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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

“Free America” at Last

In 1842, William McCarty published a collection titled Songs, Odes, and Other Poems, on National Subjects in Philadelphia. He told readers he had scoured newspapers “from the period of Braddock’s defeat to the death of President Harrison.”

The first item McCarty included was “The Liberty Song,” credited to the Pennsylvania Chronicle on 4 July 1768. (It appeared in the issue of that newspaper dated July 4–July 11, which was published on the latter date, but the former date had developed more resonance.) At the time, there was still some debate about who had written those lyrics, and McCarty included no author credit.

The fourth song was “Free America,” attributed to “General Warren.” That was the first time the song was given that title. In fact, the phrase didn’t even appear in the first printed versions of the lyrics. But from then on, “Free America” was the standard name.

It looks like McCarty had come across at least a couple different versions of the song, including the one published in 1804. He selected lines he liked and rearranged two middle stanzas to deemphasize their 1770s political argument. The phrase that had been “shall spread his snares in vain” or “shall spread his net in vain” became “shall lay his snares in vain.”

And this time the final stanza played no favorites about which European Atlantic powers America would eventually dominate:
Some future day shall crown us,
The masters of the main,
Our fleet shall speak in thunder
To England, France, and Spain;
And the nations over the ocean spread
Shall tremble and obey
The sons, the sons, the sons, the sons
Of brave America.
In 1846, Isaac C. Disraeli reprinted McCarty’s version in Curiosities of Literature, leaving out two stanzas entirely. Disraeli also wrote:
General [Joseph] Warren was a song writer as well as an orator, but his verses, though very popular at the commencement of the Revolution, have less merit than his reputation as a man of cultivated taste would lead us to anticipate. The following song was probably written near the close of his life.
Faint praise indeed.

McCarty’s seven-stanza version of the song also went into the Duyckincks’ Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1855) in a section on Dr. Warren. That version of the “Free America” thus became the canonical one—eighty-five years and many changes after its debut at Josiah Flagg’s concert in February 1770.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

“Composed, it is supposed, by General WARREN”

Yesterday I quoted a letter reportedly sent to the Virginia Argus in Richmond on 6 Nov 1804, referring to a “most excellent SONG composed, it is supposed, by General WARREN, who fell at the battle of Bunker’s Hill, in the year 1775.”

The lyrics that followed were “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song,” to the tune of “The British Grenadiers.”

On 4 July 1807, the Virginia Argus reprinted those lyrics with this explanation:
The following most excellent SONG composed it is supposed, by general WARREN, who fell at the battle of Bunker’s hill, in the yesr 1775, was published in the Argus some years ago:—But believing it may not be unacceptable to our readers at the present time, we have thought proper to republish it.
That item was picked up, prefatory paragraph and all, in Salem’s Essex Register on 10 August for its “Selected Poetry” column. Thus, a Massachusetts newspaper credited Dr. Joseph Warren with writing “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” within the lifetime of people who knew him during the political contention of pre-Revolutionary Boston. Other newspapers ran the article as well.

That question of attribution is what started me looking into this song, and the preceding “Liberty Songs,” and the patriotic British tunes they were written to. I didn’t expect to learn about Arthur Lee’s early career, or to contemplate why a Whig newspaper printed a Loyalist song and a Loyalist newspaper printed a Whig song, or to puzzle through all the changes in lyrics.

For over a century, American authors have linked “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” to Warren, but the evidence was sparse. Musical scholars could trace that credit back only to the DuyckincksCyclopaedia of American Literature (1855), which said: “Warren wrote for the newspapers in favor of freedom, and turned his poetical abilities in the same direction. His Free America, written probably not long before his lamented death, shows that he possessed facility as a versifier.”

The 1804 and 1807 newspaper items aren’t solid evidence. We don’t know who the “Subscriber” who wrote to the Virginia Argus was, or on what basis he or she told the newspaper that “it is supposed” that Warren composed the lines. It’s conceivable that the correspondent had known Warren personally. It’s also conceivable that someone had heard vague talk about a Whiggish Boston physician writing political verses and assumed it was the famous Dr. Warren when it was in fact Dr. Benjamin Church.

But those early newspaper publications push the attribution to Warren back to a period when his family and friends—his brother John, his medical student William Eustis, printer Isaiah Thomas, manufacturer Paul Revere, and so on—could have corrected the record. Again, that situation doesn’t mean Dr. Warren definitely wrote “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song,” but it does make the attribution more credible.

TOMORROW: “Free America” at last.

Monday, February 26, 2018

“The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” in the Early Republic

On 6 Nov 1804, more than a quarter-century after the previous newspaper publication of “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” that I’ve found, a letter was addressed to the Virginia Argus in Richmond.

It read:
Mr. [Samuel] Pleasants,

When you can find a convenient corner of your paper, please republish the enclosed most excellent SONG composed, it is supposed, by General WARREN, who fell at the battle of Bunker’s Hill, in the year 1775, thereby you’d oblige

The newspaper published the letter and the accompanying lyrics.

I haven’t seen that publication; the newspaper database I can access is missing some issues of the Virginia Argus from November and December 1804. But the Republican Star of Easton, Maryland, published the letter and lines in its 1 Jan 1805 issue in a section headlined “Apollo’s Fount.” (The “Poets Corner” had gotten fancy.)

I’ll discuss the attribution tomorrow. Today I’ll stick to the question of textual variation. The lines that appeared in the Republican Star were based on what Edes and Gill had first printed in 1770 with three variations.

First, the stanzas that began “We led fair Freedom hither” and “Torn from a world of Tyrants” were switched in order.

Second, “And blast the venal Sycophant” had become “And blast the venal Tories,” sacrificing metre for a more specific villain.

Finally, that last verse changed to:
Some future days shall crown us,
The masters of the main!
Our fleets shall speak in thunder,
To England and to Spain!
When all the Islands, o’er the ocean spread,
Shall tremble and obey,
The Sons, the Sons, the Sons, the Sons
Of brave America.
No longer did that conclusion speak of “giving Laws and Freedom” to other countries—this verse was now a non-ideological boast of naval power. Instead of “their Lords of brave America,” this version celebrated “the Sons.”

Most striking, the target countries weren’t “subject France and Spain”—not in the newspaper with the Jeffersonian word Republican in its name. (The Virginia Argus was also Jeffersonian.) Here the young nation’s big rivals were England and Spain.

TOMORROW: Dr. Warren, songwriter?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The 2018 Boston Massacre Reenactment, 3 Mar.

On Saturday, 3 March, the Old State House Museum and a large contingent of dedicated volunteer interpreters will reenact the Boston Massacre and events surrounding that historical milestone.

There will be once-a-year events for the public all afternoon.

1:00 – 4:00 P.M.
Talk of the Town
Immerse yourself in Boston’s colonial past and meet citizens who lived through the contentious period of the military occupation. Gain insight and perspective on historic events that led to the American Revolution by asking questions and hearing accounts from living historians.
Inside the Old State House. Included with museum admission.

