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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Saturday, March 31, 2018

“Terror Twice Told” Seminar in Boston, 3 Apr.

On Tuesday, 3 April, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a session of Boston Area Early American History Seminar that promises a lively discussion among some of the region’s most incisive historians of the Revolutionary period.

The reading for the seminar is Boston University professor Brendan McConville’s paper “Terror Twice Told: Popular Conventions, Political Violence, and the Coming of the Constitutional Crisis, 1780-1787.” The event description says:
As the revolutionary war ended, members of committees, conventions and other extraordinary revolutionary institutions continued to operate as independent political actors. Between 1781 and at least 1786, committeemen and conventioneers launched forceful, violent efforts to reengineer American society. Committee-directed mobs expelled “tories” from many communities, and committeemen and conventioneers used both local laws and contract theory to legitimate these expulsions.

This paper argues that the wave of political violence after the American victory at Yorktown in 1781 ultimately reflected conflicts within the American political community over who could be an American, what institutions constituted “the people” in a republic, and the character and limits of the “the people’s” power to form self-governing institutions. These disputes played an important role in creating the 1787 constitutional crisis.
The main commentary will be offered by University of Connecticut professor Richard D. Brown. Then discussion can become general.

McConville is the author of The King’s Three Faces: The Rise and Fall of Royal America, 1688-1776 and These Daring Disturbers of the Public Peace: The Struggle for Property and Power in Early New Jersey.

Brown is the author of numerous books including Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War, Taming Lust: Crimes Against Nature in the Early Republic (coauthored by Doron S. Ben-Atar), The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler: A Story of Rape, Incest, and Justice in Early America (coauthored by Irene Quenzler Brown), The Strength of a People: The Idea of an Informed Citizenry in America, 1650-1870, Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865, and Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772-1774.

This seminar is scheduled to start at 5:15 P.M. It is free and open to the public, but the society asks people to R.S.V.P. to ensure seating and adequate munchies for afterward. In addition, the conversation will be much easier to follow if one comes early to peruse the paper.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Final Fate of Jefferson’s Four-Horned Ram

On 23 Feb 1808, a week after young Alexander Kerr, Jr., died from being gored by a four-horned ram on the grounds of the Presidential mansion, Thomas Jefferson made plans to move that animal to Monticello.

Jefferson wrote to his plantation manager, Edmund Bacon, about his flocks:
I am glad to hear you have lost no lambs. you must attend to the males being cut at a proper season in the spring; and at shearing time remember that the lambs are not to be shorn. I have here 18 ewes and shall have about the same number of lambs from them, by a many horned ram, all of which I shall propose to have driven to Monticello in the summer. this breed being very different from the big-tail we shall have to provide two separate ranges for them.
Jefferson wrote nothing in that letter or others to Bacon about the “many horned ram” attacking people and therefore perhaps needing special attention. The manager and an enslaved wagoner named David Hern came to Washington, D.C., and got Jefferson’s Presidential flock to Monticello.

According to one anti-Federalist newspaper, “a female child of one of the President’s domestics”—i.e., his slaves—had been among the ram’s victims; “her person has become disfigured.” That report may have been exaggerated for political reasons. But Jefferson does appear to have had a blindspot when it came to that killer animal.

The President’s established interest in improving American sheep grew after he instituted an embargo on British and French goods in December 1807. The U.S. of A.’s ability to manufacture its own woolens became even more appealing. He therefore loaned out his rams to other Virginia sheep farmers and promoted the fleece of his own flock.

On 13 October, Jefferson wrote to James Ronaldson, a Philadelphia manufacturer:
I happen by accident to have obtained the Iceland or Shetland race of sheep of many horns. it is from their wool I understand that the famous Shetland stockings are made which I believe sell for a guinea a pair being as soft as fur. as this peculiar wool may possibly be useful for some manufacture here, I send a fleece of it as a sample, by my grandson [Thomas Jefferson Randolph], who is going to Philadelphia, and who will put it into your hands. and I am encouraged to take this liberty by the zeal which your letter manifested for the promotion of manufactures. the request I have to make is that you will be so good as to have ascertained whether there will be any particular utility in raising this kind of wool, & what would be it’s probable price in Philadelphia, if encouraging I can probably extend it’s produce to any requisite degree in my neighborhood.
Within two weeks, that man replied that all the weavers and craftsmen who’d seen the fleece said it was suitable for blankets only. Still, Jefferson remained determined to find value in that many-horned ram.

In October 1809 Jefferson told Sen. John Milledge of Georgia: “I have for you a very fine Iceland ram with 4. horns, who will be sent down the river, as soon as the season restores it’s navigation…” Milledge wrote back, “I thank you for the Ice land ram, the wool from the breed of that animal, will answer for clothing our negroes.”

In 1811 Jefferson promised to send a younger four-horned ram to Milledge, but on 5 June he had to report bad news:
The many-horned ram which I was to have sent to Norfolk for you was killed by his sire. this abominable animal killed moreover two fine Barbary rams for me, & was so dangerous generally that I was obliged to have him destroyed. I found the species very worthless.
Jefferson maintained hopes for that animal even after it had killed a boy and injured one or two others in Washington, but once it started kill other rams in his flock, especially those of his favorite breed, he decided it had to die.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

“Severely wounded and bruised by your excellency’s ram”

After Thomas Jefferson’s four-horned Shetland sheep gored a boy near the Presidential mansion on 6 Feb 1808, the President “ordered a blinder or board to be put on the face of the ram,” according to the U.S. Gazette of Philadelphia.

But that wasn’t enough for some of his critics. On 12 Mar 1808 the New York Commercial Advertiser ran this commentary, which originally appeared in the North American of Baltimore:
The President’s Ram.—This sturdy animal is a native of Africa.—Besides his uncommon size, he is, if we well remember, a unicorn, and characterised by other peculiarities. He was some time ago presented to his present owner by a gentleman of Washington.

This is the concise history of a monster, who has added to the proofs, that unbridled liberty is productive of nought but evil. We are extremely sorry to hear, that for want of confining him, he was recently killed a very promising and beautiful boy, a son of Mr. [Alexander] Kerr of the Branch Bank; knocked down and severely injured a poor old man, and a female child of one of the President’s domestics insomuch that her person has become disfigured
The editor of the North American was Jacob Wagner. When the Jefferson administration began, he was a clerk in the State Department appointed by Timothy Pickering. He convinced the new Secretary of State, James Madison, that he could stay on and perform his job without political leanings, which he did successfully until resigning in early 1807.

Then Wagner came out as a strident Federalist, editing one anti-administration newspaper after another. He was happy to find anything to criticize Jefferson for. In actuality, the President’s ram wasn’t from Africa but from a northern European breed. It had four horns, not one. But if it could serve as a symbol of “unbridled liberty” under Jefferson, all the better.

