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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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Other Author of “The Liberty Song”

Earlier this month I wrote about “The Liberty Song,” which became popular throughout Britain’s North American colonies in late 1768.

The main author of that song, everyone agrees, was the Pennsylvania and Delaware lawyer John Dickinson. However, from the start Dickinson stated that the young Virginian Arthur Lee had “composed eight lines of it.”

That got me wondering how those two men collaborated. They didn’t live in the same colony, after all.

The answer seems to lie in Lee’s ambition to be involved in everything, which he shared with his brothers. He went to England for a top British education at Eton and then the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. After graduating in 1764, Lee went across the Channel to Leiden for another year of training. In same period he thrust himself into imperial politics, writing the pamphlet “An Essay in Vindication of the Continental Colonies of America.”

Lee came back to Virginia and set up a medical practice in Williamsburg. He ran into two problems. First, politics, both imperial and local, kept taking up his attention; he published a series of militant letters over the signature “Monitor” in William Rind’s Virginia Gazette in early 1768 and kept up the Lee family feud with the Mercers. Second, he just wasn’t that interested in medicine.

Meanwhile, in April 1768 Dickinson, now widely respected as author of The Farmer’s Letters, was trying to convince the merchants of Philadelphia to enter a non-importation pact, in the same way they had united against the Stamp Act three years before. Except those merchants didn’t want to. The debate in the newspapers pulled in Charles Thomson, Joseph Galloway—and young Dr. Arthur Lee from Williamsburg.

Lee declared in the 30 May Pennsylvania Chronicle that “the spirit of liberty is lukewarm in this powerful and important city.” [At least that’s what the Historical Society of Pennsylvania said in its 1895 edition of Dickinson’s papers. The newspaper database I use has no issues of the Chronicle from late May 1768 to confirm that.]

I don’t know if Lee visited Philadelphia before making that observation, but he was in the city the next month. That’s when he met Dickinson. Both men liked the idea of fighting the Townshend Act through a continental political movement, not just resistance from each colony. Lee appears to have brought the beginning of “The Liberty Song,” and Dickinson took up his invitation to collaborate.

Dickinson also took advantage of the young visitor’s presence by having Lee copy over an essay criticizing the Philadelphia mercantile community. Dickinson wanted to push the local merchants along, but didn’t want to make them resent him. So they pretended that essay came from Lee. It was published as “A Copy of a Letter from a Gentleman in Virginia to a Merchant in Philadelphia.”

By 6 July, Lee was back in Virginia, staying with George Washington at Mount Vernon. Shortly after that he sailed for London, where he took up the study of law. Eventually he became one of the U.S. of A.’s first diplomats.

Back in America, Lee’s older brother Richard Henry Lee maintained the connection to Dickinson, writing on 25 July: “From my brother, Dr. Lee, I have been informed of the kindness, with which you have expressed your willingness to begin a correspondence with me.”

The following year, Richard Henry Lee had Rind print Dickinson’s Farmer’s Letters and his little brother’s Monitor’s Letters in a single volume. He added a preface by himself and yet another version of “The Liberty Song.” Dickinson’s last and longest version of the song, published in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on 11 July 1768, had contained nine stanzas. The 1769 publication had five, four old and one new:
Here’s a health to our King, and the Nation at home,
AMERICA and BRITAIN should ever be one:
In liberty’s cause, we united shall stand
The envy and dread of each neighbouring land.
There’s no indication who composed those lines—Arthur Lee, John Dickinson, or perhaps even Richard Henry Lee.

TOMORROW: A measure of the popularity of “The Liberty Song” in Boston.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Ross Wyman, Chairman of the Blacksmiths’ Convention

Since I’ll be speaking in Shrewsbury tomorrow evening, I’m sharing some material from Andrew H. Ward’s 1847 History of the Town of Shrewsbury.

September 1774 was crucial to the transition away from royal rule in Massachusetts. That was the month of the “Powder Alarm,” the disappearance of cannon from several spots around Boston harbor, and the last of the county conventions before the Massachusetts Provincial Congress formed.

And there was another, more specialized meeting:
On the 21st of September, 1774, a Convention of the Blacksmiths of the County was held at Worcester, and their patriotic proceedings, signed by forty three members, were printed, and distributed through the County. Ross Wyman of Shrewsbury, Chairman.

They resolved, that they would not, not either of them do any blacksmith work for the tories, nor for any one in their employ, nor for any one, who had not signed the non-consumption agreement agreed upon, and signed by the Congress at Philadelphia; and requested all denominations of artificers to call meetings of their craftsmen, and adopt like measures. The proceedings of the several conventions were communicated to, and read in the Provincial Congress, which gave free utterance to the combined will of the people, so consonant to their own.

Their recommendations and resolves were received as laws duly enacted, and were enforced with a promptitude and zeal, that nothing could withstand.
The clerk of that convention, who probably organized the event and drafted the convention’s resolves, was Worcester’s Timothy Bigelow.

As for Ross Wyman (1717-1808), Ward wrote:
He was a stout, athletic man, and, previous to the Revolution, while in Boston, and in his wagon, came near being seized and carried off by a press-gang from a British man-of-war. He resolutely defended himself, and, at length, snatching up a cod fish with both hands in the gills, beat them off by slapping them in the face with its slimy tail!

He was a blacksmith by trade, a warm friend to his country, and ever refused to do blacksmithing, or other work for a tory. At the commencement of the Revolution, Gen. [Artemas] Ward requested him to make him a gun and bayonet of sufficient strength for him to pitch a man over his head. He made it to order, and, of horse nail stubs; it was a real king’s arm, as a certain kind of musket was called at that day; a valuable piece, and did the country some service.

How it had done before, and in other hands, is not so well known, but some time after the Revolution, it was, when in the writer’s hands, many times known to do execution, at one and the same time, both in front and rear.
Ward the local historian was Ward the general’s grandson. He evidently got a chance to shoot Wyman’s musket and discovered it flashed back in his face in a big way.

The picture above shows a mill that Wyman and his family built in Shrewsbury the early 1800s, courtesy of the Digital Commonwealth.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Greene Family Crisis over Playing Cards

On 29 January 1776, Gen. Nathanael Greene wrote to his brother Christopher from the Continental camp on Prospect Hill about a family crisis—his wife’s friends had played cards in front of their stepmother.

The general wrote:
I am extream sorry that Mr [John] Gooch and Nancy Varnum affronted Mother at my House with Cards. Surely Mrs [Catherine] Greene could not be present. She must have known better. It was insult that I would not have sufferd the best friend I had in the World to have offerd to her.

Altho I think Cards in themselves as innocent as any other pieces of Paper yet its criminal to play before her because they knew how Conscious the friends are in these matters. In the choice of all our pleasures regard should be had to time and place, private and publick Prejudices. Since the Resolution of Congress I have never had a Card in my hand to play, not sufferd one in my House that I remember.

I Love and Esteem the old Lady and should be very sorry that this disagreeable circumstance should be constered into an intentiononal [sic] affront, for I dare presume it proceeded intirely from Ignorance and not out of any disrespect to her. People that have been Accustomed to these things all their Days dont feel upon the Occasion like you and me who have stole the pleasures in secret Corners.
There are layers of disapprobation here. Mary (Collins Rodman) Greene disliked card-playing because of her Quaker values—but obviously her stepsons had snuck in more than a few games.