1:30 & 3:30 P.M.
History Hunters
Unique and personal stories take center stage in this activity for young visitors, ages 5-12, and their families. Use the tools of a historian to interact with the past and help colonists and soldiers discover the truth! Space is limited. Sign up with museum staff as early as 9:30 A.M. on Saturday.
Inside the Old State House. Included with museum admission.

6:00 P.M.
Convening of Bostonians
Before the action unfolds, watch downtown Boston transform into its colonial past as the citizens of the city gather outside the Old State House. Arrive early to hear from patriots, loyalists, and moderates who lived through the events that sparked the Revolution.
Outside the Old State House. Free and open to all.

7:00 P.M.
The Tragedy on King Street
Witness the violent and tumultuous incident on King Street, reenacted by living historians. Once the smoke clears, explore the galleries of the Old State House and discover how the aftermath of the Boston Massacre led to the birth of a nation.
Outside the Old State House. Free and open to all.

As in recent years, I’ll participate in that final presentation as the narrator of the scenes leading up to and after the fatal violence. Last year frigid weather forced us to cancel that part, which was a real shame since top reenactors come in from up and down the eastern seaboard to participate. This year we’re all hoping for a crisp, clear March evening, just like in 1770.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

“Black Experience in Concord” panel, Lincoln, 25 Feb.

On Sunday, 25 February, as part of its “Winter Learning Series,” the Friends of Minute Man Park will sponsor a panel discussion on “The Past We Never Knew: New Research and Reflections on the Black Experience in Concord.”

The event description says, “In the last couple of years alone, historical scholars and site staff have made dozens of intriguing discoveries as they have engaged in uncovering and recovering the lives of Concord’s black residents and visitors.”

The panelists sharing their findings will be:
  • Maria Madison, President of the Board of the Robbins House (shown above), the Concord home of the descendants of an African-American veteran of the Revolutionary War. She is also the Dean of Diversity at Brandeis.
  • Dr. John Hannigan, scholar-in-residence at both Minute Man National Historical Park and the Robbins House and now the Head of Reference Services for the Massachusetts State Archives. His original focus was on black soldiers in the Revolution; his work eventually broadened to encompass a broad range of African-American experiences over a long span of time.
  • Jane Sciacca, curator of the Wayland Historical Society, retired after twenty-eight years as an interpreter for the National Park Service. Jane has studied local slavery in the Revolutionary War period and done extensive research on the man who escaped slavery to take up temporary residence with the Alcott family at the Wayside.
The panel will be moderated by local historian Jayne Gordon. It will take place at Bemis Hall, 15 Bedford Road, in Lincoln, starting at 2:00 P.M. This event is free and open to the public.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Further Evolution of “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song”

As I discussed back here, in April 1774 the New-York Journal published a new version of “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” that was actually less strident about Britain than the original. It may have been revised to reflect Whig talking points.

Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy picked up those New York lyrics for the “Poets Corner” in its 26 May 1774 issue, thus bringing the song back to its town of origin.

The next newspaper to run the verses in its “Poet’s Corner” was Timothy Green’s Connecticut Gazette of New London for 24 Feb 1775. That was another rewrite of the original lines, but in a different way. Instead of talking about “Americans,” for example, this version praised and addressed “America.”

The song now started:
Let’s look to Greece and Athens!
And there’s proud mistress Rome;
Tho’ late in all their Glory,
We now scarce find their Home:…
The verse that began by describing Americans as “Torn from a world of tyrants” now started, “Turn then, ye lordly Tyrants…”

And this original verse
We led fair FREEDOM hither, when lo the Desart smil’d,
A Paradise of Pleasure, was open’d in the Wild;
Your Harvest bold AMERICANS! no Power shall snatch away,
Assert yourselves, yourselves, yourselves, my brave AMERICA.
We led fair Freedom hither,
Unto a Desart wild;
A Paradise of Pleasure,
Soon opened and smil’d;
Your Harvest’s rich, AMERICA,
No Power shall snatch away.
Preserve, preserve, preserve your Rights Brave N. America.
Finally, the original’s final line about “their Lords, their Lords of brave AMERICA” had turned into “the Laws, the Laws, of NORTH-AMERICA.”

All told, that New London version feels like it was written down from memory by someone who had sung the song a few times. It doesn’t feel like a revision by the original author.

A couple of months later, war had broken out. On 8 May 1775, Ebenezer Watson’s Connecticut Courant of Hartford published “A Song Compos’d by a Son of Liberty” with the date “February 13, 1770”—Josiah Flagg’s original concert. Appropriately, that version had the same lyrics that Edes and Gill had published in their North-American Almanack five years before.

And then the song apparently went underground again for the war.

COMING UP: Who wrote “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song”?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The “Swan Shot” that Killed Christopher Seider

On 22 February 1770, Customs service employee Ebenezer Richardson killed a young boy named Christopher Seider.

Christopher was part of a crowd of boys mobbing Richardson’s house. Indeed, he had just stooped to pick up a stone when he was hit by the discharge from Richardson’s gun.

Richardson had not shot a musket ball. Instead, he had loaded his musket with “Swan shot.” What that meant is clear from the Whig newspapers’ report on the boy’s injuries:

soon after the child’s decease his body was opened by Dr. [Joseph] Warren and others and in it were found eleven shot or plugs, about the bigness of large peas; one of which pierced his breast about an inch and one-half above the midriff and passing clear through the lobe of the lungs, lodged in his back.

This, three of the surgeons deposed before the Jury of Inquest, was the cause of his death; on which they brought in their verdict, wilful murder by Richardson. The right hand of the boy was cruelly torn, whence it seems to have been across his breast and to have deadened the force of the shot, which might otherwise have pierced the stomach.
“Swan shot” was a common term at the time. For example, in the 6 Nov 1729 Pennsylvania Gazette Benjamin Franklin reported:
We are inform’d that the following Accident lately happen’d at Merion, viz. A Man had order’d his Servant to take some Fowls in from Roost every Night for fear of the Fox: But one Evening hearing them cry, he look’d out and saw, as he thought, a Fox among them; accordingly he took his Gun, charg’d with Swan Shot, and fir’d at him; when to his Surprize it prov’d to be the Servant’s Arm, which taking down the Fowls he had mistaken for a Fox. The Man receiv’d several Shot, some thro’ his Arm, but none of them are thought to be dangerous.
In 1751, reporting on how he had knocked himself out with an electric shock, Franklin wrote, “I afterwards found it had rais’d a Swelling there the bigness of half a Swan Shot or pistol Bullet.” Likewise, in Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe had his hero speak of “swan-shot, or small pistol bullets.”

On 22 Aug 1774, a crowd surrounded the house of Daniel Leonard of Taunton, protesting his appointment to the Council under Parliament’s new Massachusetts Government Act. According to Leonard, most people went home but “at 11 o’Clock in the evening a Party fixed upon the house with small arms and run off;...four bullets and some Swan-shot entered the house at the windows.” This is the earliest incident I’ve found of Massachusetts Patriots firing guns in their long political dispute with the royal government and its supporters.