The man whom the President’s ram injured in February 1808 was named William Keough. On 3 March, Jefferson wrote in his memorandum book: “Gave Keough in charity 5.D. [five dollars]” as compensation.

The next month, Rep. Nicholas R. Moore of Maryland presented Keough’s petition to the U.S. Congress from “praying relief in consideration of wounds received and injuries sustained while serving as a soldier in the Maryland line, during the Revolutionary War.” That request doesn’t appear to have been granted.

In December 1808, the Maryland house of delegates considered Keough’s service and poverty and voted to grant him “a sum of money annually, in half yearly payments, equal to the half pay of a sergeant.” But the state senate “dissented from” that vote.

On 15 Feb 1809, with Jefferson less than a month from leaving office, William Keough wrote to him in desperation:
To his excellency the President of the United States

Your petitioner William Keough begs leave to state to your excellency that in February 1808 in Passing through the President’s Square he was attacked and severely wounded and bruised by your excellency’s ram—of which he lay ill for five or six weeks under the hands of Doctor [Arnold] Elzey.

Your petitioner troubles your excellency with regret, he would not presume to do it now but for extreme distress. He is without money and without freinds. His business in this place was for the purpose of obtaining a pension to which he considered himself entitled for his revolutionary services—He has been able to obtain lodgings in the poor’s house, but without the usual allowance of fare.—

It is probably the last time your excellency will be troubled as President of the U.S. by an individual, most assuredly the last, by your petitioner; and if the prayers of a poor, old soldier will be any consolation to your excellency in your retirement, you have them from his heart.—Hoping your excellency will take his distressed situation in consideration, and grant some relief, your petitioner as in duty bound will ever pray.
I’ve found nothing more about the unfortunate William Keough.

TOMORROW: The final fate of Jefferson’s ram.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Alexander Kerr and “the late distressing affair”

None of the printed sources about the son of Alexander Kerr who was killed by President Thomas Jefferson’s four-horned ram in February 1808 state the boy’s name.

I played a hunch and searched for “Alexander Kerr, Jr.” At Find-a-Grave I found this gravestone in the Oak Hill Cemetery of Washington, D.C., for a person of that name who died on 16 Feb 1808. So this is the marker for the boy who was killed by the President’s sheep. (The stone also lists two siblings who died decades later, one of them having been a U.S. Army officer.)

Less than two months later the boy’s father again wrote to the President, this time seeking a federal government job:
Washington 4 April 1808.


The office of Collector of the Port of Baltimore being vacant by the death of Mr. Christie, I beg leave to offer myself to you as a Candidate for that situation. I have been engaged in the Bank in this place since its establishment, however the greater part of my life, prior to that, I have been engaged in Mercantile pursuits & particularly in the Shipping line, which gives me confidence that I could do justice to the discharge of the duties & in a little time give satisfaction to the Public—

The compensation I receive from my present situation is too small for the support of my family, in the manner they have always been accustomed to, which is a strong reason for my taking this liberty in applying to you for an Office: Independent of that, the great desire I have to remove myself & family from the place, where every day, indeed I may say every hour, presents something to keep our feelings alive to the late distressing affair that has taken place in it.
In other words, your sheep killed my son, so you owe me.
Pardon me for this weakness. Mr. [James] Madison has known me for many years, to whom I beg leave to refer you for farther information. I would have waited on you in Person, but did not think myself Sufficiently Known to you to authorize my doing so. Time would not admit, else I would have procured Letters from Men of the first respectability to strengthen my application. On enquiry, should you think me worthy of this appointment, I pledge myself to use every exertion to give general satisfaction.

With the utmost respect, I have the honor to be, Sir, Your Most Ob: Servt.
Alexr. Kerr
Kerr had indeed sought positions from Secretary of State Madison in 1801, and would again from President Madison in 1812. Because President Jefferson didn’t offer him a job.

There’s a line in Jefferson’s private accounts for 10 July 1808, slightly more than five months after the ram attacked young Alexander:
Drew ord. on the bk. US. in favr. of the bearer for 25.D. in charity sent by Mr. Kerr.
That might have been a discreet way of compensating the Kerr family for its loss.

Alexander Kerr remained in the private sector. He moved from the Branch Bank to the National Metropolitan Bank in Washington when it opened in 1814 and remained there until his death in 1832. In that capacity he served another Secretary of State and future President, John Quincy Adams.

TOMORROW: More victims of the killer sheep.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

“The ram ran his horns into the bowels of the boy”

On 18 Feb 1808, the United States Gazette for the Country, a Federalist-leaning newspaper published out of Philadelphia, shared this news from Washington, D.C.:
The only incident within the last ten days, to excite conversation, is an unhappy affair, of which the hero is the president’s ram.

About a week since, as a lad, nine years old, was returning from school, he was attacked by this ram in the plain beyond the [Presidential] palace on the Georgetown road. The boy, knowing that the ram was wont to push, avoided the first attack, but the second time he was not so fortunate. The ram ran his horns into the bowels of the boy. It was some time before they were disengaged.
The ram must have gored the boy on 6 February because the next day President Thomas Jefferson wrote to the lad’s father, Alexander Kerr, sending thoughts and prayers:

The unfortunate accident of yesterday has given me inexpressible concern. had the orders I had given some days before for securing the instrument of it against doing injury, been timely executed, this great calamity would have been prevented. that they were not will be to me a source of unceasing regret.

I am but too sensible that the participation of others in this scene of distress cannot alleviate the sufferings of tender parents: yet I cannot refuse to myself the expressing to them the deep affliction I feel as well for them as the unfortunate victim. not knowing his situation I can but offer my devout prayers for his safety, and to yourselves my sincere sympathies and respect.

Th: Jefferson
Kerr wrote back the same day:

Mrs. Kerr & myself are much gratified & our affliction somewhat alleviated by your sympathetick & friendly Letter of this Morning, which you have done me the honor to write respecting my Child.

The Wound is of a very dangerous nature, however the fever has not yet risen to an alarming height & the Doctors, ([John] Weems, [Arnold] Elzey & [Charles] Worthington, who have been here this morning) think appearances not unfavorable. I trust Sir, that in a few Days, I shall have it in my Power to inform you that he is out of danger.

I am perfectly satisfied that you feel as a Parent on the present melancholy occasion & I sincerely hope that your prayers, with those of his Parents, & the rest of his friends, may be heard by him who has the Power to save my darling Boy.—

With the utmost respect, I am Sir Your Obt. Servant
Alexr. Kerr
Five days later came another report:

I feel great satisfaction in being able to inform you, that my Son, in whose recovery you have taken so much interest, has the appearance of mending. He is now nearly at the expiration of the sixth day & the inflammation & tenseness of the Body have abated, without any appearance of mortification. The Intestine still discharges a little of its contents through its wound, although we are in hopes it has commenced to unite.