Then the Continental Congress in its Association of 20 Oct 1774 had urged Americans to avoid “all kinds of gaming,” including cards, and Nathanael Greene said he had complied.

But Nathanael’s wife Catherine came from a higher social class, and she was independent in many ways. It looks like her social circle didn’t adhere to either the Congress’s or traditional Quakers’ strictures against cards. Indeed, despite the general’s expression of certainty, it strikes me that Catherine Greene probably knew exactly what was going on in their house.

John Gooch was probably the same man of that name who became a captain in James Varnum’s Continental Army regiment and saw action at Harlem Heights and Fort Washington in 1776. However, that man’s service at least nominally started in January, so he should have been in the camp when Greene wrote this letter. Maybe he was on recruiting duty while playing cards.

On 9 Feb 1776, Nathanael and Catherine’s first child was born. They named that son after Nathanael’s boss: George Washington Greene. Giving birth apparently freed Catherine to travel, and she reportedly visited the camp at Cambridge before the end of the siege. She certainly spent many months later in the war traveling with the army and socializing with other commanders’ wives rather than staying at home in Rhode Island with her mother-in-law.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Chair in New Old Clothing

At Kimberly Alexander’s Silk Damask blog, Jeffrey Hopper just wrote about the restoration of this chair to what was likely its original appearance.

Hopper explained:
Produced in Boston for the better part of 40 years, shipped throughout the colonies and copied by craftsmen in those same colonies, this chair in its many iterations defined its period. Its shape firmly links the design aesthetic of the Restoration Decades (1660-1714) with that of the long Eighteenth Century (1714-1837). The seat and legs reflect the turning traditions of hundreds of years, while the curved back introduces the modern notion of seated comfort.
So it’s a rather ordinary colonial New England chair. But for the past century it’s looked even more quaint and old-fashioned with an embroidered seat and back, as shown by photographs in that posting. But according to today’s experts, that wasn’t how such chairs appeared in the eighteenth century. That’s how people of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century believed they appeared.
The needlepoint chair is an object in the collection of the Warner House in Portsmouth, NH. For some time it was relegated to storage. Stylistically it was viewed as more Colonial Revival than 18th century—it no longer seemed to fit into the presentation of the house.

Several years ago we began to reaccess the presentation of the house and this chair moved from storage into a 19th century bedchamber. It looked vaguely late Victorian in its upholstery and fit into the 19th century bedchamber that displayed several generations of furnishings. Personally, I liked the chair, or at least the structure of it, despite its upholstery. In the accession file from the 1960s it is listed as an 18th century chair, but in the wrong clothing even an authentic piece looks more like a reproduction than an original.

One day we examined it from the side and realized it was likely an 18th century Boston chair covered in fabric, not leather. After a good bit of research and curatorial conversation it was decided to remove and save the needlework, and then replace it with black leather.
After work described and pictured in Hopper’s posting, the chair is once again suitable for display in an eighteenth-century room.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Glimpses of Revolutionary Camp Followers

In recent months Susan Holloway Scott at Two Nerdy History Girls shared a couple of artifacts that offer glimpses of the families who traveled with eighteenth-century armies.

In the collections of the Library of Congress is a panoramic view of the Hudson River in watercolor by Pierre L’Enfant. That includes a few vignettes of the American camp at West Point, New York, in 1782.

Scott notes:
A woman is shown holding a tin kettle for three soldiers to eat directly from it, while an interested (and likely hungry!) dog waits nearby. To their left are two girls climbing up the hillside. Again according to the exhibition’s notes, documents from 1782 list 150 women and children at West Point in addition to about 3,600 soldiers. Wives, daughters, and sweethearts, these women sewed, washed laundry, and supplied food for the men - important if often overlooked contributions to the military effort.
Go to Scott’s posting for close-ups of the relevant portions of the panorama.

Last year she shared an artifact owned by the New-York Historical Society, shown above: a ceramic lamb, a few inches long, that a child probably lost while camping with the British army near New York City.

Both these artifacts are on loan to Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution, now offering an exhibit titled “Among His Troops: Washington’s War Tent in a Newly Discovered Watercolor.” L’Enfant is also credited with the long panorama at the center of that exhibit, which will be up until 19 February.

Friday, January 26, 2018

“A person capable of peopling the banks of the Mississippi with parrots”

When I wrote yesterday that French novelist and diplomat Chateaubriand’s description of meeting President George Washington in 1791 was a “baldfaced lie,” that didn’t mean it was entirely false.

Chateaubriand was correct in saying that Washington was “tall,” for example.

But as for meeting the first President before heading to the Niagara region to search for the Northwest Passage, we know that wasn’t true.

Chateaubriand did arrive in the U.S. of A.—in July 1791, according to his memoir. He brought a letter from Armand-Charles Tuffin, marquis de La Rouërie. As “Colonel Armand,” that French nobleman had fought for America in the Revolutionary War, riding confusingly to the rank of general. On 22 Mar 1791 he wrote to George Washington:
Mr le chevalier de Combourg [that’s Chateaubriand] a noble man of the State of Britany & a neighbourg of mine, is going over to north america.

the purpose of that Journey, I presume, is to inrich his mind by the active Contemplation of such a moving & happy country, and to satisfy his soul By seeing the extraordinary man & thoses respectable Citizens who, led By the hand of virtue through the most difficult contest, have made their chief Counsellor of her in establishing & enjoying their liberty—

his relations, for whom I have a very great regard, desire me to recommand him to the notice of your Excellency…
But on 5 September President Washington wrote back:
I have had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 22nd of march last.

Being indisposed on the day when Monsieur de Combourg called to deliver your letter I did not see him—and I understood that he set off for Niagara on the next day.
Washington had been ill in early July, just the time the young Frenchman passed through Philadelphia.

Some scholars have suggested that Chateaubriand could have actually met the President at the end of his American travels instead of the beginning, and just misremembered many years later. The problem with that theory is that Chateaubriand made so many false claims about what he saw in America that we should presume his stories are false unless there’s corroborating evidence.

Matthew Wills just wrote at JSTOR Daily:
One of the founders of French Romanticism, Chateaubriand spent five months traveling the United States in 1791 and then proceeded to write wildly successful books about his American experiences, real and imagined. . . .

In his Memoirs and his Voyage en Amérique, Chateaubriand claimed to have visited Niagara Falls, voyaged on the Ohio and the Mississippi, and seen Louisiana, Florida, and Kentucky.

Given the non-existent state of national infrastructure, it seemed highly improbable that he covered so much terrain in less than half a year. Yet it wasn’t until 1903 that a thorough debunking by a fellow Frenchman showed that Chateaubriand’s American trip was largely fictitious. He definitely got to Niagara Falls, which awed him, and possibly to Pittsburgh. He did not venture south.
Instead, Chateaubriand cribbed details of the southern landscape from earlier travelers, particularly the botanist William Bartram. But of course not all parts of the Americas are alike. Even in 1827 the American Quarterly Review dismissed Chateaubriand’s descriptions by saying: “A person capable of peopling the banks of the Mississippi with parrots, monkeys and flamingoes, can never have been there.”