Back in 1770, Richardson’s gun might have contained even smaller pellets than swan shot. During his trial, prosecuting attorney Robert Treat Paine took notes on testimony about George Wilmot, who had helped Richardson defend his house (and was acquitted of murder). If we can read Paine’s handwriting accurately, a witness said: “I took from W[ilmot]. a Gun loaded with 179 Shots. 17. Swan Shot. The rest Goose and Duck.” “Goose shot” and “duck shot” were evidently smaller pellets. Nowadays we’d lump them all together as “birdshot” and assign them numbers.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Evolution of the “New Massachusetts Liberty Song”

In February 1770, as I’ve described, the musician Josiah Flagg and the printers Edes and Gill brought to the Boston public new lyrics to the tune of “The British Grenadiers.”

The following month, most of the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre were British grenadiers—men in the 29th Regiment of Foot.

We might think that would make Bostonians happier about replacing lines praising the grenadiers with lines praising “brave America.” But the shooting could have had the opposite effect, rendering anything to do with the grenadiers, even a tune, less popular.

In any event, “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” wasn’t printed again (so far as I know) until 6 Jan 1774, when Alexander Purdie and John Dixon of Williamsburg ran the verses in the “Poets Corner” section of their Virginia Gazette. They headlined it “A Song on LIBERTY, made by a Bostonian, to the Tune of The British Grenadiers.” The text wasn’t precisely what Edes and Gill had printed in 1770, but close enough that the changes might have come in the typesetting.

The 28 April New-York Journal from John Holt likewise gave “Poets Corner” space for “A Song on Liberty.” But this version (shown here) had more changes, small and large.

In the original, every verse ended with “brave America.” This version had “brave America,” “North America,” and “free America” each twice—the first time that last phrase appeared in the song. And the ending of the fourth verse changed from:
The World shall own their Masters here, then hasten on the Day,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza, for brave AMERICA.
The world shall own we’re freemen here, and such will ever be,
Huzza! huzza! huzza! huzza for love and liberty.
There were other tweaks.
And blast the venal Sycophant, who dares our Rights betray,
Preserve, preserve, preserve, preserve my brave AMERICA.
And blast the venal sycophants who dare our rights betray;
Assert yourselves, yourselves, yourselves for brave America.
The awkward “And shout, and shout, and shout, and shout, for brave AMERICA” turned into “And shout huzza! huzza! huzza for brave America.”

But the biggest change occurred in the final verse. Here’s how the 1770 version ended:
Some future Day shall crown us, the Masters of the Main,
And giving Laws and Freedom, to subject FRANCE and SPAIN;
When all the ISLES o’er Ocean spread, shall tremble and obey,
Their Lords, their Lords, their Lords, their Lords of brave AMERICA.
The song already started by reminding Britons that they had been conquered by “many Masters” while Americans had “never fell a prey.” And here it ended with the prediction that in “Some future Day” Americans would be the “Masters of the Main” with “all the ISLES”—which by implication must include the British Isles—bowing to “their lords of brave AMERICA”! That’s a remarkable public position, especially for 1770.

In the 1774 version, that verse was rewritten to make a better fit with the American Whigs’ message:
The land where freedom reigns shall still, be masters of the main,
In giving laws and freedom to subject France and Spain;
And all the isles o’er ocean spread shall tremble and obey,
The prince who rules by freedom’s laws in North America.
Americans, the song now said, still trusted King George III to uphold traditional British liberties. Who would claim anything different?

COMING UP: More versions as war approaches.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“In Bedlam’s lofty Numbers discordant Yankies Sing”

On the back of the sheet of paper giving the earliest lyrics of “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song,” which I believe is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, someone has written another set of verses.

This side is headed “Massachusetts Liberty Song Paradized, April 1770,” which is helpful in showing not only when the parody appeared but also how early the lyrics must have been printed.

The parody of John Dickinson and Arthur Lee’s “Liberty Song” that appeared in 1768 had nothing good to say about the Boston Whigs opposing the royal government, but it treated them as a bunch, not naming names.

Whoever wrote this new parody quickly got personal:
In Bedlam’s lofty Numbers discordant Yankies Sing,
And twang in awful Ditty, God save our Gracious King
May they leave off their Canting, and with Devotion pray,
Have Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Lord on poor America.

Their Patron J——y O—s, that Sage of great renown,
Like Sheep he led the Rabble of this Siditious Town,
The Rostrum then he mounted, where he did loudly pray,
Defend, Defend, Defend my Boys, Defend America.
The initials leave no doubt the target of this verse is “Jemmy” or James Otis. At the time, he was in poor shape after his fight with Customs Commissioner John Robinson. But Otis was still the top enemy of the friends of government.
Next Independent Sammy, a Scribble in the cause,
An Enemy to Britain, to George and to his Laws,
Whose Rebel dictates all the Sons of Liberty obey
The Fools, the Fools, the Fools, the Fools of weak America.
“Sammy” is obviously Samuel Adams, already criticized for wanting to be “Independent.”
The Penman Great Humanus is ready at their call,
To sacrifice his Neighbour the Ministry to mall,
On him they blindly pin their Faith & great Dependance lay,
To purge, to purge, to purge, to purge oppress’d America.
In the Sparks Manuscripts at Harvard is a letter from innkeeper Richard Silvester identifying “Humanus” as a pen name for Dr. Benjamin Church. The doctor was indeed known for his writing, and his profession fits with the verb “purge.”
The puff’d Determinatus the mock-bird of the Throng
With rapture boasts the Power of his loquacious Tongue
Which tickles so the Vulgar they ready Homage pay,
This prating Oracle the pride of dup’d America.
“Determinatus” has long been identified as a pseudonym of Samuel Adams. Harbottle Dorr even appears to have written “S. Adams” atop Determinatus’s letter in the 8 Aug 1768 Boston Gazette. It’s curious, therefore, that this Loyalist writer treats “Determinatus” and Adams as separate newspaper essayists. There must be some confusion somewhere.
Great William their Commander, that Bully in disguize,
That well known bite of Yorkshire and Magazine of Lies,
That truly patriotic Man, who bellows Night and Day,
Confirm’d, Confirm’d, the Knave, the Knave of weak America.
This is definitely William Molineux. Printer John Mein called him “William the Knave” in pamphlets criticizing the non-importation movement in 1769. Molineux had come to Boston from Wolverhampton—not Yorkshire but only about a hundred miles away.
There’s busy Master Aaron, and many Worthies more,
As factious as the Gentry we’ve mention’d just before
Who strive with all their Mimic Might Old England low to lay,
And cry Rebel, Rebel, Rebel, Rebel America.
I’ll take a guess that “busy Master Aaron” is a reference to William Cooper, town clerk. He was brother to the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper, just as the Biblical Aaron was brother to Moses. But that’s a guess.
To scourge such disobedience, and crush these Mushroom Lords,
Let British Grenediers gird on their conjuring Swords,
Bra Donald frae, the Highlands, his Muckle Wanger Play
Adieu, Adieu, Adieu, Adieu, to lost America.
(I suspect the parodist meant “Hanger” instead of “Wanger.”)