The Child has generally been very much composed, his only nourishment until yesterday has been Sleep. The Physicians have not pronounced him to be out of danger, but they give some reason for us to hope for a favorable issue; & that, principally from the Child having held up so long.

With the utmost respect.
Alexr. Kerr
Unfortunately, that prognosis was too optimistic. An infection set in. The U.S. Gazette reported, “The boy languished and died. He was buried yesterday,” or 17 February.

TOMORROW: The results of this “unhappy affair.”

Monday, March 26, 2018

President Jefferson’s Flock

Thomas Jefferson was always interested in improving American agriculture, and his own farming enterprises, though he wasn’t always successful.

In 1794, after stepping down as Secretary of State, Jefferson had his managers at Monticello buy a flock of forty ewes. Robert Morris gave him a ram smuggled from Spain. On becoming President, Jefferson gained access to other exotic sheep—a Bengal ewe in 1805, a Barbary Broadtail ram and ewe in 1806.

In June 1807 a man named James D. Barry offered the President a ram of the Shetland breed (also found in other parts of northern Europe). Jefferson replied:
Th: Jefferson presents his compliments and thanks to mr Barry for his offer of the ram which he accepts, not from personal motives, but merely with a view to secure the breed to our country, of which another chance might not happen in a century.

he is sending off the ram which runs at present with his ewes, and is engaging a person to attend the flock constantly as a shepherd, to secure them against accident, and he counts on producing the breed of the ram pure & full-blooded in four generations, according to the common estimation.

should mr Barry hereafter wish for the breed Th:J. will feel a duty & pleasure in furnishing him. he will send for him tomorrow morning with mr Barry’s permission.
Barry replied on 25 June:
James D Barry presents his compliments to the President of the U.S.

it has been his wish ever since he got the ram to give him to some gentleman who would attend to propagatg. the breed which he thinks will be a useful one and will suit the soil & Climate of this Country.

it is with pleasure he sends him by the bearer, Knowing that there is no person in this Country who would be more disposed or who has it more in his power to secure the breed than the President—
Four days later, President Jefferson wrote to his granddaughter Ellen Wayles Randolph, then ten years old, about his growing flock:
I am now possessed of individuals of four of the most remarkeable varieties of the race of the sheep. if you turn to your books of natural history, you will find among these
1. the Spanish sheep or Marino.
2. the Iceland sheep, or Ovis Polycerata.
3. the Barbary sheep, or Ovis laticunda &
4. the Senegal sheep, or that of Bengal which is the same.

I have lately recieved a ram of the 2d. kind, who has 4. horns, a round & beautiful animal, rather small.

the 3d. or broadtailed is remarkable for it’s flavor. I lately had a quarter sent me which I found the highest flavored lamb I had ever tasted. the 4th. or Senegal is supposed to be the original stock of the sheep. it’s flavor is said to be equal to that of Venison.

tho’ I possess individuals of one sex only of the 2d. 3d. & 4th. kinds, yet 4. crossings are understood by naturalists to produce the true breed. I mean to pay great attention to them, pro bono publico. (call on [your older brother] Jefferson to translate your Latin)
While Jefferson talked about breeding these sheep for the public good, he accepted the gifts as his own property. He expected to make money from his flock first and ultimately to benefit the country by providing a stock of well-bred sheep and an example for other farmers.

He didn’t know that his new ram would be a killer.

TOMORROW: “The concise history of a monster.”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Jobe on Thomas Chippendale, 29 Mar.

On Thursday, 29 March, the Nichols House Museum in Boston will sponsor a lecture on “Chippendale: The Man and the Myth” by Brock Jobe.

The museum says:
This year marks the 300th anniversary of Britain’s most celebrated furniture maker, Thomas Chippendale. His designs reached both sides of the Atlantic through a groundbreaking pattern book, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director of 1754. During his lifetime he oversaw one of the largest cabinetmaking and upholstery firms in London, and eventually his name defined an entire style of eighteenth-century furniture.

Jobe recounts the remarkable story of Chippendale’s career and takes us inside some of his greatest works. Along the way, we will confront the truth as well as the fiction associated with this fascinating character.
In 2000 Brock Jobe was appointed professor of American decorative arts in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture after a 28-year career as a museum curator and administrator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Colonial Williamsburg; the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England); and Winterthur. He co-directed the “Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture” project.

Although this is a Nichols House Museum event, it will take place at the New England Historic Genealogical Society at 99-101 Newbury Street in Boston. The talk will begin at 6:00 P.M. and be followed by a light reception. Admission is $20, or $15 for museum members. Space is limited. Tickets can be purchased through the museum website.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Fort Plain Museum’s American Revolution Conference, 7-10 June 2018

Fort Plain Museum’s American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference will take place this year from Thursday, 7 June, to Sunday, 10 June.

The event schedule includes author presentations, a bus tour of historic sites in central New York, genealogy consulting, and a fundraising dinner featuring first-person interpretations of two early Presidents.

Thursday, 7 June 2018 

Bus tour of historic sites featuring the events of 1778: the Battle of Cobleskill, the Cherry Valley Massacre, Springfield, Andrustown, Adam Helmer’s Run, Fort Herkimer, and Fort Plain/Rensselaer. Lunch stop in Cooperstown.
Friday, 8 June 2018

Genealogy Day: Visit Mohawk Country historic sites (sites, schedules, and admission fees to be posted separately). Sites will have presentations and/or historians on hand to discuss the families that fought on both sides during the American Revolution.
  • Russell Shorto,  “Revolution Song: America’s Founding Era in Six Remarkable Lives”
Saturday and Sunday, 9-10 June 2018

Author presentations:
  • Edward G. Lengel, “George Washington and the Burning of New York City, 1776”
  • Eric H. Schnitzer, “‘Hessians’ at the Battle of Bennington, 1777”
  • James L. Nelson, “Benedict Arnold’s Navy: The Story of the Rag Tag Fleet that Lost the Battle of Valcour Island and Won the American Revolution”
  • Don N. Hagist, “Redcoats Along the Mohawk: British Soldiers in Western New York, 1777-1783”
  • Bruce M. Venter, “Benedict Arnold’s Nemesis: Colonel John Brown’s Fateful Journey to the Mohawk Valley”
  • Jennifer DeBruin, “Traitors, Spies & Heroes: Loyalist Espionage in the American Revolution”
  • Glenn F. Williams, “Sir William Johnson, the Iroquois Confederacy, and Lord Dunmore’s War”
  • John Buchanan, “Two Warriors: George Washington and Sir William Howe
  • Wayne Lenig, “The Tryon County Committee of Safety”
There will also be a panel discussion featuring these authors on the topic “Patriot or Loyalist?” I’m not sure how these presentations will be divided between the two weekend days.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

“An Evening with Washington and Madison”
Fundraising Dinner at the Bridge Walk at the Perthshire, Amsterdam, N.Y.
George Washington and James Madison, as portrayed by Brian Hilton and Kyle Jenks, will discuss their journeys to upstate New York and other founding moments.