So what about Chateaubriand’s encounter with President Washington is true? We know he delivered his letter of reference to the President’s mansion; that document survives in Washington’s papers, and he eventually sent his reply to Colonel Armand.

Chateaubriand may well have seen the President ride through the streets in his carriage and felt the disappointment he described that this modern Cincinnatus wasn’t just a plain farmer.

But as for having a one-on-one meeting with Washington, impressing him with exploration plans and complimenting him with wit, and then warning the President over dinner that souvenirs of the French Revolution were nothing to be proud of? Those parts of Chateaubriand’s story appear to be the products of wishful imagination.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A French Novelist’s Description of Meeting President Washington

François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), spent five months in the U.S. of A. in 1791, ostensibly on a quest for the Northwest Passage.

He brought back enough material to fill his novels Atala (1801), René (1802), and Les Natchez (written in the 1790s but published in 1826). These became some of founding texts of French Romanticism.

For his Memoirs, published soon after his death, Chateaubriand wrote about the first President:
When I arrived at Philadelphia, General Washington was not there, and it was a week before he returned. I saw him pass in a carriage whirled along by four spirited horses. Washington, according to my ideas at that period, was necessarily a Cincinnatus; but Cincinnatus in a carriage was a little out of harmony with my republic of the year of Rome, 296. Could the Dictator Washington be other than a rustic, urging on his oxen, and holding his plough? But when I went to deliver my letter of introduction, I found all the simplicity of an ancient Roman.

A small house, similar to those around it, was the palace of the President of the United States; no guards, not even any men-servants. I knocked, and a young girl opened; I asked if the general was at home; she replied in the affirmative, and I said I had a letter to deliver to him. She asked my name, but found it very difficult to pronounce, and could not remember it; then requested me to “walk in,” led me along one of those narrow corridors which serve as vestibules to English houses, and left me in a parlour, where she begged me to wait for the general.

I was not moved or embarrassed; neither greatness of soul nor splendour of fortune awe me; I admire the former without feeling overwhelmed by it; the latter inspires me with more pity than respect; face of man will never confuse me.

After an interval of a few minutes, the general entered; tall, calm, and cold, rather than noble in mien; the engravings of him are good. I silently handed him my letter; he opened it, and turned to the signature, which he read aloud, exclaiming, “Colonel Armand!” The Marquis de la Rouerie was known to him by this name, and had signed the letter with it. We sat down, and I explained to him, as well as I could, the motive of my journey. He answered me in English and French monosyllables, and listened to me with a sort of astonishment. I perceived this, and said to him with some warmth, “But it is less difficult to discover the North-west passage than to create a nation as you have done.”

“Well, well, young man!” cried he, holding out his hand to me. He invited me to dine with him on the following day, and we parted.

I took care not to fail in my appointment. We were only a party of five or six; the conversation turned on the French revolution, and the general showed us a key of the Bastille. I have already said that these keys were the rather foolish playthings which it was then the fancy to distribute. Three years later, the distributors of locksmiths’ work might have sent the president the bolt of the prison of the monarch who gave liberty to France and to America. If Washington had seen the victors of the Bastille in the gutters of Paris, he would have less respected his relic.
This is a vivid picture of the first President early in his administration, greeting a young French nobleman when the direction of the French Revolution was still up in the air.

It’s also a baldfaced lie.

TOMORROW: Sorting truth from fiction.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

America’s Early Grave

Last month N.P.R.’s The Two Way reported on America’s original kilogram. Or, as the weight was called at the time, the grave.

That story started in 1793 with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson seeking to unify American weights and measures. And of course he liked the new French approach:
He wrote to his pals in France, and the French sent a scientist named Joseph Dombey off to Jefferson carrying a small copper cylinder with a little handle on top. It was about 3 inches tall and about the same wide.

This object was intended to be a standard for weighing things, part of a weights and measure system being developed in France, now known as the metric system. The object’s weight was 1 kilogram.

Crossing the Atlantic, Dombey ran into a giant storm.

“It blew his ship quite far south into the Caribbean Sea,” says [National Institute of Standards and Technology librarian Keith] Martin.

And you know who was lurking in Caribbean waters in the late 1700s? Pirates.

“These pirates were British privateers, to be exact,” says Martin. “They were basically water-borne criminals tacitly supported by the British government, and they were tasked with harassing enemy shipping.”

The pirates took Joseph Dombey prisoner on the island of Montserrat, hoping to obtain a ransom for him. Unfortunately for the pirates, and for Dombey as well, he died in captivity.

The pirates weren’t interested in the objects Dombey was carrying. They were auctioned off along with the rest of the contents of his ship.
I suspect that auction was actually an orderly affair overseen by British officials under the laws of privateering. That’s how captured ships and cargos were turned into money for privateer investors, commanders, and crew to divide.

The next documented appearance of the grave appears to have been in 1952, when it was in possession of astronomer A. E. Douglas.

Douglas was a descendant (and namesake) of Andrew Ellicott, the leading surveyor of the early American republic. He turned down the job of Surveyor-General of the U.S. of A. (really of the Northwest Territory) because of the travel involved, and instead taught at West Point. Since Ellicott was an expert on exact measurement, it would make sense that the grave was eventually put into his hands. But there doesn’t seem to be any indication how that happened.

Ellicott’s descendant Douglas gave the grave to the federal government agency that evolved into the National Institute of Standards and Technology. So this artifact did become the U.S. government’s kilogram, long after the scientific standard for that weight had changed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Continental Army Paperwork to Transcribe

The Newberry Library in Chicago announced it has just digitized a collection of Continental Army receipts for clothing, food, and other supplies. And it’s asking for volunteers to help transcribe those documents.

More detail:
Found in the papers of Chauncey Whittelsey, a Yale-educated clergyman and Connecticut-based merchant who served as purchasing agent for the Continental Army during the American Revolution, the receipts help reveal another front-line in the Revolutionary war: supplying the Continental Army. Yet a problem remains: no digitally searchable transcriptions of the Whittelsey papers presently exist.

In order to help scholars make use of Whittelsey’s receipts and other similar manuscripts, the Newberry developed Transcribing Modern Manuscripts, a crowdsourced transcription site that allows members of the public to help transcribe almost 30,000 pages of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American manuscripts. Once completed, these transcriptions promise to deepen our understanding of American history and shed light on overlooked but important actors like Chauncey Whittelsey.

And certainly, Whittelsey’s role was important. As purchasing agent, he was responsible for supplying the Continental Army with those essential goods – from frock coats, stockings, and beaver hats to axes, firearms, cheese, and rum (lots of rum) – that enabled the war effort to proceed. His receipts thus provide a glimpse into the commercial networks that sustained the Revolutionary Army.
So far the collections on the Transcribing Modern Manuscripts page all seem to come from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, after Americans dropped the long s and dictionaries codified spellings. But presumably expressions of interest from volunteers interested in eighteenth-century documents might widen the scope.

Library staffer Matthew Clarke posits that the transcriptions could lead to “a map that displays the geographic nodes in this commercial network, along with the names of town authorities, sums of money transferred, and types of goods exchanged.”

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Road to Concord Leads to Shrewsbury, 31 Jan.