Speaking so favorably of Scottish Highlanders was very unusual in Boston, even for people who opposed the local Whigs. That might indicate the author of this parody was Scottish himself, like Mein. By April 1770 he had been driven out of Boston by violence and lawsuits, so he had a lot to complain about.

TOMORROW: New lyrics on the eve of war.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Are You Ready for a Cabinet Meeting?

For Presidents Day, we look in on George Washington’s meetings with his cabinet on 1-2 Aug 1793.

The issue on the table was what to do about Edmond-Charles Genet, the French diplomat who was stirring up support of Revolutionary France, resentment of Britain, and friction within the U.S. of A.

The cabinet members—Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph—all agreed to ask France to recall Genet. They differed on how peremptorily to do so. They really differed on whether to report the decision and the reasons for it to the American public.

Hamilton liked the idea of an official “appeal to the people,” despite not usually being interested in public opinion, because it offered an opening for a full-throated critique of Revolutionary France. According to Jefferson’s notes:
Hamilton made a jury speech of 3/4 of an hour as inflammatory and declamatory as if he had been speaking to a jury. E.R. opposed it. I chose to leave the contest between them.
The President adjourned that meeting until the next day. “Hamilton spoke again 3/4 of an hour,” Jefferson wrote then. “I answered on these topics.” He kept minimal notes on Hamilton’s remarks and detailed notes on his own, indicating that he didn’t write those notes at the time but afterwards, and he really didn’t care about Hamilton’s opinion.

Eventually it became clear which way Washington was leaning:
The President manifestly inclined to the appeal to the people. He said that Mr. [Robert] Morris, taking a family dinner with him the other day went largely and of his own accord into this subject, advised this appeal and promised if the Presidt. adopted it that he would support it himself, and engage for all his connections.—The Presidt. repeated this twice, and with an air of importance.—

Now Mr. Morris has no family connections. He engaged then for his political friends.—This shews that the President has not confidence enough in the virtue and good sense of mankind to confide in a government bottomed on them, and thinks other props necessary.
Jefferson distrusted campaigns for public opinion by his political opponents. He was, of course, promoting his own ideas with allies like James Madison. He had also recruited Philip Freneau to come to Philadelphia and start the anti-Federalist National Gazette, giving the writer a sinecure in the State Department.

Then the meeting took an awkward turn.
Knox in a foolish incoherent sort of a speech introduced the Pasquinade lately printed, called the funeral of George W—n and James W[ilso]n, king and judge &c. where the President was placed on a Guillotin.

The Presidt. was much inflamed, got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself. Run on much on the personal abuse which had been bestowed on him. Defied any man on earth to produce one single act of his since he had been in the government which was not done on the purest motives. That he had never repented but once the having slipped the moment of resigning his office, and that was every moment since. That by god he had rather be in his grave than in his present situation. That he had rather be on his farm than to be made emperor of the world and yet that they were charging him with wanting to be a king. That that rascal Freneau sent him 3. of his papers every day, as if he thought he would become the distributor of his papers, that he could see in this nothing but an impudent design to insult him. He ended in this high tone.

There was a pause. Some difficulty in resuming our question—it was however after a little while presented again, and he said there seemed to be no necessity for deciding it now: the propositions before agreed on might be put into a train of execution, and perhaps events would shew whether the appeal would be necessary or not.
It took another three weeks for the cabinet to complete their dispatch to the American minister in Paris, Gouverneur Morris, telling him to ask the French government to withdraw Genet. Meanwhile, it became clear to Washington that most informed Americans disapproved of the French diplomat’s behavior, so he no longer saw any need for a public appeal.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Was Bentham on the Autism Spectrum?

Last year I relayed the news that British philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham’s body was coming to America for a museum exhibit.

To be exact, Bentham’s clothed skeleton will be in display in New York at the Breuer branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His head was mummified poorly and is therefore not usually shown to the public. But it was on display this winter in London.

A Telegraph story told me some other news about the head:
…scientists have taken samples of Bentham’s DNA to test theories that he may have had Asperger’s or autism, both of which have a strong genetic component. . . .

he was notably eccentric, reclusive and difficult to get hold of. He called his walking stick Dapple, his teapot Dickey, and kept an elderly cat named The Reverend Sir John Langbourne.

In 2006, researchers Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran suggested his unique character was driven by Asperger’s syndrome, after studying biographies which described a young Bentham as ‘having few companions his own age’; and being ‘morbidly sensitive.’
Lucas and Sheeran’s study was “Asperger’s Syndrome and the Eccentricity and Genius of Jeremy Bentham” in the Journal of Bentham Studies; a P.D.F. file can be downloaded here.

There are some obstacles to a genetics test of that hypothesis. First, while autism has a heritable aspect, nobody has identified specific genes as switches or markers. Instead, at least sixty-five genes have been linked to the condition, so it would be at least complex and perhaps impossible to say Bentham had the combination of genes that gives rise to autism.

Second, so far it’s been hard to isolate Bentham D.N.A. from, well, other D.N.A. The Telegraph quotes the curator who looks after Bentham’s head that “99 per cent of the DNA taken has come from bacteria in his mouth.” But at least the geneticists haven’t announced that Bentham was in fact a bacterium.

(Click on the Telegraph link for photos of Bentham’s head today. It’s not pretty.)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

“And shout, and shout, and shout, and shout, for brave AMERICA”

This broadside shown on the website of the Library of Congress could be the first printing of the words to “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song.” (I think the original is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.)

The sheet might even have been created for Josiah Flagg’s 13 Feb 1770 concert, the first time we know that song was publicly performed. The printing was definitely done by April (as I’ll discuss next week).

The printers Edes and Gill included the same lyrics in their North-American Almanack for 1770, published around the start of March.

Like “The British Grenadiers,” which provided its tune, “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” began with allusions to the classical world but praised contemporaries as even more admirable. Not because they stood up to modern weapons like grenadiers but because, as good self-protective Whigs, they hadn’t fallen to tyranny and decay:
That seat of science ATHENS, and Earth’s proud mistress ROME,
Where now are all their Glories, we scarce can find their Tomb:
Then guard your Rights, AMERICANS! nor stoop to lawless Sway,
Oppose, oppose, oppose, oppose,—thy brave AMERICA.

Proud ALBION bow’d to Caesar, and num’rous Lords before,
To Picts, to Danes, to Normans, and many Masters more:
But we can boast AMERICANS! we never fell a Prey;
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza, for brave AMERICA.

We led fair FREEDOM hither, when lo the Desart smil’d,
A Paradise of Pleasure, was open’d in the Wild;
Your Harvest bold AMERICANS! no Power shall snatch away,
Assert yourselves, yourselves, yourselves, my brave AMERICA.