I enjoyed this conference two years ago. Though the venue has a lot of space, last year’s event nearly sold out. The last day to register is Thursday, 31 May.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Jacob Francis’s Story

In January I wrote three postings about Pvt. Jacob Francis and an anecdote he told about Gen. Israel Putnam when he applied for a U.S. pension.

Those postings have now prompted two more substantial and quite different articles at the Journal of the American Revolution website.

First and more important, Larry Kidder wrote up the information he had collected about Pvt. Francis into the fullest biography of the man yet published. Here’s a taste of his portrayal of the young man’s decision to join the Continental Army outside Boston in the fall of 1775:
Not knowing his family surname, Jacob used the name of his third “time” owner, Minne Gulick or Hulick, an Amwell farmer of Dutch ancestry. However he felt about the ideals of liberty and independence driving the Revolution, as a free black who had experienced indentured servitude most of his life, he probably enlisted at least partly because he was a young man accustomed to authority, who needed a job, and who may also have been seeking adventure. When approaching the recruiting officer, though, he found that free blacks were not encouraged to enlist and often not accepted.

From the time Washington took command at Cambridge, he wanted to exclude black men from the army. Washington interpreted the fact that there already were “boys, deserters, & negroes” in the Massachusetts regiments as proof that not enough qualified white men were enlisting. At the very time Jacob enlisted in October, Washington was discussing with his officers and Congress whether or not blacks should be enlisted and, while not unanimous, most leaders wanted to eliminate black enlistment entirely. By October 31, just days after Jacob’s enlistment, Washington’s general orders stated that blacks should not be enlisted and this order was reinforced in November.
That article fills out Pvt. Francis’s military experiences, particularly in his home state of New Jersey, and his life in the early republic. It’s a fine resource for people writing about African-American soldiers in the Revolution.

In addition, I assembled my postings about Jacob Francis’s anecdote into an article. While writing that, I found a third version of Francis’s story that a veteran of the siege of Boston named Simeon Locke reportedly told as an old man in Maine:
“‘I was a soldier in the army of the Revolution, and was detailed, with others, to build the breastworks on Dorchester Heights. A day or two after the works were begun, General Washington rode into the enclosure. I was a sentinel. Near me was a wheelbarrow and shovel; not far off was an idle soldier.

“‘“Why do you not work with the others?” asked Washington, addressing the soldier.

“‘“I am a corporal, sir,” he replied.

“‘The general immediately dismounted, and marched to the barrow, shovelled it full of sand, wheeled it to the breastworks, dumped his load, and returned the empty barrow to its place. Without uttering a word, he mounted his horse and rode away.’”
I still hope someone will find the first published version of that story from 1839, the source of the earliest examples I’ve unearthed. That could reveal more about how it got passed along, and how funny tales old soldiers told each other became moral lessons for the new republic.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Upcoming Talks in Bedford, Weston, and Burlington

As we continue to look forward to spring weather and the approach of Patriots Day, I’m giving multiple Road to Concord talks over the next few weeks.

Sunday, 25 March, 2:00 to 4:00 P.M.
“What the Bedford Minutemen Went to Guard in Concord”
Bedford Historical Society
Great Room, Old Town Hall, 16 South Road

On 18 Apr 1775, militiamen in Lexington spotted British officers passing through town on horseback. Locals quickly sent riders to Bedford, with the result that Bedford’s minute and militia companies were among the first to arrive at the North Bridge in Concord from neighboring towns. But why were all those communities on high alert in the spring of 1775?

This free event will start with refreshments, and I’ll speak at about 2:30. There will be book sales and signing after the talk.

Thursday, 29 March, 11:15 A.M. to 12:45 P.M.
“The Boston Revolution and the End of Tory Row”
Regis College Lifelong Learning, “Lunch, Listen & Learn” series
Fine Arts Center, Atrium, Regis College

On September 1, 1774, the Cambridge estates along the road to Watertown comprised a prosperous community, linked by bonds of family, religion, and politics. The following morning, thousands of rural militiamen crowded into town, demanding that royal officials resign. By the end of the month most of those families had moved out of their mansions, never to return. And inside Boston, Gov. Thomas Gage realized that he was witnessing a revolution.

This event is for members of Lifelong Learning at Regis College. I don’t think the public is allowed, but the organization might welcome new members.

Thursday, 5 April, 7:00 to 8:30 P.M.
“The Road to Concord: How Middlesex County Went to War”
Burlington Historical Society
Human Services Building, 61 Center Street, Burlington

Burlington was incorporated in 1799; before then, the area was part of Woburn. Like their neighbors, the farmers of that village were caught up in the “Powder Alarm” of 1774 and the Lexington Alarm of 1775. On the morning of 19 April, John Hancock and Samuel Adams found refuge in what’s now Burlington before moving on to Billerica. So what was all that fighting about?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Enoch Brooks’s Curious Bible

On 1 May 1785, Enoch and Hannah Brooks of Princeton, Massachusetts, had a son. The couple already had children Elisha (born in 1772), John (1774), Ezra (1776), Samuel (1779), and Hannah (1781).

Enoch Brooks had been the town’s assessor for four years before becoming its treasurer from 1780 until 1816, with only a couple of years off. He had also been a minuteman in 1775 and at some point a militia officer.

The Brookses named their new baby Enoch, after his father. (Another son, Stephen, would come in 1787.)

As little Enoch approached his fourth birthday, someone bought him a very special present: a copy of A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, or, Select Passages in the Old and New Testaments, Represented with Emblematical Figures, for the Amusement of Youth.

On the first page someone wrote in large, clear letters:
Enoch Brooks’
March, 13th. 1789.
As shown on the interior page above, this book retold stories from the Bible in rebus form. Isaiah Thomas had issued it from his Worcester press in 1788, copying a volume published in London five years before. (The British edition had in turn been modeled on German picture Bibles, which went back to the late 1600s.)

To create his edition, Thomas had to collect or commission 500 small woodcuts—more than had appeared in any other American book up to that time. But he could reuse those illustrations in other publications. Thomas found children’s books blending entertainment and instruction to be a lucrative field in the new American republic. Ultimately he published more than a hundred titles, most copied like this one from British originals.