Thanks to Eric Stanway of the Worcester Telegram for his article in advance of my Road to Concord talk to the Shrewsbury Historical Society on 31 January.

Here’s a taste:
“Basically, this lecture deals with the issues that brought the British troops out to Concord in 1775,” Mr. Bell said. “The background information frequently doesn’t get as much attention as the battle itself. The issue at the time was that the Massachusetts patriots were amassing cannons and other armaments in Concord and even more in Worcester.

“So this was a hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Although the troops conducted a thorough search, they didn’t find much apart from Concord’s own town weapons. What they were really looking for were four small brass cannons which had been stolen from military armories in Boston, and had been smuggled out of town into the countryside.”

Mr. Bell said that the British governor actually had viable information that the armaments were in the hands of the patriots, and was determined to find the weapons.

“He had British officers disguised as civilians, spying on the locals,” he said. “He had good information that the weapons were out there. However, the patriots got word that the troops were on the march, so they hid all of the armaments before they arrived.”

Although tensions were high, Mr. Bell said, there was no real indication that the colonists were looking for all-out war.

“The colonists started amassing weapons on the grounds that, if they showed they were able to defend themselves, that would compel the British authorities to back down,” he said. “They weren’t actually looking for independence at that point. What they were after was a certain degree of autonomy, and a reversal of Parliament’s latest laws about how the colonists should govern themselves.”
I haven’t found evidence of artillery pieces in Shrewsbury, though there were some nearby. And the Massachusetts Provincial Congress asked Shrewsbury’s Patriot leader, Artemas Ward, to form and train an artillery company to use some of those guns. I’ll speak about his response to that request.

This talk is will happen on Wednesday, 31 January, at 7:00 P.M. With the sponsorship of the Shrewsbury Historical Society, it will be at the Shrewsbury Public Library, 686 Main Street. I’ll gladly inscribe copies of The Road to Concord afterward.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

“At my trial for caning Gill”

In April 1768 John Mein went on trial for assaulting rival printer John Gill. In fact, he faced two trials—in criminal and civil court.

On 19 April the local magistrates cited Mein for criminal assault and fined him 40 shillings, or £2. Not a huge amount, but a judgment that he had disturbed the peace of Boston.

At the same time, Gill sued Mein for £200 in damages. John Adams represented Gill. The case was tried on 28 April, and the 2 May Boston Post-Boy reported the verdict:

after a long Hearing the Jury found a Verdict in favour of the former [Gill], for one Hundred and thirty Pounds Lawful Money Damages, and Costs of Court. From which Judgment we hear both Parties appealed to the next Superiour Court. 
I’m skipping further ahead of the Sestercentennial anniversaries to finish this story. The appealed case came up in the March 1769 session of Massachusetts’s highest court. Benjamin Kent and Robert Auchmuty were Mein’s attorneys. On Gill’s side, Adams was joined by James Otis, Jr.

Kent was a Whig with many Loyalist relatives; though he stayed in Massachusetts through the Revolutionary War, in 1785 he went to spend his last years with them in Nova Scotia. Auchmuty was one of Boston’s leading attorneys supporting the royal government. Otis and Adams were of course active opponents of that government.

The John Adams Papers contain his notes from the trial, but those don’t provide a useful summary, with disconnected phrases like “Kick upon the A—se” and “Distinction between Bump and Tumour.”

The facts of the assault don’t seem to have been in doubt, or even the question of whether Mein was in the wrong. Rather, the question was how much was he in the wrong. Had he planned the attack for days? Had the Gazette provoked Mein, so Gill was partially at fault? How big was the stick, and how big was Gill?

In the end, the jury found for Gill but awarded him £75 and costs—a smaller award than before, but still a “Large Sum,” as Harbottle Dorr wrote. At some point Mein wrote that his decision to cane Edes or Gill had “cost me about £100 St[erling].” He filed for a new trial but later withdrew that motion. By November 1769 Mein had worse to worry about.

Mein later wrote, “Otis at my trial for caning Gill, bandied about this Liberty of the Press as the Salvation of America, and said, that in beating him I had endeavoured to shutt up that great Source of freedom.” Seeing Otis in court must have particularly irked Mein because he was convinced that “Americus,” the anonymous newspaper writer who had called him disloyal and set off the whole affair, was Otis himself.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

“Two violent blows…upon the back part of the head”

On 18 Jan 1768, John Mein of the Boston Chronicle asked Benjamin Edes of the Boston Gazette to identify “Americus,” who had attacked him in a newspaper essay. Edes refused.

On 19 January, Mein asked again, hinting that this was a matter of honor. In his own words he went to the Edes and Gill print shop “to ask them one after another to take a short Walk.” Again, Edes refused.

On 21 January, the rival Boston News-Letter published a letter about the dispute:
Mr. [Richard] Draper.

I have heard an incorrect Account of a Difference between Messrs. Edes and Mein, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter: If Mr. Mein has been guilty of an insolent Attempt to break in upon the Liberty of the Press, it is just he should be exposed, and treated with due Contempt: If he is innocent, it is cruel to Propagate such a malicious Representation of his Impudence and Affectation: If therefore by Publishing this you can influence the Parties concerned to give a true State of the Matter, you will oblige a great Number of your Readers who are anxious to know the whole of the Affair, besides your humble Servant,

Just. Pacis.
That prompted Edes to publish the lengthy description of his interaction with Mein in the 25 January Boston Gazette. I quoted Edes’s report yesterday.

A whole week had gone by since Mein’s first visit to the Edes and Gill shop. But now the private argument between printers was out for everyone to read. That appears to have galvanized Mein into action. Now that the Boston Gazette printers had denied his “short Walk” challenge (and made the whole thing public), Mein resolved “to cane the first of them I mett.”

On the evening of 26 January (and I’m getting ahead of the Sestercentennial here), Mein ran into his rival. Not Edes, the politically active member of the Loyall Nine. Rather, Mein spotted Edes’s partner and relative by marriage, John Gill. According to Isaiah Thomas, “Gill was a sound whig, but did not possess the political energy of his partner.”

Mein hit Gill with his walking stick. According to legal papers, Mein “gave the said John Gill two violent blows…upon the back part of the head.” Such a caning wasn’t just an assault; under British dueling customs, it was also a way to signal that one’s opponent had forfeited any claims to be a gentleman. However, to locals like Harbottle Dorr, Mein merely behaved “like a ruffian.”

What the News-Letter had called “a Difference between Messrs. Edes and Mein” quickly became a “Dispute…between Messieurs Gill and Mein”—and more. “Populus” in the Gazette wrote:
If we suffer the Printers to be abused, for resolutely maintaining the Freedom of the Press, without discovering our just Resentment against those who endeavour to force them from their Duty, we shall soon find the Press shut against us—For it cannot be expected that one or two Men who will be subject to the Malice of the publick Enemies, bear to be bruised, and run the Hazard of being assassinated, if the Public, whose Cause they are fighting do not zealously patronize their Cause.

