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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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Last Years of Baron de Steuben

When we left the retired general Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, usually then known as Baron de Steuben, his first postwar housemates had left him as well.

Those were three of his former military aides: Benjamin Walker, James Fairlie, and William North. In the mid-1780s they all got married and set up their own households. That left the baron at loose ends in New York, living beyond his means.

Steuben enjoyed the company of young men—but not all young men. Sometime during the 1780s two nephews visited Steuben from Prussia. The baron quickly came to dislike them, especially because they expected him to provide their fare and living expenses (after all, he had written letters boasting of his success in America). They went home.

In the late 1780s the baron showered gifts on his butler, who North thought was a “worthless rascal” being dressed up as a “beau.” For a while in 1791 Steuben lived at Walker’s house.

In the spring of 1792, however, the baron set up a household at 32 Broadway and collected a new pair of companions. The first was John W. Mulligan (1774-1862), son of New York tailor and wartime spy Hercules Mulligan. A recent Columbia graduate, Mulligan started to study the law in the office of Alexander Hamilton but then took the job of Baron de Steuben’s secretary.

The next arrival was Charles Adams (1770-1800), son of John and Abigail Adams, another aspiring attorney. In April 1792, Adams told his mother about Steuben: “He is the best man in the world I sincerely beleive.” In a letter dated 8 Oct 1792, Charles Adams described how the baron had invited him to move in:
The Baron returned from Steuben [his town in upstate New York] last week and I had intended to procure lodgings at some private boarding house, but when I mentioned to him my intention, he took me kindly by the hand “My dear Adams said he When your sister went from New York I invited you to come to my house, at least till you could find more convenient and pleasant Lodgings; I then had not the pleasure of a long acquaintance with you, but I was pleased that in our little society we could be of mutual advantage to each other, and that our improvements in the French language and in other branches of literature would render my table the seat of improvement and pleasure.

[“]I have since you have been here formed a very great and sincere friendship for you. You must now allow me the right of friendship; Indeed you must not leave me. What is it? Is there any thing you do not like? Is any thing inconvenient? I wish I could give you a better apartment, but the house will not aford it.[”]

I told him there was not a desire I could form but what was accomplished in his house; but that I did not think it proper that I should any longer take advantage of a kindness I had not a right to expect.

[“]And will you not then allow me to be any longer your friend and patron? You must not make such objections. It is not from any favor I can ever expect from your father. I am not rich, nor am I poor: and thank God I have enough to live well and comfortably upon; your being here does not make any difference in my expences. I love you, and will never consent that our little society should be broken, untill you give me more sufficient reasons for it.[”]

To this affectionate and fatherly address, I could only reply that I would do any thing he wished and would not leave him if he was opposed to my doing so. My dear Mamma there is something in this man that is more than mortal.
On 31 Jan 1793 Adams wrote to his father:
The Baron returned [from Philadelphia] on teusday his visit has been of service to him He said to me upon sitting down to supper that evening “I thank God my dear Charles that I am not a Great man and that I am once more permitted to set down at my little round table with Mulligan and yourself enjoy more real satisfaction than the pomp of this world can afford.” 
However, that situation was financially unsustainable. Steuben decided to move to his country estate, where life was cheaper. He headed out there in May 1793 and again in the spring of 1794. Vice President Adams understood the baron intended “there to reside for the Remainder of his Days.” Mulligan moved with him, still in the role of secretary.

On 12 Feb 1794, before leaving the city, Baron de Steuben made his third and final will (P.D.F. download). He had decided to “exclude my relations in Europe”—those nephews. Instead, he would “adopt my Friends and former Aid Des Camps Benjamin Walker and William North as my Children and make them sole devisees of all my Estates therein.” So they shared a financial inheritance which they probably would have had to sort out anyway.

Steuben left swords and other specific bequests to North and Walker. He left Mulligan “the whole of my library Maps and Charts and the sum of Two Thousand five hundred Dollars to complete it.” He assigned a year’s wages and clothes to his servants. Charles Adams, who was staying in the city to study for the bar, was a witness to the will. Another was Charles Williamson (1758-1808), a former British army officer who emigrated to America to promote land investments and the interests of the British Empire.

On 22 September, Charles Adams wrote to his mother:
On the fourteenth of October I shall set out for Albany The earnest solicitations of the Baron have drawn a promise from me to spend a few days with him at his solitude after I have passed my Counsellors examination. I have always lamented that you have so little acquaintance with this excellent man I never have know a more noble character and his affection for me calls forth every sentiment of gratitude which can exist in my breast.
In November Adams’s father happily reported that Charles was “at Steuben after an Examination at Albany and an honourable Admission to the Rank of Counciller at Law.” But out on the baron’s estate, things were going poorly.

Early in the morning of 26 November, the general suffered a stroke. A biographer who relied on Mulligan’s memories wrote that a servant came to fetch him from another building:
Mulligan at once ran through the snow to his room, and found him in agony. Steuben appeared to have suffered much, and could only articulate a few words, “Do n’t be alarmed, my son,” which were his last.
This account didn’t mention Charles Adams, but he must have been in the area because he wrote to his father (in a letter that no longer exists) that Steuben had suffered a “Palsy.” William North hurried over from his home in Duanesburg, and a doctor arrived.