Torn from a World of Tyrants, beneath this western Sky,
We form’d a new Dominion, a Land of LIBERTY;
The World shall own their Masters here, then hasten on the Day,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza, for brave AMERICA.

GOD bless this maiden Climate, and thro’ her vast Domain,
Let Hosts of Heroes cluster, who scorn to wear a Chain:
And blast the venal Sycophant, who dares our Rights betray,
Preserve, preserve, preserve, preserve my brave AMERICA.

Lift up your Heads my Heroes! and swear with proud Disdain,
The Wretch who would enslave you, shall spread his Snares in vain;
Should EUROPE empty all her Force, wou’d meet them in Array,
And shout, and shout, and shout, and shout, for brave AMERICA.

Some future Day shall crown us, the Masters of the Main,
And giving Laws and Freedom, to subject FRANCE and SPAIN;
When all the ISLES o’er Ocean spread, shall tremble and obey,
Their Lords, their Lords, their Lords, their Lords of brave AMERICA.
This is not exactly the song I’ve seen in modern collections. For one thing, “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” has often been retitled “Free America” because that phrase became part of its refrain. But the words “free America” don’t appear anywhere in this early version. I’ll discuss other ways the song evolved in a future posting.

COMING UP: But first, the inevitable parody.

Friday, February 16, 2018

“With a tow row, row row, row row, to the British Grenadiers”

Just as “The Liberty Song” and “The Massachusetts Liberty Song” were written to a popular and patriotic tune, the song that Josiah Flagg debuted in February 1770 also consisted of new lyrics to an established melody.

The source was “The British Grenadiers,” referred to as “The Granadeer’s March” by 1706. The first known printing of the song came in about 1750, and here’s one version of the lyrics from that period:
Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules,
Of Conon and Lysander, and some Miltiades;
But of all the world’s brave heroes
There is none that can compare
With a tow row, row row, row row, to the British Grenadiers.
Chorus: But of all the world’s, &c.

None of those ancient heroes e’er saw a cannon ball,
Or knew the force of Powder to slay their foes withal;
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
With a tow row, row row, row row, the British Grenadiers.
Chorus: But our brave boys, &c.

Whene’er we are commanded to storm the Palisades,
Our Leaders march with Fusees and we with hand Granades;
We throw them from the Glacis about our enemies’ ears,
With a tow row, row row, row row, the British Grenadiers.
Chorus: We throw them from, &c.
And so on. That third verse refers to the grenadiers throwing grenades, something they hadn’t actually done for decades, so those lines were undoubtedly older.

The 29 June 1769 Boston Chronicle included this advertisement from Josiah Flagg:
For the Benefit of Mr. FLAGG.
This Evening,
A public Concert of
Vocal and Instrumental MUSIC,
Will be performed at Concert Hall in Queen-street.
The Vocal part to be performed by Four Voices, and to conclude with the BRITISH GRENADIERS.——N.B. TICKETS to be had at the Printers, or at the London Bookstore, at HALF a DOLLAR each.—To begin precisely at half after seven.
*** The last Concert this Season.
Flagg therefore knew “The British Grenadiers” well. His earlier advertisements for this concert hadn’t mentioned that tune, but he must have thought it had appeal.

At the time there were actual grenadiers in Boston—men of the 14th, 29th, 64th, and 65th Regiments. The latter two regiments would move to Halifax the next month, but the British government’s decision to station soldiers in Boston since October 1768 was a political sore spot. Even though “The British Grenadiers” was a patriotic song, and the Boston Whigs were busy proclaiming their patriotism, there were undeniable implications to singing praise for soldiers then.

Might that have inspired “a Son of Liberty” to pen new lyrics?

TOMORROW: New words to an old tune.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Workshop on New England Slavery and Freedom, 26-27 Mar.

The Center for Reconciliation has announced a two-day workshop on “Interpreting Slavery and Freedom in New England,” to be held in Providence, Rhode Island, on 26-27 March.

The organization says this event is designed to let participants:
  • Explore the history of African and Indigenous/Native American peoples in New England.
  • Be able to distinguish between different forms of forced labor, and how and when they were used.
  • Discuss the history and usage of America’s most important and problematic race-related terminology. This includes how to use these terms appropriately in programs and exhibit labels.
  • Learn about the development of racial ideologies in America and how that impacts the work of front-line interpreters and museums as a whole today.
  • Gain or refine race dialogue strategies with colleagues from around New England.
  • Draft and practice leading a brief tour or program on the racial history of your site. Receive real-time feedback on your draft.
  • Receive immediate feedback on your ideas or current projects from local experts and new colleagues during the unconference.
  • Locate local resources including interpreters, trainers, scholars, and books to help you or your organization progress in your work interpreting the racial history of New England.
The conference program is still in development. The host committee invites proposals for panels and sessions that address these topics:
  • Creating or leading programs on slavery or local racial narratives for kids and teens
  • Exhibiting artifacts related to the slave trade
  • Strategies for partnering with descendants, local communities, neighbors/property owners, other institutions or across racial lines
  • Attracting new audiences
  • Other ways to help museums, historic houses or independent tour guides improve the way they engage New England’s history of slavery and/or Black and Indigenous narratives
The deadline for making a proposal is 20 February. Submit proposals through this site or by email to info@cfrri.org. Panelists will receive half-off admission to the workshop.

There will also be “unconference” sessions in the afternoons. Those are scheduled but informal discussions on such topics as “frustrating visitor comments, problematic objects, confusing terminology, thorny questions, ‘Aha’ moments, big discoveries and fresh research.” A week before the event, registered attendees will be invited by email to propose topics for an unconference session.

The scheduled speakers include:
  • Elon Cook Lee, Program Director and curator for the Center for Reconciliation, a consultant on interpreting slavery and race for historic sites around the country.
  • Joanne Pope Melish, Ph.D., author of Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860
  • Marjory O’Toole, Managing Director of the Little Compton Historical Society.
  • Maria Madison, Ph.D., Board President and co-founder of the Robbins House in Concord, Massachusetts, and Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Brandeis University.
The workshops will take place inside the Cathedral of St. John on North Main Street in Providence. A box lunch option will be available. Additional information about the event, including information on scholarships for people who could not attend otherwise, can be found on the Eventbrite page.

(The picture above shows Elizabeth Freeman, also called “Mumbet,” a crucial figure in the ending of legal slavery in Massachusetts.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine’s Notes for Martha Washington

In the Washington Papers is a document dated 25 Oct 1759, about a year and a half after George had met Martha and nine and a half months after they married.

It’s headed “An Account of the Sail of the Estate of Colo. Custis Decst in WmsBurg.”

“Colo. Custis” was Daniel Parke Custis, Martha’s first husband, who had died in 1757. With the help of her plantation manager, lawyer, and now her new husband, Martha was settling his estate.

This particular document was written out by manager Joseph Valentine. It lists more than £58 worth of property in eighty-six lots, starting with “Pewter Dishes and 6 Plates” and ending with “210 pounds oald Iron.” Beside each lot Valentine noted who had bought it, either on credit or for cash.