The People in this Province, and this Town in particular, must for the foregoing Reasons, be justified in their general Disapprobation of, and Disgust to Mr. Mein, for his late Spaniard-like Attempt on Mr. Gill, and in him, upon the Freedom of the Press.
“Populus” then revived the initial complaint that Mein had revealed “his Enmity to this Country, by villifying her great and firm Friend, the illustrious Mr. [William] Pitt, under God and the King, the Saviour of Britain, and the Redeemer of America.” In other words, it was very important to preserve the freedom of the press, and to attack anyone who published bad things about America’s political hero.

TOMORROW: Going to court.

Friday, January 19, 2018

“I am come to demand the author of the piece you printed”

Yesterday I described how the 18 Jan 1768 Boston Gazette published a critique of John Mein and John Fleeming’s Boston Chronicle that insinuated they were “Jacobite” traitors to the British Empire.

As a Scotsman, Mein was sensitive to that charge of disloyalty, so he went to speak to the printers of the Gazette, Benjamin Edes and John Gill.

Edes later published a detailed account of their discussion (which I’ve broken up into shorter paragraphs for easier reading):
In consequence of a piece signed Americus, published in the last Monday’s Gazette, Mr. Mein came to our office between 4 and 5 o’clock the same afternoon, and there being a number of persons present, he desired to be spoke with in private, accordingly I withdrew with him to another room—when he said, I suppose you know what I am come about.

I told him I did not.

Well then, said he, I am come to demand the author of the piece you printed against me; and if you will not tell me who he is, I shall look upon you as the author, and the affair shall be decided in three minutes.

In reply to which I said, Mr. Mein, above all persons in the world, I should not have thought a Printer would have ask’d such an impertinent, improper question; and told him that we never divulg’d authors; but if he would call on the morrow between 9 and 10 o’clock, being then very busy, I would let him know whether I would tell the author or not,—and added,—if we have transgress’d the law, it is open, and there he might seek satisfaction.

He said he should not concern himself with the law, nor enter into any dispute; but if I did not tell the author, he should look upon us as the authors, and repeated it, the affair should be settled in three minutes.

I then ask’d him, if what he said with regard to settling the affair in three minutes, was meant as a challenge or threat? which he declin’d answering, but said he would call at the time appointed, and then departed.
Already newspaper printers believed that they had the right not to divulge their sources—at this time, the sources of the articles they printed because they didn’t really do their own reporting. Mein, who hadn’t been in the newspaper business for long, viewed his dispute with “Americus” as personal.

We return to Edes’s story with what happened 250 years ago today:
Accordingly the next morning, I was at the office precisely at 9 o’clock, where I found Mr. Mein, who immediately after my entrance, and saying your servant, ask’d whether I would tell him the author of the above piece or no.

I told him I would not.

He then said he should look upon me and Mr. Gill as the authors.

I told him he might and welcome. I then ask’d him what he meant by saying the last night he would settle the affair in three minutes, whether as a challenge or threat?

He answered, if I would take my hat, and take a walk with him to the southward, he would let me know.

I told him I was not to be at every fellow’s beck, and did not regard him.

He then said, I shall look upon you as the author.

I reply’d, you may.

Your servant, and your servant.
On the one hand, the genteel civility of all those “Your servants.” On the other hand, two boys on the playground, taunting, “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!”

TOMORROW: Someone gets hurt—and it’s not Mein or Edes.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

“The most infamous and reproachful Invectives”

Talking about “The Liberty Song” and its parodies, all from the second half of 1768, gets us a little ahead of the Sestercentennial. Here’s what happened in Boston 250 years ago today.

Back on 21 Dec 1767, John Mein and John Fleeming had launched the Boston Chronicle, the town’s first new newspaper in years. Relatively recent arrivals from Scotland, those men promised to publish more material from Britain than competitors.

Their first issue also promised to be unbiased, but it included a snide remark about the Earl of Chatham, calling the former William Pitt “a miserable monument of wrecked ambition.” Pitt was a great hero to American Whigs, who weren’t aware of how his inaction was frustrating his colleagues in London. Almost a month later, the 18 January Boston Gazette carried a response signed “Americus”:
When I read the Proposals, for publishing the Boston Chronicle, I tho’t on the Plan with Satisfaction, hoping thereby much good would accrue to America in general, and to this province in particular; with Pleasure I also noted the judicious Advice given Messi’rs Mein and Fleeming by their Friends of Taste. . . .

But to the Surprize of many, how are they fallen off from their own Purposes, and the excellent Caution of their Benefactors—Instead of giving impartial Accounts concerning Affairs at Home, and the unhappy Disputes lately arisen between the greatest Men of the Nation; they have made Choice of, or printed under Guise of being taken from the London Papers, the most infamous and reproachful Invectives, that ever was invented against the worst of Traitors to their King and Country, and who are these that are thus censur’d? Why, men held in the highest esteem and veneration in the British Parliament. Patriots and Friends and Deliverers of America from Oppression. He who nobly vindicated her Cause, almost against the whole Senate, who cast behind him all Lucre of Gain, when it came in Competition with the Good of his Country, and sacrific’d his Family-Connections and Interest to the publick Welfare. He that through real Infirmities hardly stood, (not to cover his politic Schemes and Ambition as his Enemies would insinuate) but stood though tottering, and in the Cause of Liberty made that heroic Speech before the august House of Commons, in Opposition to the Stamp-Act, sufficient to eternize his Fame, and ought to be written in Letters of Gold to perpetuate his Memory.

Could the Sons of America be ingrateful, or countenance the greatest Falsities, rais’d only to prejudice their best Friends and Benefactors—God forbid! Let that Dishonor stain with the blackest Infamy the Jacobite Party—And though Invectives should be daily thrown out,  let us keep our Integrity to the Confusion of our Enemies; who, for a long Time have exerted their Power to shake the Props of our Constitution, and bring a free people into Bondage, thereby to satisfy their more than common Avarice, &c.
Those were fighting words! Well, one word in particular:
The Jacobites supported the Stuart claimants to the British throne rather than the Hanover line. The incursion of Bonnie Prince Charlie (shown above) in 1745 showed that the Stuarts’ strongest support was in Scotland. And Mein and Fleeming were from Scotland.

In sum, “Americus” was insinuating that the Boston Chronicle printers were disloyal to the British government because of their ethnicity.

TOMORROW: Mein couldn’t let that go.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Parody, and the Parody Parodized

“The Liberty Song” by John Dickinson and Arthur Lee (to music by William Boyce) became so popular in Boston after July 1768 that by the end of September two parodies were circulating.

That was already a busy summer. In June the Customs service seized John Hancock’s ship Liberty for alleged smuggling. In response, a waterfront crowd rioted, driving most high Customs officials to take shelter at Castle William.

Then came news that the London government had ordered troops into Boston. That decision had been made before the Liberty riot, but the violence made it a lot harder for locals to argue the Crown was overreacting. Nevertheless, the Boston Whigs invited all the other towns in Massachusetts to send delegates to an extralegal Convention of Towns to discuss how to respond.

Above a report that ninety towns were sending men to the Convention and an advertisement for Paul Revere’s dental services, the 26 September Boston Gazette broke this story:
Last Tuesday the following SONG made its Appearance from a Garret at C–st–e W——m.

