849, the year of his death; that’s held by the Dyer Library in Saco. Scholars have used it to study the patterns of labor in the area and the sect that Simpson joined in 1818, the Cochranites. Neighbors respected Simpson, electing him to town offices.

To participate in the Tea Party, Simpson had to have been in Boston in December 1773, and the surviving records don’t indicate when or why he left his family in York. He didn’t name the bricklayer he was apprenticed to. I haven’t been able to locate Simpson in pre-war Boston, but as an apprentice he wouldn’t have shown up in many public records.

Simpson’s pension file indicates that he was back in York when the war began. Two other Tea Party participants in the building professions, carpenters John Crane and Ebenezer Stevens, also left Boston after the event, either out of fear of being arrested or because the Boston Port Bill meant there was more work elsewhere.

Simpson’s account suggests he was in the gallery of the Old South Meeting-House during the final tea meeting—he describes what people in the gallery were calling out as Francis Rotch reported his frustrating trip to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s house in Milton.

“We repaired to the wharf where the ships lay,” Simpson wrote. That was an impromptu act; he wasn’t part of the small group that had prepared to board the ships in disguise. He saw “a number of men came on the wharf, (with the Indian powaw).” That last word could mean either a gathering of Natives or a leader of them, and in this case Simpson indicated the latter. It would be nice if he had offered more detail about how that man was dressed, but the brief phrase indicates that leaders of the action had indeed disguised themselves in some way as Indians while other participants hadn’t.

Simpson correctly recalled that one of the vessels was a “brig,” the other two “ships” in eighteenth-century terms. He noted how the brig still carried other cargo besides tea, unlike the two ships. He described a detail that appears in other sources as well: at low tide, the water was so shallow that the heaps of tea began to build up beside the vessels. Teen-aged apprentices had to climb overboard and sweep the leaves into the water to ensure nothing drinkable survived.

There are small glitches in Simpson’s account. He called Rotch the captain of the first tea ship rather than one of its owners. He wrote, “I was then 19 years old, am now 75.” He was three weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday during the Tea Party and seventy-three in 1828. But those are minor matters. All in all, Simpson’s story seems reliable. He wasn’t part of planning the event, but he was there.

(Confusing matters a little, another man named Benjamin Simpson moved from Massachusetts to Maine about the same time. He is said to have been born in Groton, married Sarah Shattuck in Boston in 1781, and settled in the town of Winslow in 1789. This Simpson died in 1839; accounts differ about his age. His family believed he had not only been in the Battle of Lexington and Concord but “took an Englishman prisoner” that day, and also saw action at Bunker Hill. But no Tea Party connection.)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Benjamin Simpson and the “Destruction of Tea in Boston”

On 10 Nov 1828, a prosperous farmer in Saco, Maine, wrote out his recollections of an event in Boston fifty-five years earlier:

Destruction of Tea in Boston, Dec. 16, 1773.

I was then an apprentice to a bricklayer, when two ships and a brig, with tea on board, arrived at Boston, with heavy duties, which the Bostonians would not consent to pay. The town being alarmed at such proceedings, called town-meetings day after day, night after night.

The captain of the first ship that arrived [actually Dartmouth owner Francis Rotch], went from the town-meeting, to the governor [Thomas Hutchinson] to see if he would give his ship a passport out by Castle Island. At his return in the evening (the town waiting the result of the application,) he was asked the governor’s answer, which was that he should not grant a pass unless she was well qualified from the Customhouse.

After the captain reported this answer to the meeting, a voice was heard in the gallery, hope she will be well qualified. The captain was then asked if he would take charge of the ship and carry her out of Boston, notwithstanding the refusal of the governor; to which he answered, No. (A whistle in the gallery—call to order.) The meeting was then declared to be dissolved, (in the gallery, Every man to his tent!)

We repaired to the wharf where the ships lay. I went on board one or both ships, but saw no person belonging to them. In a few minutes a number of men came on the wharf, (with the Indian powaw,) went on board the ships then lying at the side of the wharf, the water in the dock not more than two feet deep. They began to throw the tea into the water which went off with the tide till the tea grounded.