Only four copies of Thomas’s Curious Hieroglyphick Bible are known to have survived the little hands of their early owners. Enoch Brooks’s copy is now at the Library of Congress, digitized for all.

As for young Enoch Brooks himself, he grew up in Princeton, married Polly Gregory in 1816, and had children of his own. Like his father, he held town office. He died in 1859. His wife lived until the age of ninety-nine, dying in 1890. Their gravestones stand side by side in Princeton’s Meetinghouse Cemetery.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Book “Taken in ye Field of Battle”

Last month the blog of the Clements Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, noted an unusual way of identifying books in its collection: as “battle estrays,” or books known to have been picked up in battle. No other library is known to use this term.

One example shown is the third volume of Jonathan Swift’s Miscellanies as published in London in 1742. It is inscribed:
22d-43d-54th-&-63d Regiments took possession of New York
—5 Brigade—
Taken in ye Field of Battle,
the 16th of September 1776—
The library blog said:
First Library director Randolph Adams noted in The Colophon that the British occupied the lower part of Manhatten Island on the 14th and 15th of September, then started up the island on the 16th. The battle [of Harlem Heights] on the 16th, in which this book was picked up, took place about what is now 126th St.
Not mentioned in the blog post, but noted in the book’s cataloguing record, is the bookplate. It shows the volume had been owned by the Rev. Dr. Myles Cooper, the president of King’s College. That institution later became Columbia University. It’s now located near the site of the fighting on 16 Sept 1776, but back then it was housed in one large building near modern New York City Hall.

If a volume from Cooper’s personal library was on “ye Field of Battle,” it had probably been looted from the college hall or his house. Cooper himself had fled America in May 1775. The college shut down, its building becoming a military hospital, so a lot of people might have had access. An American soldier or civilian might have taken the book and then dropped it on the retreat north, where a British soldier picked it up.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Orations at Old South, 21 Mar.

On Wednesday, 21 March, the Old South Meeting House will host “Speak Out!”, its fourth annual remembrance of the Boston Massacre orations.

From 1771 to 1783, Boston had a yearly town meeting to commemorate the fatal violence on King Street. The tradition was started by Dr. Thomas Young speaking at the Manufactory on 5 Mar 1770, and the town’s politicians decided the event was successful enough to make it an official occasion, not just a speech by a radical who wasn’t even from around here.

That year the town had assistant schoolmaster James Lovell speak in April. From then on, the orations were always on 5 March or, if that date fell on a Sunday, 6 March. The invited orator was usually a rising young politician. In order:
In 1783 Boston decided that remembering the Massacre was less vital now that Massachusetts was independent, and the town shifted its annual patriotic oration to the Fourth of July.

The Old South event focuses on the orations leading up to the war. The description says:
Join us to hear selected excerpts of these speeches, performed by an inter-generational group in the grand hall where the orations took place 240 years ago! Learn about the orations and their significance with special guests Bostonian Society Executive Director Nathaniel Sheidley, historian Robert Allison, and Dr. Joseph Warren biographer Dr. Samuel Forman. Audience members will also have the option to read from a selection of excerpts; prizes will be awarded to the most rousing orators in youth and adult categories!
This free event is co-sponsored by the History Department at Suffolk University, the Bostonian Society, and the Boston Public Schools’ Department of History and Social Studies.

All are welcome, but Old South asks people to please register in advance. The speeches start at 6:00 P.M. If the weather is bad, the event might be postponed for a week until 28 March.

ADDENDUM: This event has now been rescheduled for 28 March.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Various reports have been current”

I came across this report from America in The North-British Intelligencer: or Constitutional Miscellany, published on 8 May 1776. It gives a sense of the difficulty that the British people, and the British government, faced gathering information about what had happened in New England two months before.

Wednesday arrived a mail from Boston, in New England, brought to Falmouth by the Lord Hyde packet boat, Capt. Jefferys, She sailed from thence March 25, and brought dispatches from General [William] Howe for Government, and several letters, since which various reports have been current;

on one hand it was given out, that the provincial army had erected a battery at Phipp’s Farm [in Cambridge], from whence they began to play upon the town with cannon and bombs, a fortnight before the forces left the place; that on this Gen. Howe found it necessary to attempt to dislodge them; but the wind blowing hard, he found it impracticable to land where he intended; he therefore the next day sent, a flag of truce to General [George] Washington, offering to evacuate the town immediately, leaving behind him his artillery, stores, &c. which request was granted, and the next day he embarked his troops, amounting to about 7000, with 1500 inhabitants, and made the best of his way to Halifax.—

On the other hand it was said, that General Howe, with the troops under his command, after having blown up the works, and taken under his protection the friends of Government, evacuated that place, without being molested by the provincials, and embarked on board the ships in the harbour, and that the vessel which brought this advice set sail before it was known to what part of America the General intended to direct his course; The provincials marched into Boston.

But on farther enquiry this day, a Gentleman of veracity informs us, that General Howe evacuated Boston on the 24th of March, by orders from home, after destroying the works and fortifications. Several men of war are left to block up the harbour, and to prevent any transports falling into their hands. He further says, that a large body of provincials, a little before they embarked, took possession of Noddle Island, and that the General had sent a detachment of 2000 men, who attacked and drove some off, killed a great number, and took the rest prisoners. It was not certainly known where the General intended to go to; but many thought to Virginia, which being a flat country, the men could act to more advantage than farther north, which was in general very hilly.
Each of these reports was partly accurate—but some much more than others.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Blanket the British Army Left Behind

Today is Evacuation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the British military left Boston.

Back in 2013, Patrick Browne wrote on his blog Historical Digression about something the British left behind, an artifact now at the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society:
A number of British regiments were camped upon Boston Common. When they departed, they left all manner of gear strewn across that open space. We can imagine curious Bostonians picking through the debris when the British were gone. Frugal Yankees, they must have scavenged a good number of useful items.

One such Bostonian was William Hickling [1742-1790], a merchant, roughly 30 years old. He was a patriot who had been out and about on the fateful night of the Boston Massacre back in 1770, though, according to the deposition of Richard Palmes, Hickling went home before the real trouble began. Hickling had been, according to family tradition, rather more active during the Boston Tea Party in 1773 as evidenced by the tea leaves that were found in his shoes the following morning.
According to his will, quoted here, Hickling was officially a distiller, but he sold other things besides rum. His father was also a distiller named William Hickling (1704-1774), and he had a son and a nephew of the same name, so there’s opportunity for a lot of confusion.

The name of William Hickling doesn’t appear on most lists of men involved in the Tea Party, even the expansive roster in Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves. The family tradition that he helped to destroy the tea was nonetheless in print by 1900.