But Steuben never regained consciousness. He died on 28 Nov 1794. Mulligan and North picked out his burial place “an eighth of a mile north of the house, on a hill in the midst of a wood.” Ten years later the baron’s remains were moved to the present gravesite.

Charles Adams married in 1795 but died only five years later, having drunk himself to death. John W. Mulligan around the same time wed a woman from Kentucky; they had nine children. He lived until 1862, thus witnessing the end of the Revolutionary War and the start of the Civil War.

[The statuary shown above, labeled “Military Instruction,” consists of an ancient warrior displaying a sword perilously close to a nearly naked young man. It’s part of the monument to Steuben in Lafayette Park, Washington, D.C. The baron would have loved it.]

Monday, July 30, 2018

Steuben, Walker, and North (and Fairlie)

For the last few days I’ve been discussing statements about Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s sexuality made in this comic published by The Nib. I think there’s good evidence for Steuben being gay, but there are also a lot of errors floating around. To whit:

“President George Washington rewarded his prize general with an estate in Valley Forge, the site of perhaps his greatest military victory.”

The source for that misstatement is probably this article by Mark Segal, or one of many like it making a similar error. That article shares a timeline of the baron’s war activity and then says, “Washington rewarded von Steuben with a house at Valley Forge…” That can easily be interpreted as a grant after the war by the first President. But there was no such gift.

Gen. Washington assigned the baron a house within the Valley Forge encampment in 1777-78. That wasn’t a lifelong grant of real estate. It wasn’t a reward for service since, after all, Steuben had just arrived. That house was just where the new general and his staff could live so snow wouldn’t fall on their heads.

Baron de Steuben did receive some grants of real estate after the war in recognition of his service to the new republic. The Continental Congress offered western lands to any officer meeting certain terms, but the baron also got special gifts. His holdings are a bit hard to suss out, not least because he overstated them in his wills. But it looks like his major properties were:
  • rented houses in New York City where he lived in the 1780s.
  • an estate that New Jersey confiscated from a Loyalist family and granted the baron in 1783 on the condition that he live there, not rent it out. He spent considerable time and money fixing it up, receiving full title in 1788—and a month later he sold it to pay off debts.
  • a large amount of land granted by New York in Oneida County. In 1792 that area was even named the town of Steuben.
None of the general’s real estate was in Valley Forge.

Lastly, Valley Forge was the site of an army camp, not a battle and thus not a “military victory.”

“Steuben spent his finals [sic] years with two younger men he had served with in the war: Captain Benjamin Walker and Brigadier General William North. Who later became a US Senator.

“He adopted both as his ‘sons’, but speculation about their relationship remains.”

While this statement acknowledges ambiguity in the historical evidence, it simplifies and skews the facts of Baron de Steuben’s life and of the lives of Walker and North. Steuben did live with those men for a while after the war. He did write in his final will that he wished to “adopt [them] as my Children.” However, those two former aides left the baron’s household to get married in the 1780s, so he didn’t spend his “final years” with them. Here’s the more complex story.

At Valley Forge, Steuben picked up three aides de camp: Benjamin Walker (1753-1818), William North (1755-1836), and James Fairlie (c. 1757-1830). He became very close to them all. In the first will the baron wrote after coming to America, dated 28 May 1781 (P.D.F. download), he bequeathed £1,050 to each of those three men. (He also left half that sum to two Frenchmen who had accompanied him to America, Peter Stephen Duponceau and Capt. Louis de Pontière, and to Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, the diplomatic fixer and playwright who helped him connect with American envoys in Paris.) But Steuben’s main heir was a nephew back in Germany, whom he wanted to renounce his baronial title, emigrate to America, and become a republican.

In Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships, William E. Benemann describes a web of shifting relationships among Gen. de Steuben and his military aides: North and Fairlie as a couple before North realizes he likes Walker more and they become intimate, and then Steuben becomes infatuated with both North and Walker, but Walker strings the general along for favors while North is truly affectionate, though more like a son to a father… All this in only two years of those men being in the same military family. And with, frankly, very little textual support for such a level of detail.

But the evidence is clear that Steuben, North, Walker, and Fairlie became very close. Though assignments took them in different directions in the last years of the war, afterward they reunited and lived in the baron’s house on the outskirts of New York City.

That last decade of Steuben’s life is particularly significant to the question of his sexuality because it’s the only period when he wasn’t serving in an army or in a court and thus could live as he chose—or as close to that as circumstances allowed. And what Gen. Steuben wanted to do was spend his time in the company of young men. He used his martial celebrity to sponsor militia units and military academies. For money, he borrowed a lot and sought rewards for his wartime service.

Steuben, then in his fifties, was happy in his bachelor lifestyle. His young friends, however, took more traditional paths in their society. First Walker married a Quaker girl named Molly and set up his own household. Around 1786 Steuben, North, and Fairlie all had their portraits painted by Ralph Earl while he was locked up in debtors’ prison, but later that year Fairlie married and moved to Albany. The next year, with the baron’s help, North married Mary Duane, daughter of the city mayor; they eventually had six children.