This part of Custis’s estate included 129 “Picturs,” not to mention “A parcel of old Broken picturs.” Unfortunately, Valentine provided no detail about what most of those pictures showed. He simply labeled them small or large or old. The exception was “1 picture of an horse,” purchased by Thomas Craig.

Craig also bought the “Large Looking Glass,” the most expensive item in the sale at £4.10.

John Greenhow bought “15 Picturs & a Bull Dogg,” plus fifteen more pictures, “5 Woodin Immageis,” “1 Tin Basket & other Lumber,” “1 Brass Gun & Close Stool Chear,” “15 Pains Large Glass,” “1 Case & Bottles & mose Trap,” “2 Bell mettle skillets 4 wheat stones 2 sullinges [?],” and “1 Large Press” (probably for clothing) at £2.12.

Valentine himself took “8 Low Leather Chears” and “3 maps.”

Why was Martha Washington having this yard sale? Because she had moved into George’s mansion at Mount Vernon and didn’t need all that stuff from her husband’s house. By liquidating his property, she could divide its value as the law required between herself and her children.

George Washington took over the task of settling John Parke Custis’s estate in 1759 and finally completed the task in 1761. The surviving documents comprise a discrete section of the Washington Papers.

John Valentine (who wrote his own name “Vallentine”) continued to work for the Washingtons until his death in 1771.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Yet Another “Liberty Song” in 1770

On 13 Feb 1770, Josiah Flagg gave a concert in Boston. According to his newspaper advertisements, Flagg had a house near the Old North Meetinghouse and a store on Fish Street. Having started as a silversmith, he got into engraving, publishing, and selling music, particularly religious music. One of his ads added that he “teaches Psalmody, on Monday and Thursday Evenings.”

Flagg didn’t advertise his February 1770 concert, so far as I can tell. We know about it only because the printers Edes and Gill referred back to that event in their North-American Almanack and Massachusetts Register, for the Year 1770. That almanac offered readers the lyrics to “A New Song, compos’d by a Son of Liberty, and Sung by Mr. Flagg at Concert-Hall, Boston, February 13, 1770.”

Of course, those lyrics were just one item in that almanac. In advertisements that appeared in multiple Boston newspapers starting the week after Flagg’s concert, Edes and Gill laid out its full contents in detail:
CONTAINING, A Prospective View of the Town of Boston the Capital of New-England; and of the Landing of Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry—Eclipses—Extract from the Life of Publius Clodius Britano Americanus, continued—A List of the Importers and Resolves of the Merchants &c. of Boston—A Table in Sterling, Halifax, Massachusetts L.M. & O.T. [Lawful Money and Old Tenor,] Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New-York Currencies—Courts in Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode-Island—Judgment of the Weather, Suns and Moon’s Rising and Setting, Time of High Water, Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England, &c.—A List of the Hon. His Majesty’s Council, and the Honorable House of Representatives—Judges of the Superior and Inferior Courts, Judges of Probate, Registers of Deeds, High Sheriffs and their Deputies—Officers of the Admiralty and Custom-House—Notaries Public—Post-Office—Justices of the Peace thro’out the Province, and for each County—Barristers at Law—President, Overseers, &c. of Harvard College—Ministers, Churches and Religious Assemblies thro’ the Province—Officers of the 14th & 29th Regiments in Boston—Officers of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, with the Names of the Captains of said Company, from its Incorporation—Officers of the Troop of Horse Guards—Officers of the Boston Regiment—Field Officers of the several Regiments through the Province—Officers of Castle William, and the Batteries in Boston—Coroners—Officers of the Town of Boston—Fire-Engine Men—List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!——Liberty Song—Parody Parodiz’d—A New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier, by a Son Of Liberty—Public Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at—Quakers Yearly Meetings in New-England—Difference of the Time of High Water at several Places on the Continent, &c.
The “Prospective View of the Town of Boston,” shown above, was a woodcut that Paul Revere made for Edes and Gill based on the larger cityscape that he and Christian Remick had created.

The “New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier” was the song that Flagg had introduced a few days before the almanac’s publication. As the contents list shows, it came after “The Liberty Song,” with lyrics by John Dickinson and Arthur Lee; and the “Parody Parodiz’d‚” also known as “The Massachusetts Liberty Song,” with lyrics by Dr. Benjamin Church.

Eventually the song debuting in February 1770 got the title “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song,” just to confuse matters further.

COMING UP: The lyrics and the lyricist.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reconnoitering the Dorchester Peninsula with the Generals

As I discussed yesterday, in early February 1776 Gen. George Washington and his engineers were discussing whether it was feasible to move onto the Dorchester peninsula and mount cannon there to threaten British shipping.

On 12 February, the commander-in-chief took some of his top advisors to look at the ground themselves. We know that from a letter written the next day by Capt. John Chester of Connecticut:
Yesterday the Generals went on to Dorchester Hill & point to view & plan out the works to be done there, Knox and Gridley were with them.—Their plan I cannot as yet find out.—
Col. Richard Gridley was the Continental Army’s Chief Engineer, in charge of planning and building fortifications. Until the fall he had also been in charge of the artillery. But after being wounded at Bunker Hill, he had gone home to recuperate, lost operational control of that regiment, and lost the confidence of the new commander.

In October, Washington had convinced the Continental Congress to kick Gridley upstairs with his new title. The new artillery colonel was Henry Knox, a full forty years younger than the veteran he replaced.

Since he was stationed in Cambridge, Chester didn’t see what happened in Dorchester, but he got some word about the planning from a man who had gone onto the peninsula, Gen. Israel Putnam:
Gen. Putnam says Gridley laid out works enough for our whole army [to build] for two years if the frost was to continue in that time & in short thinks we cannot do much to purpose there while the frost is in ye ground.
The ground on the heights was still so winter hard that it would take days or weeks of digging to construct fortifications there. And of course the British military would strike back as soon as they saw what their enemy was up to. The Royal Artillery had cannon and mortars mounted on Boston Neck easily able to hit the low ground that led on to the Dorchester peninsula. Plus, there were thousands of soldiers in town.

Chester continued:
Something droll Happen’d as they were on the Point & within call of the Enemy. They observed two [British] officers on full speed on Horses from the Old to the New lines & concluded they were about to order the Artillery levelled at them. Just that instant they observed a fellow Deserting from us to them. This set em all a running & Scampering for life except the lame Col. Gridley & Putnam who never runs & tarried to wait on Gridley. They had left their Horses 1/2 a mile back & feard the Enemy might attempt to encompass them.
Fortunately for the Continental cause, this scouting mission didn’t end with the commander-in-chief, third-in-command in the theater, chief engineer, artillery commander, and perhaps other generals being captured or torn apart by artillery fire.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Rufus Putnam Lays Out “so Costly a work”

On 11 Feb 1776, Lt. Col. Rufus Putnam of the Continental Army wrote to his commander-in-chief about what would be necessary to fortify the heights of the Dorchester peninsula.