We soon found there was tea on board the brig [Beaver]; a demand being made of it, the captain told us the whole of his cargo was on board; that the tea was directly under the hatches, which he would open if we would not damage any thing but the tea; which was agreed to. The hatches were then opened—a man sent down to show us the tea, which we hoisted out, stove the chests, threw tea and all overboard. Those on board the ships, did the same.

I was on board the ships when the tea was so high by the side of them as to fall in; which was shovelled down more than once. We on board the brig were not disguised. I was then 19 years old, am now 75.

Benjamin Simpson.
That reminiscence was published by the Portland Weekly Advertiser on 17 Apr 1849 in its obituary for Simpson. He had died on 23 March at the age of 94.

The same words, with different punctuation, had already appeared in George Folsom’s 1830 History of Saco and Biddeford. But the newspaper editors felt certain they had Simpson’s recollection in his own handwriting.

Simpson and his Revolutionary history were well known in Saco. Back in 1835 the Daily Advertiser had pointed out that George R. T. Hewes, then being feted in Boston, was not the only survivor of the Boston Tea Party since Simpson “enjoys very good health, and retains all his faculties.”

TOMORROW: Assessing Simpson’s story.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Mystery of “Mucius Scævola”

Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy started to publish the essays of “Mucius Scævola” on 30 May 1771, four months after Joseph Greenleaf advertised his property in Abington for sale.

That summer there was a dispute over which Boston printer got the contract to publish the graduating Harvard class’s theses—Richard Draper of the established and government-friendly Boston News-Letter or Thomas of the Spy. Thomas won, which sparked a little newspaper war. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts published a whole article about that dispute, which it’s made available here.

On 8 Aug 1771 the News-Letter offered an essay which described the men behind “the dirty Spy” this way:

What a wretched Triumvirate! a poor shiftless erratic Knight from Abington, a dunghill-bred Journeyman Typographer, and a stupid phrensical Mountebank
Thomas was the “Typographer.” The “Mountebank” was almost certainly Dr. Thomas Young, who many people agreed was writing for the Spy under the name “Leonidas” and was well known for this enthusiasms in both medicine and politics. And the “Knight from Abington” could only be Joseph Greenleaf—it wasn’t that big a town.

The 15 August Spy carried a couple of replies. One insisted that “neither Joseph Greenleaf, Esq; Doctor Thomas Young, nor Mr. Isaiah Thomas” had been involved in composing a statement from the graduating Harvard students. But that’s different from denying that those men were connected to the Spy. In fact, Greenleaf and Thomas had become business partners of some sort.

Another reply in the same issue addressed three pseudonymous or anonymous News-Letter essayists this way:
If by ridiculing and sneering at my character, and maliciously defaming me; you think you have offered a sacrifice of a sweet smelling favour in the nostrils of his Excellency [Gov. Thomas Hutchinson], you may possibly be mistaken; he too well knows your views, he also knows that “Nero’s flatterers, were Nero’s assassins.”

I have one favour to ask of you, that is, that you would not lurk priv’ly to take away my reputation; act like veterans; take the field in open day-light, and to use the language of the Cantabrigian, “Lie on,” make yourselves what mirth you please at my expence, bury none of your talents at defamation, only let the world know your names; subscribe your future productions, and let mankind judge of the truth of the charges by the credibility of the accusers of

In his article “Tag-Team Polemics,” published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1995, Neil L. York wrote that this was one of three times that Greenleaf denied having anything to do with the “Mucius Scævola” essays.

That’s not how I read Greenleaf’s reply. He wasn’t denying anything, except that his opponents’ attacks would win them favor with the governor. He challenged his opponents to drop their anonymity. Sure, it would be hypocritical to issue that challenge while continuing to publish under a pseudonym, but Greenleaf didn’t confirm or deny he was “Mucius Scævola.”

