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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Monday, April 16, 2018

Pulling on the Run

Yesterday we left merchant captain John Pulling (1737-1787) in Boston’s North End with the royal authorities seeking to question him about the signal lanterns hung in the Old North Church steeple on 18 Apr 1775.

At least, that’s the way the Rev. John Lee Watson told the story in a letter published in the Boston Daily Advertiser on 20 July 1876. Watson went on:
In the meantime, a Mrs. Malcolm, a Scotchwoman, and wife of a near neighbor of Mr. Pulling,—who was under obligations to him for some service he had rendered him,—came to him with a message from her husband, “that he had better leave the town as soon as possible, with his family.”

And this he did, disguised as a laborer, on board of a small craft loaded with beer for the man-of-war lying in the harbor. In some way, one of the sailors belonging to the craft had known Mr. Pulling, and to him he confided his wish to escape from Boston with his family. The sailor said “if the skipper of the craft should be on board, he would not allow of any delay; but if the mate, who was a good-natured fellow, should have the command, he would be willing to put him ashore on his return.” This proved to be the case, and Mr. Pulling and his family were landed at Nantasket.

How long he remained there is not known, probably not long; but his wife and family continued to live there for some time, suffering from want of all the necessaries of life; for they had carried nothing with them,—every thing had been left behind.

And when Mr. Pulling returned to Boston,—after the siege was raised,—he found his dwelling-house, and stores, and abundant means, all so injured or destroyed that, at the end of the war, all his property was gone. He died soon after, and the family at once removed to Hingham, Massachusetts.
Boston newspapers show John Pulling holding offices in the militia and town government during and after the war, and advertising imported cloth and other goods for sale before his death in January 1787. But his family passed down a perception of him as impoverished.

Watson said the story he told was “derived principally from the letters of my kinswoman, the grand-daughter of John Pulling.” When the minister expanded his newspaper letter into a pamphlet, he named his correspondent as Mary Orne Jenks (1800-1886) of Salem.

Jenks had told her cousin: “The story of the lanterns I heard from my earliest childhood, from my mother, and from my step-grandmother.” John and Annis (Lee) Pulling (1743-1771) had only one daughter, also named Annis. In 1773 John remarried Sarah (Thaxter) McBean of Hingham, who helped to raise Annis and her brother from the first marriage. Thus, the mother and step-grandmother whom Jenks referred to must have been Annis (Pulling) Jenks (1769-1837) of Salem and Sarah (Thaxter McBean Pulling) Reed (1746-1843) of Abington.

In addition, Watson stated he heard the same story from “my mother and my aunt—both of them sisters of Mrs. Annis Pulling.” The minister’s mother was Lucy (Lee) Watson (1759-1840), Annis (Lee) Pulling’s youngest sister. There are multiple candidates for the aunt, but this is clearly an example of the women of the family maintaining the family lore and passing it on to the next generations.

TOMORROW: Another branch of the family heard from.

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