With the ground frozen, soldiers would need extra time to dig in. That in turn would mean that the army would have to protect its men against British artillery fire as they moved across the narrow neck onto the peninsula, which Putnam called a “causeway.”

And building that protection was a big logistical challenge, Putnam reported:
You have Inclos’d a Chart, of some, of the most Important Posts and Riseing ground in and near Boston, which is as Exact as I am able to make from the little Leisure I have had to take Surveys of them,

by this Draught it Appears that the Enemies works on the [Boston] Neck is nearer the Causway going to Dorchester Point, than Bunker Hill is to the Cover’d way going on Leachmoors Point, therefore if a Cover’d way was Necessary in that case, it will be in this, should your Excellency think proper to order works thrown up on any part of the point,

how this Cover’d way will be made is a Question. to procure upland or Marsh Turf at this Season is in my Opinion absolutely Impossible, and nothing short of Timber instead of Turf will Answer the purpose,

the Method I have tho’t of is to side or Hew the Timber on two Sides only raising a single Tare on the side of the Causway, raising a Parrapet of Stone and Earth next the Enemy. the Timber to be well Spliced together and if need be a post with a brace in about Fifty feet to support the Timber against the stone & Earth,

I know Stone are bad in a Parrapet, but as they are easily Procur’d from the walls at Dorchester, and I think cannot be Driven through the Timber by any shot whatever, I would place them at the bottom and Cover the top with Earth which might be procur’d by opening a Pit for that purpose

About 200 Rods is Necessary to be made a Cover’d way which 80 Tons of Timber to Raise one Foot, and so in proportion to every foot, the Parrapet is High; I have been to the Swamp I mentioned to your Excellency the other Day, find it between 12 & 13 Miles from the lines at Dorchester; there is near 100 Tons already got out besides a number of Mill Logs, the Carting from this place will be 12/ per Ton, One Hundred Tons more may be had on these lands if the swamp Does not break and no Doubt but Timber may be had in other Places,

what your Excellency may think of so Costly a work, I cannot tell, ’Tis the only method I know of, but wish a better way may be found out, I hope your Excellency will Pardon my Officiousness in suggesting that I think this work may be Carried on with safety to the people Employ’d and to the Cause in general, as the Enemy cannot take Possession of Dorchester Hill at Present. Can we by any means Raise a Cover’d way in this frozen season it will be of no small Consequence in takeing Possesion of this Ground in a favourable Hour,

the People who have been Employ’d by Mr Davis in getting the Timber out of the Swamp will get no more unless your Excellency gives Orders for it.
That plan to build a covered way along the “causeway” would be complex, expensive, and time-consuming. Furthermore, the British commanders inside Boston would surely see that the Americans were up to something well before it was done, and they would no doubt make countermoves. Even if the British couldn’t take the Dorchester peninsula as Putnam said, they had more artillery pieces and gunpowder, and they dominated the harbor.

Gen. Washington held off from signing on to this plan.

TOMORROW: The commanders visit the ground.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

“Rethinking Enlightenment” through Women’s Eyes

The Houghton Library at Harvard University has opened an exhibit titled “Rethinking Enlightenment: Forgotten Women Writers of Eighteenth-Century France.”

The library’s website explains:
The French Enlightenment is famous for its intellectual innovations, but it is remembered largely as a male endeavor. However, recent scholars have shown that French women were active in all genres, from novels to physics. Despite systemic sexism, these writers produced literary and academic works that were neglected in their own times as in ours.

“Rethinking Enlightenment” showcases Houghton Library’s remarkable holdings of texts by eighteenth-century French women. Beyond describing how these writers critiqued their society, the exhibition demonstrates their active participation in the philosophical and artistic development of modern France. For scholars of the Enlightenment to anyone interested in women’s history, it is a timely reminder of the forgotten figures in intellectual history.
The curator for this exhibition is Harvard undergraduate Caleb Shelburne. He worked as a research assistant for Christie McDonald, Smith Research Professor of French Language and Literature, as she wrote a long essay on eighteenth-century women writers that will appear in Femme, Littérature. Une histoire culturelle in 2019.

“Rethinking Enlightenment” will be open until 28 April in the library’s Amy Lowell Room. It is free to the public during library hours.

Also viewable at the Houghton Library until 14 April is an exhibit titled “Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration.” That “brings together over sixty landmark literary maps” of famous fictional places, from Utopia to Oz.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Colonial Comics “make history come alive in a potent time”

For the School Library Journal website, Johanna Draper Carlson reviewed the second volume of Colonial Comics: New England, focusing on the years 1750 to 1775.

Carlson wrote:
This anthology of 18 historical comic stories aims “to focus on the people and events that tend to get ignored in American history classes.” It’s an admirable goal, and one that succeeds, opening readers’ eyes to lesser-known but involving figures and events.

Stories such as
  • “The Devil and Silence Dogood”, by J.L. Bell and Braden Lamb, humorously shows Benjamin Franklin’s early days as a printer’s devil (apprentice) and writer of satire
  • “A Lonely Line”, by Sarah Winifred Searle and Carey Pietsch, introduces Molly Ockett, a Native American and Maine legend known for her knowledge of medicine
  • “The Newport Riots”, by James Maddox and Rob Dumo, portrays the coming changes and public protest from the scared perspective of crown officials
  • “The Grand Illumination”, by Kevin Cooney and Matt Dembicki, illustrates how it’s possible to tweak authority while pretending to honor it in the light of the repeal of the Stamp Act
  • “The Stranger’s Corpse”, by J.L. Bell and Jesse Lonergan, tells of the first American casualty during the Boston Massacre
  • “The Spunker Club”, by Lora Innes, digresses from politics to look at the mishaps of a group of Harvard medical students trying to option a corpse for their studies
  • “Join, or Die!”, by Josh O’Neill and James Comey, sheds light on the first, best-known American political cartoon
bring to life the period and make history come alive in a potent time of pending rebellion. Coincidentally, it’s a particularly timely period in analogy, as debates continue today around whose voice should count in determining the future and politics of the country.

These stories encourage empathy with a variety of viewpoints, as we see and follow lives, whether humorous or tragic. Each story has a text introduction to put them into context and explain any background needed, which aids in comprehension and understanding why the story was selected.
You may have noticed my name a couple of times in there. I scripted two of those stories for some great Massachusetts artists, and contributed research and editorial input on other stories.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

More Special Events in February

Here are a couple more events this month that caught my eye.

On Sunday, 11 February, at 12:30 P.M. the Pickering House in Salem will host a presentation on “17th- & 18th-Century Food and Cookery” by Karen Scalia of Salem Food Tours.
What would the Pickerings and their contemporaries have been eating back then? How would it have been cooked? What about spices? Utensils? Where did they get their ingredients? How dangerous was standing over a fire? What about our friend, the Rumford Roaster?
(That would be the type of oven invented by Benjamin Thompson of Woburn, later Count Rumford, shown here.)

This lecture includes a “mini spice tasting.” The cost is $25, or $20 for Pickering House members. Advance registration required through pickeringhouse1@gmail.com.