Other sources do show William Hickling as a participant in Boston’s pre-Revolutionary politics. But which William Hickling attended the Sons of Liberty dinner in Dorchester in 1769? Which was renting rooms to Pvt. James Hartigan and his new wife Elizabeth in 1770? Which was a member of the North End Caucus in 1772? I’ll play the odds and say that Palmes encountered the younger William Hickling (and his brother John) on 5 Mar 1770, and that the younger William was also the caucus member, but I won’t hazard a guess about the other questions.

The William Hickling born in 1742 was almost certainly the man who joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1764 and served as paymaster of Col. John Brooks’s Continental Army regiment in 1777 and 1778.

But back to the spring of 1776 and Patrick Browne’s essay:
Foraging across Boston Common, Hickling probably picked up a number of things. One of them was the white woolen blanket of a British soldier. The “standard issue” blanket, bearing the royal symbol of the King’s Arrow and the initials “GR” for George Rex (or King George) eventually made its way to Duxbury, Massachusetts after William’s death when his widow moved in with her daughter [Sarah] and son-in-law, bringing a number of Hickling family objects with her. The son-in-law was Captain Gershom Bradford, a Duxbury master mariner. Fast forward to 1968, Gershom Bradford’s house, along with a vast number of family belongings, was donated to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society by the captain’s great-grandsons.
It sounds like the blanket didn’t come with a provenance, not like the tea story. But it certainly appears to be a standard-issue British army blanket.

Friday, March 16, 2018

“Enlisted for six months & served that time”

Capt. Moses Harvey’s November 1775 advertisement (which I quoted Wednesday) pointedly described five men who had deserted from his Continental Army company in the preceding summer.

What happened, I asked myself, to those men? And quickly I had to give up on Simeon Smith of Greenfield and Matthias Smith of (I think) Springfield because their names are just too common.

Nor could I find anything about John Daby of Sunderland, even under the spelling Darby or Derby. (There was a different John Daby from Harvard.)

Likewise, there are multiple men named John Guilson or Gilson in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors and U.S. pension records, but their details don’t mesh with the guy in Harvey’s company. White and Maltsby’s Genealogical Gleanings of Siggins, and Other Pennsylvania Families (1918) states that our John Gilson was born in 1750 in Groton, but was in Sunderland in 1769 to marry Patience Graves. According to descendants, they married on 20 June; their first daughter, Lydia, arrived on 30 December, explaining why they married.

The Gilsons were still in Sunderland in 1783, but by 1791 they had moved to Salisbury, Connecticut, where they had a daughter named Betsey. (There may well have been other children.) After some time in New York the family moved out to western Pennsylvania in 1803—different sources say they traveled “by ox-cart” or “in canoes and flat-boats.” John Gilson died in Warren, Pennsylvania, in 1811, and was later considered one of that town’s pioneers.

The best documented of Capt. Harvey’s five deserters is Gideon Graves, though once again I had to sort him out from a man of the same name. Gideon Graves of Palmer (1758-1834), when applying for a Revolutionary War pension, said he had served “two months at Roxbury & four months at Ticonderoga” before joining Col. John Crane’s artillery in March 1777. Somehow he produced two pension files.

The Gideon Graves from Sunderland was a younger brother of Patience (Graves) Gilson. He was a son of Reuben and Hannah Graves, born in 1753. John Montague Smith’s History of the Town of Sunderland (1899) quotes an unidentified local diary from “sometime in the ’70’s” saying: “Gideon Graves caught a buck alive.” Which is rather impressive, though hard to pin down.

Graves applied for a federal pension while living in Stillwater, Saratoga County, New York, in 1818. He stated
That in the year 1775 he enlisted for six months & served that time and was in the battles of Bunker Hill near Boston & in 1776 he served nine months in Capt. [Phineas] Smiths Company Colonel [Elisha] Porters Regiment of the Massachusetts line [a militia regiment assigned to the northern campaign]. That for the last term of his Service he was a Sergeant.
Furthermore, this Graves enlisted for a third time in Bennington in 1777, joining Col. Rufus Putnam’s regiment and serving until 1782. He also testified to having been wounded at Saratoga.

Thus, in his pension application Graves stretched his service in 1775 and said nothing about how he had gone home without permission. But he did reenlist and spent years as a soldier. For him, not wanting to serve under Ens. Eliphalet Hastings wasn’t just an excuse to justify leaving the army for good. The U.S government awarded Graves a pension. He died intestate in Saratoga County, New York, in 1824.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Problem with Ens. Eliphalet Hastings

Yesterday I quoted Capt. Moses Harvey’s newspaper advertisement from November 1775, minutely describing five soldiers who had deserted from his Continental Army company.

Harvey surmised that those men had left for these feeble reasons:
They have been apt to make excuses for their running away, and intimate they took a dislike to one Eliphalet Hastings, who was put in Ensign over them, and found much fault with the continental allowance.
Of course, it’s a soldier’s prerogative to grumble about food and pay. But what was the problem with the new ensign?

Eliphalet Hastings (1734-1824) was a veteran soldier. He had enlisted early in the French and Indian War, a decision that didn’t turn out well. In January 1760 the Massachusetts legislature voted to pay him £8 because
in the Year 1757 being a Soldier in the pay of this Province, he was taken Prisoner by the Indians near Fort William Henry by whom he was sold to the French and carried to Quebeck from whence he was sent to France where he remained till October 1758 when he was sent to England; and did not return home till May 1759
Hastings’s descendants understood that he had also participated Gen. James Wolfe’s Québec campaign and even “assisted in carrying General Wolfe to the rear, when mortally wounded.” But the timing for that would be awfully tight.

In April 1775, Hastings had marched as a minuteman, then rose to sergeant as Massachusetts formed its army. According to his pension application, he
was in the battle of Bunkers hill, commanded a company in Col Jonathan Brewers Regt in the Massachusetts line, had twenty-nine killed and eleven wounded besides myself out of seventy nine in that action, had my right arms and collar bone shot to pieces
Col. Brewer’s regiment was stationed mostly between the provincial breastwork and the rail fence. It got pretty shot up, with Brewer (d. 1784) and Lt. Col. William Buckminster (1736-1786) both wounded. But a Massachusetts report in 1775 said that in all the regiment suffered twelve dead and twenty-two wounded, far less than the figures Hastings recalled for one company decades later.

Col. Brewer had already gotten into hot water for aggressive recruiting tactics in Middlesex and Worcester Counties. He in turn complained about other colonels, on 4 July petitioning the Massachusetts legislature about how
a number of men that enlisted in different Companies in my Regiment have, through the low artifice and cunning of several recruiting officers of different Regiments, re-enlisted into other Companies, being over-persuaded by such arguments as, that Colonel Brewer would not be commissioned, and that if they did not immediately join some other Regiment, they would be turned out of the service; others were tempted with a promise to have a dollar each to drink the recruiting officer’s health; others by intoxication of strong liquor; by which means a considerable number have deserted my Regiment, as will be made to appear by the returns therefrom, as also the different Companies and Regiments they are re-enlisted into.
Around the same date, on 1 July, Eliphalet Hastings was appointed an ensign in the company of Capt. Moses Harvey. I can’t tell which company Hastings had been a sergeant in—perhaps Capt. Edward Blake’s—but it wasn’t Harvey’s.