Come shake your dull Noddles, ye Pumpkins and bawl,
And own that you’re mad at fair Liberty’s Call,
No scandalous Conduct can add to your Shame.
Condemn’d to Dishonor, Inherit the Fame——

In Folly you’re born, and in Folly you’ll live,
To Madness still ready,
And Stupidly steady,
Not as Men, but as Monkies, the Tokens you give.
And so on. This wasn’t labeled as a parody of “The Liberty Song,” but everybody could see that it was. A later verse hit an even more sensitive spot by warning, “Then plunder, my Lads, for when Red-Coats appear, / You’ll melt like the Locust when Winter is near…”

Ordinarily Edes and Gill would be the last printers in Boston to give space to such an attack on the Whigs. But in this case, they were riling up their base. Tying the poem to Castle William pointed to the Crown officials living there.

And word spread. On the Sunday night before that issue of the Gazette came out, an Admiralty Court official appeared at the print shop with a message:
Having been told that you intended to publish a Song in your News Paper, called a Parody on the Song of Liberty, under my name, as the Author of it, I think proper to forewarn you from publishing such a falsity, or any other thing under my name, without my authority; and if you persist in doing it in this, or any other instance, it shall be at your peril.

I am,
Your humble Serv’t.
Hen. Hulton.
Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton did write poetry, but he never took credit for those verses. Of course Edes and Gill declared they had never intended to print Hulton’s name.

A week later, the Boston Gazette had another set of verses to share, in a sort of back-and-forth rap battle between versifiers of opposing politics:
The following was publish’d in a Hand-Bill last Week.

The Parody parodized,

Come swallow your Bumpers, ye Tories! and roar,
That the Sons of fair FREEDOM are hamper’d once more;
But know that no Cut-throats our Spirits can tame,
Nor a Host of Oppressors shall smother the flame.

In Freedom we’re born, and like SONS of the brave,
Will never surrender,
But swear to defend her,
And scorn to survive, if unable to save.
And so on. That song went on to express confidence that George III was on the side of his American subjects: “When oppress’d and reproach’d, our KING we implore, / Still firmly perswaded, our RIGHTS he’ll restore…” American Whigs were still a long way from breaking with the king.

In August 1769 Boston’s Sons of Liberty banqueted in Dorchester. John Adams wrote that the entertainment included both “Liberty Songs”—“that by the Farmer [Dickinson], and that by Dr. Church, and the whole Company joined in the Chorus. This is cultivating the Sensations of Freedom.” Dr. Benjamin Church thus gets credit for the “Massachusetts Song of Liberty.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

John Dickinson’s “Song, to the Tune of Heart of Oak”

On 4 July 1768, John Dickinson, already a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress and the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, wrote to James Otis, Jr., from Philadelphia:
I inclose you a song for American freedom. I have long since renounced poetry. But as indifferent songs are frequently very powerful on certain occasions, I venture to invoke the deserted muses. I hope that my good intentions will procure pardon with those I wish to please, for the boldness of my numbers.

My worthy friend, Dr. Arthur Lee, a gentleman of distinguished family, abilities and patriotism, in Virginia, composed eight lines of it.

Cardinal de Retz always inforced his political operations by songs. I wish our attempt may be useful. I shall be glad to hear from you, if you have a moment’s leisure to scribble a line to, dear sir, your most affectionate, most obedient servant…
For all of Dickinson’s diffidence about those lyrics, he had also sent copies to the printers of three Philadelphia newspapers, asking each to “insert the following in your next.”

“A Song, to the Tune of Heart of Oak &c.” duly appeared in the Philadelphia papers over the initial “D.” It began:
COME, join Hand in Hand, brave AMERICANS all,
And rouse your bold Hearts at fair LIBERTY’s Call;
No tyrannous Acts shall suppress your just Claim,
Or stain with Dishonour AMERICA’s Name.

In FREEDOM we’re BORN, and in FREEDOM we’ll LIVE,
Our Purses are ready,
Steady, Friends, steady,
Not as SLAVES, but as FREEMEN our Money we’ll give.

Our worthy Forefathers---let’s give them a Cheer---
To Climates unknown did courageously steer;
Thro’ Oceans to Desarts for Freedom they came,
And dying bequeath’d us their Freedom and Fame---
(The Pennsylvania Gazette rendered that last word as “Name.”)

Two days after sending his lines to Otis, Dickinson had second thoughts. He wrote again:
I enclosed you the other day a copy of a song composed in great haste. I think it was rather too bold. I now send a corrected copy which I like better. If you think the bagatelle worth publishing, I beg it may be this copy. If the first is published before this is come to hand, I shall be much obliged to you if you will be so good as to publish this with some little note, “that this is the true copy of the original.”

In this copy I think it may be well enough to add between the fourth and fifth stanzas these lines:
How sweet are the labors that freemen endure,
That they shall enjoy all the profit, secure—
No more such sweet labors Americans know,
If Britons shall reap what Americans sow.
In freedom we’re born, &c.
I am, dear sir, with the utmost sincerity, your most affectionate and most humble servant,…
Dickinson got that new verse into the Pennsylvania Chronicle publication of the song on 11 July. It went before one complaining about “Swarms and Placemen and Pensioners,” which he footnoted with the explanation, “The Ministry have already begun to give away in PENSIONS, the money they lately took out of our pockets, WITHOUT OUR CONSENT.” I think the Townshend Act actually provided salaries for royal appointees, not pensions, but Dickinson wanted to highlight the issue of taxation without representation and royal pensions already had a bad name.

The Boston Gazette published the original form of Dickinson’s lyrics on 18 July. Evidently his second letter didn’t arrive in time for Edes and Gill to insert the new verse. The Boston Evening-Post published the same version in August.

As Todd Andrlik traced, the Philadelphia and Boston publications were just the start. Dickinson’s verses, soon titled “The Liberty Song,” appeared in several more newspapers all over the American colonies.

TOMORROW: Dueling parodies.

Monday, January 15, 2018

“Hearts of oak are we still”

In 1759 the British Empire enjoyed a string of military victories, including the Royal Navy’s triumph over the French in the Battle of Quiberon Bay.

At the end of that year the theatrical star and empresario David Garrick celebrated those wins in a new show titled Harlequin’s Invasion: A Christmas Gambol. The play featured a bunch of British clowns, some outrageous French stereotypes, and the pantomime hero Harlequin speaking for the first time.

In the story, Harlequin tries to get into Parnassus but doesn’t come up to the standard of Garrick’s hero, Shakespeare. A handwritten script is in the collection of the Boston Public Library.

Among the play’s new songs was one that Garrick composed with William Boyce (1710-1779, shown above), sometimes referred to as Dr. Boyce since he received an honorary doctorate in music from Cambridge in 1749. That song was known as either “Come, Cheer Up, My Lads” for its first line or “Heart of Oak” for its chorus.

It begins:
Come, cheer up, my lads, ’tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.
As “Heart of Oak” this tune eventually became the anthem of the Royal Navy. It was soon published in Britain’s American colonies and became a popular patriotic singalong.

On 3 April 1766 those colonies were celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act and a new ministry in London. The Pennsylvania Journal published new lyrics to “Heart of Oak” supplied by “S.P.R.” They began:
Sure never was picture drawn more to the life
Or affectionate husband more fond of his wife,
Than AMERICA copies and loves BRITAINS sons,
Who, conscious of freedom, are bold as great guns.