Down in New Jersey, Somerset County’s Heritage Trail Association will offer its “Five Generals Tour” on Sunday, 18 February.
The popular bus tour…gives participants an opportunity to visit five of the existing houses where Generals George Washington, Henry Knox, Baron Von Steuben, Nathaniel Greene, and William Alexander were headquartered during the Middlebrook Cantonment of 1778-79. The historic homes include the Abraham Staats House in South Bound Brook, the Jacobus Vanderveer House in Bedminster, the Wallace House in Somerville, the Van Veghten House in Finderne, and the Van Horne House in Bridgewater.
At the Vanderveer House, Bob Heffner of the American Historical Theatre in Philadelphia will portray Gen. Knox (as shown at right). The artillery commander used that house as his headquarters in the winter of 1778-79. Knox also established America’s first military training school in nearby Pluckemin.

The tour begins at the Van Horne House, 941 East Main Street in Bridgewater. Docents will welcome visitors at each home. The bus will return to the Van Horne House between each visit for refreshments. The entire tour will take a little less than three hours, with departures on on the hour from 11:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. Each tour is limited to twenty people. The cost is $25 for adults, $15 for students, free for children under age six. Register through the Heritage Trail Association.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Getting #Alarmed! at Buckman Tavern

The Lexington Historical Society is hosting a field trip for the History List through Buckman Tavern. Executive Director Erica Dumont and Collections Manager Stacey Fraser will discuss the building and some of the society’s prized objects, such as the drum that William Diamond beat to summon the town militia to the nearby common on 19 Apr 1775.

Dumont and Fraser will also take the group through the museum’s exhibit “#Alarmed: 18th-Century Social Media,” explaining how it was designed and researched. Mass Humanities, which provided some of the funding for the exhibit, explains the concept behind it:
Networks. Posting. Sharing. Memes. These may sound like buzzwords describing 21st-century social media, but all had their equivalents in the 18th century, some with the same names. In a time of candlelight and horse drawn carriages, there were many sophisticated communications networks in place. Lexington Historical Society’s new exhibit #Alarmed!: 18th-Century Social Media explores how news went viral 250 years ago, and lets visitors imagine how colonials might have made use of our modern media tools to kick start a revolution. Located on the second floor of the tavern, the exhibit contains nearly a dozen interactive activities.
The exhibit team included Fraser, past executive director Susan Bennett, local author and filmmaker Rick Beyer, designer Lauren Kennedy, and young carpenter Pierce Warburton. I came aboard in the middle of the project and added some Boston 1775 touches to the displays.

This special tour is scheduled to take place on Saturday, 10 February, from 11:00 A.M. to about 1:00 P.M. It can accommodate only twenty people, registered in advance, with a waitlist. The History List asks that people not sign up unless they’re sure they can attend so as not to take slots from others. The event is free, though attendees are encouraged to make donations to and consider becoming members of the Lexington Historical Society.

The “#Alarmed” exhibit is scheduled to remain part of the Buckman Tavern’s offerings through 2019 for regular paying guests.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Coming Soon: “Fashioning the New England Family”

The Massachusetts Historical Society and Prof. Kimberly Alexander have spent two years preparing an exhibit based on garments, cloth samples, accoutrements, and manuscripts in the society’s collection.

“Fashioning the New England Family” will be mounted later this year. This month the M.H.S. is sharing samples day by day on a special webpage. For instance, on 1 February it featured the very embroidered waistcoat that magistrate Andrew Oliver, Jr., wore in his portrait by Joseph Blackburn.

The society has also announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a full-color book based on the exhibit showing how “the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces.”

The crowdfunding page explains:
Many of the items that will be featured in the project have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The publication and exhibition will give scholars, students, and professionals in fields such as fashion, material culture, and history the chance to see these items for the first time; encourage research; and, provide the possibility for new discoveries.

For the public, it is an opportunity to view in detail painstaking craftsmanship, discover how examples of material culture relate to significant moments in our history, and learn how garments were used as political statements, projecting an individual’s religion, loyalties, and social status. It may allow some to recognize and appreciate family keepsakes but it will certainly help us all to better understand the messages we may have previously missed in American art and literature.
In early America it was common for books to be pre-sold by subscription like this. Back here I discussed how Phillis Wheatley offered her poems for sale that way in 1772. But that effort failed, as did Wheatley’s post-war attempt to fund a second collection. Her first book was instead published in England with the help of an aristocratic patron; the manuscript of her second disappeared.

In the same way, the Fashioning the New England Family book depends on advance orders from people interested in historical clothing. As in the eighteenth century, there will be a list of especially generous supporters inside the book. And at the top levels of the crowdfunding campaign, donors can have a special tour of the exhibit.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Call for Papers on “Fashion and Conflict” from Historic Deerfield

Historic Deerfield is planning a symposium on clothing on 28-30 September 2018 and just issued the call for papers.

The theme of this symposium is “Fashion and Conflict in Early America.” The call elaborates:
Clashes between European rivals, struggles by Native peoples to retain their homelands and autonomy, and the determination of colonial settlers to control their environment all shaped the physical landscape and ideological contours of the North American continent in the 17th and 18th centuries. Throughout this era of conflict, accommodation, and adaptation, European newcomers and their descendants persistently turned to the material culture and fashions of the Old World to affirm their cultural identities even as they forged new patterns of consumption and trade.

Historic Deerfield invites paper proposals for a two-and-a-half-day symposium exploring the impact of conflict on clothing and textiles in defining the culture of British and French North America in the long 18th century. Priority will be given to paper submissions exploring topics that engage with meanings of conflict related to fashion in colonial and Federal America in new and exciting ways. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

Military influences on dress and accessories of European colonists
  • clothing (both civilian and military)
  • the impact of war and scarcity on the availability of imported textiles and/or fashion news
Intercultural conflicts
  • Native American intersections with and diversions from European clothing traditions
  • Perceptions about, and/or inclusion of, the dress of different cultures by British and French North Americans
Personal/moral/legislative conflict
  • Financial struggle and the pursuit of a fashionable appearance
  • Reticence to adopt new clothing styles
  • Age, gender, and notions regarding appropriateness of certain styles, colors, or other elements of dress
  • Religious/political censure of fashion and textiles, including sumptuary laws
  • Imported vs. locally-woven textiles and the pursuit of luxury
Conflicted adoption of European fashions in the New World
  • Disruption of traditional Anglo-French American patterns of trade or accepted transference of styles and preferences
  • Adoption or rejection of new fashions or tastes, including non-western sources
Conservation and display conflicts in the 21st century
  • Choices made regarding treatment of textiles and dress, or their display and interpretation, in museums and galleries
  • Contextualizing the interpretation of the dress of enslaved persons within Anglo-American fashion narratives
Researchers interested in presenting at the symposium are invited to send a 250-word abstract to Ned Lazaro, Curator of Textiles. by 1 April. Papers will be 25 minutes long. Speakers accepted for the program will be notified by the end of April and will receive complimentary registration.