Likewise, the other two “denials” never really denied that connection. On 22 November, as I quoted yesterday, Greenleaf disingenuously said that he couldn’t imagine why he had received a summons from the Council after “Mucius Scævola” called the governor a “USURPER.” In the 13 Jan 1772 Boston Gazette, Greenleaf went further in an addendum to a letter about the whole controversy:
P. S. A secret has leaked out, it is said, it was my duty as a magistrate, to have prevented the publication of the Piece signed Mucius Scævola! But I have no such connections with Mr. Thomas or any other Printer, as give me a right to restrain him or them in any publication, though I must confess, that if I had power to restrain the Press, I should have no inclination to hinder Mucius, or even Chronus, or Impavidus, from laying their sentiments before the public.
Greenleaf thus denied “connections with Mr. Thomas”—but only connections which would give him legal authority as a justice of the peace to restrain the press. We know he really was in business with Thomas.

In that postscript Greenleaf wrote of “Mucius” in a way that implied the writer was separate from himself. Likewise, in a 2 Jan 1772 essay in the Spy “Mucius Scævola” reproached Gov. Hutchinson for how he had treated “J. Greenleaf, Esq”:
I argued this point with you in a former paper, and you summoned Mr. Justice Greenleaf to appear before you in council to answer to it. He knew you had again gone beyond your last, and treated your summons as it deserved.
Those remarks certainly imply that Greenleaf didn’t want to be identified as “Mucius Scævola,” but they’re not direct denials.

In Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts, Richard D. Brown accepted the implication of Greenleaf’s Gazette postscript and wrote that the governor went after him because he “had made no attempt to suppress an inflammatory piece by [Dr. Joseph] Warren in Isaiah Thomas’ Spy.” I suspect that mixes up the 1771 controversy with the similar dispute over one of Warren’s essays in 1768, which I noted here. In his recent biography of Warren, Samuel Forman took Brown’s opening to ascribe all the “Mucius Scævola” essays to Warren. I’m not convinced by that reading of the evidence.

Rather, I think Greenleaf’s replies show how carefully he avoided making a direct statement about whether he was “Mucius Scævola.” He played dumb about why the Council would want to see him. He fudged his connection with Thomas. He challenged his opponents to give up their anonymity first. But he never stated that he hadn’t written the essay everyone was talking about, which he could have done at any time if he were really being unjustly accused. Anyone observing political interviews today can see him silently sidestepping the big question he didn’t want to answer.

It’s true that we have no claim from either Greenleaf or Thomas (shown above in old age) that Greenleaf wrote as “Mucius Scævola.” But neither did they or any contemporary ever name someone else as that writer. Thomas did acknowledge that Greenleaf became his partner in some ventures and wrote effective political essays. If those weren’t the “Mucius Scævola” pieces in the Spy, where are they?

The Abington Resolves that Greenleaf penned in 1770 declared that Parliament’s new laws were “a mere nullity” because they didn’t come from proper authority. “Mucius Scævola” called the governor’s decrees “null and void” for the same reason. And in his January 1772 response over his own name, Greenleaf declared the Council’s summons “WHOLLY illegal” and not worth “paying any obedience to.” That was his go-to argument.

Hutchinson and other supporters of the royal government were convinced that Greenleaf was “Mucius Scævola,” even if they couldn’t prove it. For almost two centuries, historians accepted that assessment. No one before Brown ascribed those essays to Dr. Warren. Even York, while writing that Greenleaf denied authorship, treated him as “Mucius Scævola.” And unless more evidence turns up, I’m giving him credit, too.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Joseph Greenleaf and “the Council-chamber in Boston”

On 16 Nov 1771, the day after Joseph Greenleaf declined to meet with Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and the Massachusetts Council (on the understandable grounds that his teen-aged son was dying), the Council issued a formal summons for him:
You are required to appear before the Governor and Council, at the Council-chamber in Boston, on Tuesday the tenth day of December next, at ten of the clock in the forenoon, then and there to be examined touching a certain paper called The Massachusetts Spy, published the fourteenth day of November, 1771; whereof you are not to fail at your peril.
Greenleaf’s name didn’t actually appear in that issue of the Spy. The essay that angered the governor was signed “Mucius Scævola,” and Hutchinson was convinced that was Greenleaf’s pen name.