Hearts of oak are we still,
for we’re sons of those men,
Who always are ready, steady, boys, steady,
To fight for their FREEDOM again and again.

Tho’ we feast and grow fat on America’s soil,
Yet we own ourselves subjects of Britain’s fair isle.
And who’s so absurd to deny us the name?
Since true British blood flows in ev’ry vein.
“S.P.R.” asked “the Sons of Liberty in the several American provinces to sing it with all the spirit of patriotism.” The lyrics were reprinted as far north as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and as far south as Williamsburg, Virginia.

TOMORROW: The more famous American rewrite of “Heart of Oak.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Kitchen for James Hemings

Yet another story of a recent rediscovery comes from Monticello, where archeologists dug under a part of Thomas Jefferson’s estate where bathrooms had been built for visitors during the Bicentennial.

Megan Gannon of Live Science reports on the deep history of what they found:
And, finally, underneath the dirt, the team found the original brick floor of the kitchen where enslaved cooks working in the cellar would have made food to be delivered to the Jeffersons in the top story. The remains of a fireplace and the foundations of four stew stoves were also intact. . . .

Those four foundational compartments of the stew stoves would have been the clean-out, where the ash would have fallen. The actual stoves would have been about waist-high, Ptacek said. Each stove would have had a small hole for hot coals from the fireplace. An iron trivet would have gone above the coals to hold pans. Stew stoves were essential for making dishes that required slow heating and multiple pans. The setup was the equivalent of a modern stovetop, but it was uncommon in North America at the time because it required special training to use.

Stew stoves first became popular in 17th-century France, Neiman said. Previously, during the Renaissance, the cuisine of the rich in Europe involved heavy use of spices imported from far-flung parts of the world. But that changed when spice prices plummeted after European powers took control of resources and trade routes during colonial expansion across the Atlantic and into Asia.

“All the sudden, highly spiced foods are no longer the way you signal you’re wealthy,” Neiman said.

The new type of cuisine perfected by French aristocrats as a form of status competition was extremely labor intensive. Their “sumptuous multicourse meals,” Neiman, said, involved fresh veggies, fresh meats and slowly heated sauces based on cream, butter and eggs, without a lot of spice so that the natural flavors of the food could shine through.

Jefferson had an affinity for French cooking, and he likely first encountered stew stoves during his education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was a frequent guest at the colonial governor’s palace in Williamsburg, which was one of the few places to have stew stoves at the time.

But Jefferson must have become much more familiar with this style of cooking when he served as the U.S. minister to France from 1784 to 1789. As soon as Jefferson took this diplomatic position, he wrote to his future secretary that he wanted to take then-19-year-old [James] Hemings to France “for a particular purpose,” which turned out to be having him trained in the art of French cooking. The archaeologists at Monticello think the stew stoves were likely part of a kitchen upgrade Jefferson made when he returned from Paris.
Jefferson liked Hemings’s cooking so much that he took the younger man to Philadelphia when he started to work in the federal government, and even to New England when he and James Madison went on a sightseeing and party-building tour.

In 1793 Jefferson and Hemings made an unusual deal: the cook would keep working at Monticello until he had trained his younger brother in that kitchen, and then become free. Peter Hemings in turn was the Monticello chef from 1796 to 1809 before becoming the estate’s brewer after President Jefferson brought Edith Fossett home from Washington, D.C. to those stew stoves.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Alexander Hamilton’s Love Letter Revealed!

Julie Miller of the Library of Congress recently wrote at Medium about the effort to read crossed-out lines in one of its Alexander Hamilton letters.

This is a 6 Sept 1780 letter from Hamilton to his fiancée Elizabeth Schuyler (“Betsey” in real life, “Eliza” in the musical), two months before they married. Most of the letter is about the American loss at the Battle of Camden (Gen. Horatio Gates “seems to know very little what has become of his army”). That material was first published in John Church Hamilton’s 1850 edition of his father’s writings.

In the twentieth-century edition of Hamilton’s papers, which make up part of Founders Online, editor Harold C. Syrett added a new detail about that document: fourteen lines of the first paragraph had been heavily crossed out and illegible.

Miller tells the next stage of the story:
When the Library of Congress recently digitized the Alexander Hamilton Papers, that letter, unedited, with its 14 obliterated lines, became visible to all for the first time. However, the lines were still unreadable.

To find out what lay beneath the scratchings-out, Fenella France, chief of the Preservation Research and Testing Division, and preservation staff Meghan Wilson and Chris Bolser used hyperspectral imaging. A noninvasive analysis that employs light at different wavelengths to capture information not visible to the eye, hyperspectral imaging can determine the composition of inks and pigments, track changes in documents over time and reveal faded, erased or covered writing.
The article shows that process and what Library of Congress scholars now believe those crossed-out lines say. Most likely John C. Hamilton deleted them himself out of familial and Victorian embarrassment at his father writing to his mother about the couple anticipating “the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love.”

As Miller points out, that’s far from the biggest deletion from Alexander Hamilton’s correspondence. All the letters that Elizabeth Hamilton wrote to her fiancé and husband are gone, most likely destroyed by her own choice.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Saved by the Potato

Last year I got out of my comfort zone and looked into the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s for a public-history project. So I was primed when I saw a mention of this paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

It’s titled “The Long-run Effects of Agricultural Productivity on Conflict, 1400-1900,” and is written by Murat Iyigun of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Nathan Nunn of Harvard, Nancy Qian of the Kellogg School of Management.

The abstract says:
We construct a newly digitized and geo-referenced dataset of battles in Europe, the Near East and North Africa covering the period between 1400 and 1900 CE. For variation in permanent improvements in agricultural productivity, we exploit the introduction of potatoes from the Americas to the Old World after the Columbian Exchange. We find that the introduction of potatoes permanently reduced conflict for roughly two centuries. The results are driven by a reduction in civil conflicts.
In bold strokes, the potato staved off a lot of wars.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

“I will come and help you a second time.”

Yesterday I shared a story that the Continental Army veteran Jacob Francis told about Gen. Israel Putnam helping to build a fortification on Lechmere’s Point during the siege of Boston.

It’s a terrific story—compact, offering insight into Putnam’s character, and providing a neat little moral. Francis told that tale to the government in 1832 as he applied for a pension from his home in Flemington, New Jersey.

Seven years later, on 22 Oct 1839, the North American published in Philadelphia printed this story:
THE CORPORAL.—During the American revolution, an officer not habited in the military costume, was passing by where a small company of soldiers were at work, making some repairs upon a small redoubt.

The commander of the little squad was giving orders to those who were under him, relative to a stick of timber, which they were endeavouring to raise to the top of the works. The timber went up hard, and on this account the voice of the little great man was often heard in his regular vociferations of “Heave away! There she goes! Heave ho!” etc. The officer before spoken of stopped his horse when arrived at the place, and seeing the timber sometimes scarcely move, asked the commander why he did not take hold and render a little aid.

The latter appeared to be somewhat astonished, turning to the officer with the pomp of an Emperor, said, “Sir, I am a corporal![”]

‘You are not though, are you?’ said the officer; ‘I was not aware of it.’ And taking off his hat and bowing, ‘I ask your pardon, Mr. corporal.” Upon this he dismounted his elegant steed, flung the bridle over the post, and lifted till the sweat stood in drops on his forehead.

