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.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, April 03, 2018

John Rowe and “the Funeral of the Remains of Dr. Warren”

Yesterday I noted that on Thursday King’s Chapel will host a talk by Sam Forman on the funeral of Dr. Joseph Warren, which took place in that same church on 8 Apr 1776.

The organizers of that funeral were the Freemasons of the St. Andrew’s Lodge, which Warren had led. Deputy Grand Master Joseph Webb asked young member Perez Morton to quickly write and deliver an oration. Paul Revere, Edward Procter, and Stephen Bruce expressed the lodge’s thanks afterward, and printer John Gill’s edition of that speech highlighted the Freemasons’ support.

In addition to Warren’s family and the members of the St. Andrew’s Lodge, the funeral procession also included a contingent of Continental Army troops and members of the Massachusetts General Court. The Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper offered prayers, so the Patriot establishment was well represented.

However, one gentleman found he wasn’t welcome: the merchant John Rowe, also a grand master in the Freemasons. In his diary for 8 April Rowe wrote:
Afternoon I went by invitation of Brother Webb to attend the Funeral of the Remains of Dr. Warren & went accordingly to the Council Chamber [of the Old State House] with a Design to Attend & Walk in Procession with the Lodges under my Jurisdiction with our Proper Jewells & Cloathing but to my great mortification was very much Insulted by some furious & hot Persons witho. the Least Provocation

one of Brethren thought it most Prudent for me to Retire. I accordingly did so—this has caused some Uneasy Reflections in my mind as I am not Conscious to myself of doing anything Prejudicial to the Cause of America either by will or deed.

The Corps of Dr. Warren was Carried into Chapell Dr. Cooper prayed & Mr Perez Morton delivered an Oration on the Occasion. There was a handsome Procession of the Craft with Two Companies of Soldiers.
Those last sentences evoke a picture of Rowe standing outside the chapel, watching people go in—standing on the side of the street as the “handsome Procession” passed by without him.

Rowe was the leader of Boston’s other group of Freemasons: the St. John’s Lodge. That lodge had been wealthier and closer to the Crown than the upstart St. Andrew’s, which was at last in the ascendancy.

Furthermore, Rowe himself had “trimmed” his political sails enough during the preceding decade to make people on both sides of the political divide suspicious of him. And that April, there was no way to deny that he had spent the whole siege inside Boston with the royal government and royal military.

Rowe assured himself that he hadn’t done “anything Prejudicial to the Cause of America either by will or deed.” But some of his fellow Bostonians, “furious & hot” after twelve months of war, didn’t share his confidence.


Tim Polack said...

Really interesting stuff here Jon. The nuance of patriot and loyalist really shows through. I've been reading about the war of 1812 lately, and a significant part of that story (at least according to Alan Taylor) included these subtle yet strong feelings patriots had towards those they clearly perceived as still having loyalists sympathies.

J. L. Bell said...

In the midst of any war, loyalty is clearly a major public concern. It’s striking how blind to that issue John Rowe seems as he writes his diary. Yet we also know he changed an entry in an earlier volume to appear more supportive of the Patriots, or to assure himself that h was.

There are three gaps in Rowe's diaries produced by missing volumes: 17 Aug 1765 to 10 Apr 1766 (Stamp Act riots); 1 June to 24 Dec 1775 (occupation of Boston); and 19 Nov 1776 to 12 Aug 1778. It would be nice to know what Rowe was doing and thinking in those periods. But he might have ensured we'd never know.