Capt. Harvey was a late addition to Brewer’s regiment, not listed among his officers in early June. He had also come late to the Battle of Bunker Hill. A soldier from that company named Moses Clark recalled, “I was on the march towards Bunkers Hill on the day that battle was fought we arrived there just after the battle ended, while our men were carrying away the wounded.”

Col. Brewer appears to have assigned Ens. Hastings to Capt. Harvey’s company, rewarding a wounded veteran and filling out that company’s ranks so he could have more soldiers under him. But that created a problem.

Moses Harvey had been born in Sunderland, in the part of town that became Montague in 1754, and he had recruited men from that area. Of the five soldiers in his deserter ad, three had enlisted in Sunderland: John Daby; Gideon Graves, born in that town in 1753; and John Guilson, born in Groton in 1750 and married to Graves’s sister in 1769. Simeon Smith came from Greenfield and Matthias Smith from Springfield, other towns in the Connecticut River Valley. Capt. Harvey knew them so well he could describe them in acute detail.

In contrast, Eliphalet Hastings lived in Waltham, on the eastern side of Middlesex County. Harvey’s men didn’t know him. By tradition, New England soldiers enlisted under neighbors they knew and trusted. They expected to elect their own officers instead of having someone assigned over them. So over the summer of 1775 those five men decided to head back home to western Massachusetts.

Capt. Harvey was lenient enough not to advertise for their return right away; he didn’t even report them as deserted until 27 September. But as November came around, there was new pressure from Gen. George Washington to recruit soldiers for the coming year. Harvey might have thought his own hopes to remain in the army depended on showing that he could maintain discipline in his company. So on 8 November he finally put his neighbors’ names and descriptions into the newspaper. Did he really expect them to return, or did he just want to make their lives in and around Sunderland a little less comfortable?

TOMORROW: What became of those deserters?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

“Deserted from Col. Brewer’s regiment…”

On 9 Nov 1775 and again a week later, the New-England Chronicle ran this advertisement, which offers characterizations of Continental soldiers worthy of a Smollett novel:
Deserted from Col. [Jonathan] Brewer’s regiment, and Captain Harvey’s company, one Simeon Smith of Greenfield, a joiner by trade, a thin spar’d fellow, about 5 feet 4 inches high, had on blue coat and black vest, a metal button on his hat, black long hair, black eyes, his voice in the hermaphrodite fashion, the masculine rather predominant:

Likewise one Matthias Smith, a small smart fellow, a sadler by trade, grey headed, has a younger look in his face, is apt to say I swear! I swear! and between his words will spit smart; had on a green coat, and an old red great coat; he is a right gamester, although he wears something of a sober look:

Likewise one John Daby, a long hump shoulder’d fellow, a shoemaker by trade, drawls his words, and for comfortable says comfable, had a green coat, thick leather breeches, slim legs, lost some of his fore teeth:

Also one John Guilson, a man well known in Sunderland, wears a watch, midling stature, a cooper by trade, has a black beard, wears a light colour’d coat and jacket and has a surly look:

Likewise his brother in law, Gideon Graves, about a midling stature, somewhat stocky, his looks, jestures and words generally crabbed, had a sad red coat, a pale blue vest, dark brown thickset breeches, and had a large cutlass.---

They have been apt to make excuses for their running away, and intimate they took a dislike to one Eliphalet Hastings, who was put in Ensign over them, and found much fault with the continental allowance.

Whoever will take up said deserters and secure or bring hem into the camp, shall have two dollars reward for each, and all necessary charges paid by me,
Prospect-Hill, Nov. 8, 1775.

P.S. Said deserters have been gone some time, and because I expected they would return, I have omitted advertising them.
According to Massachusetts records, John Gilson deserted on 14 July; Gideon Graves, Matthias Smith, and John Daby in early August, and Simeon Smith on 16 September. So Capt. Harvey (1723-1795) had indeed waited for months before advertising for them in November.

Not that he had to get so personal.

TOMORROW: What was the problem with Ens. Hastings?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Newburyport Newspapers

Through Alexander Cain of Untapped History, I learned about this database of digitized documents from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

At the top are the links to (as of today) 646 pages from the 1770s and 1,131 from the 1780s. Those are mostly pages from Newburyport’s only newspaper at the time, the Essex Journal. Or, to give it the full original name, the Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet: Or, the Massachusetts and New-Hampshire General Advertiser.

The format of this newspaper database is different from any I’ve seen before. Clicking on each page opens up first a terrible O.C.R. transcription, then a full page image. The images are quite readable, so thumbing through is a fine way to immerse oneself in the life of a small New England port during the Revolutionary period.

The story of the Essex Journal starts with Isaiah Thomas and his ambition to franchise his Massachusetts Spy operation the way that Benjamin Franklin had sponsored and profited from other newspapers two generations before. Newspaper printers could benefit by building networks to share news, mail, advertising, and bookselling. Often those networks were built along family lines. Thomas was at a disadvantage without many relations, but he did have apprentices.

According to Thomas himself, he launched the Essex Journal in 1773 “At the request of several gentlemen, particularly the late rev. Jonathan Parsons [1705-1776].” Which is to say, Thomas supplied the printing equipment but stayed in Boston looking after his own newspaper and Royal American Magazine.

The actual printer in Newburyport was a young man named Henry-Walter Tinges. Facts about him are hard to come by. According to Thomas, he was “born in Boston” but “his parents were Hollanders,” or Dutch. Suffolk County probate records show that a Henry Tinges was assigned a guardian in 1767. He apprenticed first with John Fleeming and then, perhaps after the Boston Chronicle folded, with Thomas. Presumably he came of age in 1773 and was ready to manage his own shop.

Thomas and Tinges started collecting subscriptions for the Essex Journal in December 1773, distributing a sample issue for free. A lot of the early advertisers were Boston merchants—perhaps Thomas had given them a deal to advertise in both the Massachusetts Spy and the Essex Journal. The initial plan was to publish on Saturdays, but in response to public feedback the newspaper appeared on Wednesdays.

In August 1774, with Boston under army occupation for the second time, Thomas “sold the printing materials to Ezra Lunt, the proprietor of a stage” between Newburyport and Boston who thus had an interest in promoting local business. Lunt was a Newburyport native, thirty-one years old. Tinges remained the junior partner.