When the timber was elevated to its proper station, turning to the man clothed in brief authority, “Mr. Corporal,” said he, “when you have another such job, and have not men enough, send to your Commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you a second time.”

The corporal was thunderstruck! It was Washington.
The same story appeared in the Norwich Courier up in Connecticut the next day, which makes me think both those newspapers had picked it up from a common source without credit, as printers often did. But the North American is the earliest appearance I’ve found.

Many other newspapers reprinted the same story in the following months. It appeared in the Rural Repository magazine in 1850 and continued to pop up in publications through the end of the century. At some point an artist illustrated it, as shown above. I just found a few examples of blogs retelling the same tale and deriving valuable lessons about life from it.

Now this is obviously the same story that Jacob Francis had told in 1832, except the general is Washington instead of Putnam. Other details have changed, and the specified place and time have disappeared entirely. But the lines “Sir, I am a corporal!” and “I beg/ask your pardon, sir” appear in both Francis’s anecdote and in the newspapers, so the stories definitely seem to be related.

Given Gen. Washington’s emphasis on hierarchy, discipline, and military appearances, the anecdote doesn’t seem authentic to him at all. But it does fit what else we know about Gen. Putnam.

Jacob Francis told that tale as part of proving to the government that he really did serve under Putnam. It was therefore framed as a memorable anecdote revealing that general’s personality. I don’t think Francis would have made it up or adopted some anecdote that was floating around because the account of his military service he swore to had to be convincing or he wouldn’t get a pension. Francis’s tale went into a file in Washington, D.C., and wasn’t published until 1980.

Meanwhile, it appears that someone heard Francis’s story—perhaps while he was applying for the pension, perhaps at a Revolutionary War commemoration, perhaps while he was just telling stories. And that person recast it with a more famous general, restructured it to have a twist ending, and reinforced the moral to remove all subtlety.

In doing so, that storyteller not only replaced Putnam but also erased Pvt. Jacob Francis. (No African-Americans in the picture above, are there?) But now, with the publication of Francis’s pension application in John Dann’s The Revolution Remembered, his story is circulating as well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Putnam and the Pretty Large Stone

In 1832, Jacob Francis told a story that’s been retold in many places since John C. Dann published Francis’s pension application in The Revolution Remembered.

The story isn’t about Francis. It’s about Israel Putnam during the siege of Boston:

I recollect General Putnam more particularly from a circumstance that occurred when the troops were engaged in throwing up a breastwork at Lechmere Point across the river, opposite Boston, between that and Cambridge.

The men were at work digging, about five hundred men on the fatigue at once. I was at work among them. They were divided into small bands of eight or ten together and a noncommissioned officer to oversee them.

General Putnam came riding along in uniform as an officer to look at the work. They had dug up a pretty large stone which lay on the side of the ditch. The general spoke to the corporal who was standing looking at the men at work and said to him, “My lad, throw that stone up on the middle of the breastwork.”

The corporal, touching his hat with his hand, said to the general, “Sir, I am a corporal.”

“Oh,” said the general, “I ask your pardon, sir,” and immediately got off his horse and took up the stone and threw it up on the breastwork himself and then mounted his horse and rode on, giving directions, etc.
It’s a great story. It fits with what we know from other sources about Putnam. And it’s set at a specific place and time, when we know Putnam’s division of the Continental Army was building fortifications.

TOMORROW: But that wasn’t the story that appeared in the press.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Pvt. Jacob Gulick and Pvt. Jacob Francis

Jacob Francis (1754-1836) was a Continental Army soldier known almost entirely through his pension application, filed in 1832.

In this document Francis testified that he was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to a black woman. It’s not clear whether he was ever legally enslaved, but as a child he was definitely in some form of bondage. Jacob described serving in turn Henry Wambaugh [a German immigrant, 1720-1787], Michael Hatt, Minner Gulick [documented elsewhere as Minnie Gulick, 1731-1804], and Joseph Saxton. He took the surname Gulick from his third master.

Starting in May 1768, Saxton took his servant boy to Long Island, New York; the Caribbean island of St. John; and Salem, Massachusetts. There in 1769, Jacob recalled, a man named Benjamin Deacon bought the time remaining until he turned twenty-one. So at least at that point Jacob’s masters were treating him as an indentured apprentice rather than a slave.

In January 1775 Jacob Gulick became free. That October, he enlisted in the Continental Army regiment of Col. Paul Dudley Sargent. He recalled his captain’s name as “Wooley, or Worley, or Whorley,” and that other men from the same family served as officers and a drummer. That captain was therefore John Wiley (d. 1805), who served from early 1775 through January 1781, ending as a major.

Gulick’s enlistment is interesting because at that time the Continental Congress, steered by Gen. George Washington and most of his generals, had barred all men of African ancestry from enlisting in the army. We know, however, that officers were anxious to fill their companies with anyone willing to serve for the full year of 1776. Some of Washington’s officers helped to convince him to change his mind about the army policy at the end of December 1775.

Pvt. Gulick served with Col. Sargent’s regiment at the Battle of Brooklyn and the Battle of Trenton and the retreats in between. At the end of his enlistment in January 1777 he was in New Jersey, so he went back to Hunterdon County and found his mother. She told him about his father, and thereafter he went by Jacob Francis.

Pvt. Francis served several short tours in New Jersey regiments across the remainder of the war. One of his captains was Philip Snook (1745-1816), whose older sister Ann was the wife of Francis’s first master, Henry Wambaugh.

In 1789 Jacob Francis married “Mary, a servant of Nathaniel Hunt.” He bought her freedom, and they had several children. By 1800, the family was settled in the Hunterdon County village of Flemington. For the fiftieth anniversary of U.S. independence, Francis participated in a parade of local Revolutionary veterans. He and another “colored” man, Lewis English, were listed separately from the white soldiers in an 1880 description of the event.

In 1832, at the age of seventy-eight, Jacob Francis applied for a pension as a Revolutionary soldier, narrating his service. It was approved, and he received payments for four more years. Mary Francis applied for a widow’s pension after that.

The 5 Aug 1839 Newark Daily Advertiser picked up this death notice from the Flemington Gazette:
Another Hero of the Revolution.—In this village, on Tuesday the 26th of July, JACOB FRANCIS, a colored man, in the 83d year of his age. He has resided in this place thirty-five years; has been an orderly member of the Baptist Church for thirty years; he has raised a large family, in a manner creditable to his judgement and his Christian character, and lived to see them doing well; and has left the scenes of this mortal existence, deservedly respected by all who knew him.

Jacob Francis was a soldier of the Revolution—he served a long tour of duty in the Massachusetts militia, and was some time in the regular army in New Jersey; and we have learned from those who knew him in those days of privation of peril, that his fidelity and good conduct as a soldier were the object of remark, and received the approbation of his officers.

For the last few years he received a pension from the government; an acknowledgement of his services to his country which, though made at a late day, came most opportunely to minister to his comfort in the decline of life, and under the infirmities of old age.
This was by far the longest death notice in that issue of the Daily Advertiser, and it was reprinted at least as far away as Cleveland.

TOMORROW: Pvt. Francis’s story of Gen. Putnam.