In an article in the 13 Jan 1772 Boston Gazette, Greenleaf laid out his response:
This proceeding alarmed me, as I judged it WHOLLY illegal, for I could have no idea of the legality of erecting a court of INQUISITION in this free country, and could find no form for such a citation in the province law books: My duty to my country therefore forbad my paying any obedience to it, especially as it might hereafter be used as a precedent.

I should be very unwilling to be thought a despiser of the laws of my country, I religiously submit to them all, “not only for wrath, but for conscience sake.” [Romans 13:5] I have not such a mistaken notion of liberty, as to think it consists in a freedom from obligation either to the laws of nature or of the laws of the land: But the freedom I now contend for is, a right of resistance, or rather withholding my obedience, when unlawfully commanded.
Greenleaf had the summons printed in the 22 November Massachusetts Spy. “I know not the design of it, nor why it is sent to me rather than to any body else,” he wrote. That and other Whig newspapers began to run essays in support of him.

On 10 December, Greenleaf didn’t go to the Town House as demanded. (The empty Council Chamber appears above, courtesy of the Old State House Museum.)

The Council minutes for that date therefore stated:
His Excellency having acquainted the Board at their last meeting, that Joseph Greenleaf, Esq; a Justice of the Peace for the county of Plymouth, was generally reputed to be concerned with Isaiah Thomas, in printing and publishing a News-Paper, called the Massachusetts Spy, and the said Joseph Greenleaf having thereupon been summoned to attend the board on this day, in order to his examination touching the same, and not attending according to summons, it was thereupon unanimously advised, that the said Joseph Greenleaf be dismissed from the office of a Justice of the Peace, which advice was approved of and consented to by his Excellency, and the said Joseph Greenleaf is dismissed from the said office accordingly.
That notice was printed in the newspapers. Hutchinson had found a way to punish someone for the essay that called his a “USURPER,” even if he had to take a roundabout route to that result.

Greenleaf’s response in the Boston Gazette was a legal argument that royal commissions couldn’t be repealed that way:
…if a Justice of the Peace may be dismissed from his office, because he refuses to be examined about a common News-Paper by any Court, but one legally impowered to summon and examine him, if he may be dismissed, because he is “supposed by people in general” to be concerned with a Printer, or any other person, that the governor has conceived a dislike to, we are in a pitiable case.
Greenleaf went on to say that losing the job of magistrate “gives me no uneasiness, for by leaving the County where I had jurisdiction [Plymouth], I voluntarily relinquished it.” Yet he insisted, “I still have jurisdiction when I please to take my seat on the bench at the Court of Sessions.” So he wasn’t fired—he quit. And he could take that back any time.

TOMORROW: Was Greenleaf really “Mucius Scævola”?

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Unusual Ambitions of Joseph Greenleaf

As I quoted back here, on 14 Nov 1771 the Massachusetts Spy published an essay signed “Mucius Scævola” that called Gov. Thomas Hutchinson a “USURPER,” which was at least close to sedition. After some effort, the governor convinced his Council to respond to that essay.

That body didn’t summon just Isaiah Thomas, the newspaper’s printer. They also sent a message to Joseph Greenleaf, who in January had put his “30 Acres of choice Land” and “handsome Dwelling-House” in Abington up for sale and moved into Boston—to devote more time to the press.

That was an extraordinary action for an eighteenth-century gentleman. British society had an established social ladder. Journeymen aspired to become independent craftsmen with prosperous workshops, no longer managed by another man. Independent craftsmen aspired to become merchants arranging lucrative ventures, no longer working with their hands. Merchants aspired to become landed gentlemen overseeing large farms, no longer subject to the vagaries of trade because their fortune was now in “real estate.”