That arrangement lasted until May 1775, when Lunt became a captain in Col. Moses Little’s regiment of the Massachusetts army. According to local lore, “a stirring discourse from Rev. Jonathan Parsons” had prompted Lunt and his men to volunteer. The company saw action at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill, acting as a rear guard during the provincial retreat off the Charlestown peninsula. After the war, Lunt joined the Yankee exodus to the Ohio Territory and died in the town of Marietta.

Meanwhile, back in Newburyport, Tinges had a new senior partner: John Mycall (1750-1833). According to Thomas, Mycall was “born at Worcester, in England; and was a schoolmaster at Almsbury”—Amesbury, where he had married in 1772. A “man of great ingenuity,” within a year he was able to manage the press himself and publish the Essex Journal under his own name. Probably during this time he took on his nephew William Hoyt (1759-1812) as an apprentice.

Henry-Walter Tinges remained in Newburyport at least into January 1777, when his intention to marry Eunice Knight was announced. According to his old master Thomas, at some point he went “to Baltimore, and from thence to sea, but never returned.”

In February 1777, Mycall had to stop publishing the Essex Journal, apparently due to paper shortages and business uncertainty. The Newburyport database therefore has no local material from 1778 until 1784, when Mycall restarted the newspaper. It continued for another ten years, published by either Mycall or Holt, until Mycall finally retired in 1794, first to rural Harvard and then to bustling Cambridge. And that was the end of the Essex Journal.

But the Newburyport database continues uninterrupted with the town’s new newspaper, the Morning Star.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Lecture Series at Bunker Hill Museum Starting 15 Mar.

This week the National Parks of Boston will launch a spring lecture series at the Bunker Hill Museum. Here’s the lineup:

Thursday, 15 March
Curtis White
Customs Enforcement in Massachusetts, 1760-1775: Prelude to War
Ranger White from Salem Maritime National Historic Site will explore how British Customs agents in the colonial ports of Boston and Salem sparked unrest and galvanized colonists to defy British rule. This talk will trace such historic events as the Navigation Acts, the Stamp Act, and the Boston Tea Party as taxes and tariffs shaped public opinion in the prelude to war.

Thursday, 19 April
Jayne Triber
A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere
Dr. Triber, author of the 1998 scholarly biography of Revere, commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War on this date by describing the silversmith’s fateful mission for Dr. Joseph Warren, his busy midnight ride, and “The Shot Heard ’Round the World”—and Revere’s many other activities for the Patriot cause.

Thursday, 17 May
J. L. Bell
Meet the New Neighbors: The British Army in Boston, 1768
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the first military occupation of Boston as army regiments disembarked in October 1768 to assert the London government’s control over the port. That move only escalated social and political tensions. How did Boston residents respond to the sudden arrival of hundreds of soldiers? How did those soldiers find their new American home? What individual stories do the sources hold for us?

All these talks are free and open to the public. Each starts at 7:00 P.M. in the Bunker Hill Museum’s lower level meeting room at 43 Monument Square in Charlestown.

This lecture series is offered in cooperation with Revolution 250, the coalition commemorating the Sestercentennial of events in Massachusetts leading up to 2026.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

“Henry Knox’s Mission” Lecture in Cambridge, 15 Mar.

On Thursday, 15 March, I’ll speak at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge about “Myths and Realities of Henry Knox’s Mission.”

Here’s the set-up:
On November 16, 1775, Gen. George Washington gave Henry Knox a mission to travel to New York and bring back cannons for the Continental Army. Knox was a 25-year-old bookseller with no military rank. His trek back to Cambridge has become a beloved part of the American saga. This talk digs deeper into that story, examining such questions as who first had the idea to fetch cannon from Lake Champlain, how Knox had contributed to the Patriot movement, ways weather affected the mission, and if those cannon changed the British army’s plans.
This is the latest of a series of talks I’ve delivered at this headquarters site around Evacuation Day. This year’s talk is most closely tied to that anniversary since most American histories credit Col. Knox’s mission for the British military’s withdrawal. I won’t say that’s wrong—just that the situation was more complicated.

This event is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters and the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. It’s free, but seating is limited, so please call (617) 876-4491 or email reservationsat105@gmail.com to reserve a spot. We start at 6:30 P.M.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Seasholes on “The Changing Shape of Boston,” 14 Mar.

On Wednesday, 14 March, the Old North Church will host a talk by Nancy S. Seasholes on “The Changing Shape of Boston: From ‘One if by land, and two if by sea’ to the Present.” This talk is co-sponsored by the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

The Old North Speaker Series event description says:
Did you know that Boston was once a small peninsula? How did the fact that Boston was located on a peninsula affect the choices made by both the British and the Patriots on April 18, 1775? What happened to that small peninsula afterwards to transform it into the Boston of today? This talk will explore the changes in Boston’s topography from the time of the Revolutionary War to the present.
Seasholes is the expert on how Boston has physically grown over the years. She is the author of Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston and Walking Tours of Boston’s Made Land.

Right now Seasholes is directing a project to produce an historical atlas of Boston, to be published by the University of Chicago Press in fall 2019. I’m one of the many contributors she’s wrangling to get that book finished.

This talk starts at 6:00 P.M. Reserve seats through this webpage. Admission is on a “pay what you will” basis. (This was Old North Church’s previous general admission policy; it has just announced a big change.)

Friday, March 09, 2018

Peale Portraits of the Hancock Children Brought to Light

Last month Pamela Ehrlich published an article in Antiques & Fine Art magazine and at the Incollect site titled “A Hancock Family Story: Restoring Connections.”

Ehrlich wrote:
While researching portraits of Lydia [Hancock], I discovered a listing in the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog for an “unlocated” portrait miniature in oil [sic] of “Hancock, Thomas, Mrs. (Lydia Henchman)–Child” painted by Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827) in 1777. It was further identified as No. 354 in Charles Coleman Sellers’ Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale (hereafter P&M). However, the death date was incorrect—Lydia Henchman Hancock died April 25, 1776. Furthermore, Peale could not have painted her as a child since she was twenty-seven years old when he was born.
That miniature was at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.

Investigating further allowed Ehrlich to identify the baby girl in that portrait as John and Dorothy Hancock’s daughter Lydia, named after her great aunt. Little Lydia died in 1777 at the age of only nine months.

Furthermore, Ehrlich found a corresponding miniature of the Hancocks’ son John George Washington Hancock, shown above. (Terribly sad story of that boy’s death here.) And in the same purchase the art school obtained a Peale portrait of John Hancock himself, painted in the year he signed the Declaration of Independence. Read the article for the full story of the investigation, as well as the remaining mystery of a matching miniature of Dorothy Hancock.