Furthermore, British society still considered printing a craft, not a gentleman’s profession. Printers literally got their hands dirty, after all. Even writing for publication was less than genteel. Most upper-class authors published anonymously or under pseudonyms, though their neighbors and rivals often knew the real identities behind those pen names. All told, giving up a rural estate in order to go into publishing looked like a step or two down the social ladder.

When 1770 began, Greenleaf was a country squire—a big man in Abington. He was a justice of the peace for Plymouth County. His had married Abigail Paine, older sister of Robert Treat Paine, thus allying him with some other genteel families in southeastern Massachusetts.

But Greenleaf got excited about Massachusetts’s resistance to Parliament’s new policies. He drafted sixteen resolutions that his town adopted two weeks after the Boston Massacre, laying out a political philosophy that started with “a state of nature” and went on to reject any new taxes “passed in either of the Parliaments of France, Spain, or England” as “a mere nullity”—a striking way of saying that the legislature in London had no authority over the people of Massachusetts.

Abington’s resolutions were published widely. The Essex Gazette ran a letter from New York that said:
The Resolves of those illustrious, and immortal Friends to the RIGHTS OF MEN—The Abington Resolves, have given their Brethren here, INFINITE PLEASURE, and I imagine some others as much Pain.
The same paper also ran a letter from London:
The Abington Resolves are too flaming and rash. They are rather like the transient flashes of passion, than the cool, steady, equal flame of patriotism and liberty…
Either way, Greenleaf seems to have been hooked on imperial political debate. Abington became too small for him.

In 1771, as I said, Greenleaf moved into Boston. What’s more, he made some sort of deal with Isaiah Thomas, the young printer of the Massachusetts Spy. It’s not clear what their arrangement was because the culture of the time didn’t have the occupational category of “publisher”—i.e., someone who finances and manages the printing and selling of a periodical or books without actually operating the press.

The Council stated in December that Greenleaf “was generally reputed to be concerned with Isaiah Thomas, in printing and publishing a News-Paper, called the Massachusett’s Spy.” The following year, the Censor magazine, set up to support the royal government, said Greenleaf was “reputed…to be in Co-Partnership with Mr. Thomas.”

In October 1772, Greenleaf himself advertised that he “carries on the Printing Business with E. Russell.” But that was a footnote to an announcement that he had opened “A STORE, INTELLIGENCE-OFFICE, and VENDUE ROOM,” or auction house, selling imported goods, cloth, “Bristol Beer,” and more. He was presenting himself mainly as an import merchant, with the printing as a side business.

A lot of people then and since nonetheless referred to Greenleaf as a “printer.” I doubt he set type or worked the levers on the press (as demonstrated above by Gary Gregory of the modern Edes & Gill Print Shop). But he definitely worked with Thomas to publish the Spy and later the Royal American Magazine, probably by putting up money and writing and editing copy. In between those ventures he also funded work in Russell’s shop (but not the Censor, both the magazine and Greenleaf were anxious to assure people).

Because of his financial interest in the Spy, Gov. Hutchinson and the Council summoned Greenleaf to discuss the “Mucius Scævola” essay. According to Greenleaf:
On the 15th of November last [i.e., in 1771] I received a polite message from the Governor and Council, by Mr. Baker, desiring my attendance at the Council Chamber, this I have no fault to find with: The distress of my family, on account of a sick child, who died that day, was such that I could not possibly attend, and I excused myself in the most polite manner I was capable of.
Indeed, the 18 November Boston Evening-Post ran a death notice for “Mr. Joseph Greenleaf, jun, in the 18th Year of his Age, Son of Joseph Greenleaf, Esq.”

But Gov. Hutchinson wasn’t satisfied with Greenleaf’s excuse for not coming to the Council chamber. Because he didn’t think the man was simply Thomas’s partner in putting out the Spy. He believed that Greenleaf was “Mucius Scævola.”

TOMORROW: Greenleaf’s claims.