Walker, North, and Fairlie all lived for many decades as prominent members of New York’s political class—not leading politicians but lawyers, civil servants, and occasional officeholders. North would be elected to the New York legislature and appointed for a few months to the U.S. Senate. In the early 1800s Walker would serve one term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Walker and North remained close to Baron de Steuben once they married, but more like grown sons looking after a failing father—failing in the financial sense. They tried to cajole the baron into not spending so much and to cajole Congress or state governments into granting him more support. The letters that have been preserved don’t say much about physical intimacy, but there’s clearly fondness on all sides.

Meanwhile, Baron de Steuben found some new young friends.

TOMORROW: The baron’s last years.

[The photo above shows relief portraits of Walker and North on the monument to Steuben in Washington, D.C.]

Sunday, July 29, 2018

“The abominable rumor which accused Steuben”

Here’s the continuing discussion about what we know and don’t know about Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s sexuality, keyed to statements in a recent comic at The Nib.

“Rumors about Steuben’s ‘tastes’ were common knowledge, and reported in the American press.”

It would be good to see examples of such American newspaper reports. To my knowledge no one has found any. And that’s significant to how “openly” Baron de Steuben lived as a gay man and how much his American neighbors accepted him.

Now it’s conceivable that such articles are lurking in the big newspaper databases with asterisks and allusions making them hard to spot. But no one researching Steuben has cited such a report, and I’ve kept my eyes open for such a finding.

The most open discussion of Steuben’s sexuality in print in the eighteenth century was an article published in Germany in 1796, two years after the baron’s death. Christoph Daniel Ebeling (1741-1817) was a professor in Hamburg and a fan of the American republic. In his Amerikanisches Magazin he wrote an article (“Nachrichten von den Lebensumständen des Baron von Steuben”) which John Macauley Palmer translated as saying:
Just who it was who spread abroad the abominable rumor which accused Steuben of a crime the suspicion of which, at another more exalted court [i.e., Frederick the Great’s] at that time (as formerly among the Greeks), would hardly have aroused such attention, has not become publicly known.
I couldn’t find any American newspaper or magazine mentioning Ebeling’s article in the decades after it was published.

And of course Ebeling did his best to imply the “abominable rumor” was untrue, spread by Steuben’s clerical enemies and eventually rejected by right-thinking people. Which is not exactly the same thing as stating flatly that it was untrue.

“One story claimed that Von Steuben loved to host cocktail nights for his favorite cadets. No clothing allowed.”

The ultimate source for this statement is the memoir of Peter Stephen Duponceau, a young Frenchman who accompanied Baron de Steuben to America in 1777 (and actually paid for their passage). Duponceau served unsuccessfully as a staff officer during the war and more happily as a linguist in Pennsylvania after it. Late in life he wrote about Valley Forge:
Once, with the Baron’s permission, his aids invited a number of young officers to dine at our quarters, on condition that none should be admitted that had on a whole pair of breeches. This was of course understood as pars pro toto [the part for the whole]; but torn clothes were an indispensable requisite for admission, and in this the guests were very rare not to fail. The dinner took place; the guests clubbed their rations; and we feasted sumptuously on tough beef steaks and potatoes, with hickory nuts for our dessert. In lieu of wine, we had some kind of spirits, with which we made salamanders; that is to say, after filling our glasses,, we set the liquor on fire, and drank it up, flame and all. Such a set of ragged, and, at the same time, merry fellows, were never before brought together. The Baron loved to speak of that dinner, and of his sans-culottes, as he called us.
The point of this gathering was that those young Continental Army officers were wearing torn uniforms and eating “tough beef steaks” because their pay and supplies were so meager. It was a bonding experience. Notably, Duponceau recalled the idea coming from Steuben’s aides, not the general himself.

Now that gathering might have been titillating for some; certainly we’d interpret an anecdote about young women having to wear torn clothing to a party through the lens of sexuality. But as to the accuracy of the statement from the comic above, if people have to wear torn clothing to a party, then that party is not “No clothing allowed.” And since this happened “once,” it’s not evidence Steuben made a habit of hosting such events—however fondly he remembered that one occasion.

Also, an eighteenth-century midday dinner does not constitute “cocktail nights.”

TOMORROW: The baron in retirement.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A Letter of Recommendation for the Baron de Steuben

Yesterday I started to analyze evidence about Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s sexuality. In sum, I think that evidence strongly suggests he was gay, but it’s not nearly as definite as popular articles have recently claimed.

I’m drawing from the draft of an essay I started years ago, somewhat abashed that I’m pulling it off my hard drive in response to a cartoon. Nevertheless, here’s the second installment of replies to claims in that cartoon.

“Franklin knew about Von Steuben’s past, but still decided to write a letter of recommendation to George Washington.”

There’s no evidence Benjamin Franklin knew about the allegations of child-molesting or homosexuality against Steuben in the principality of Hohenzollern-Hechingen. That statement rests on the assumptions that (a) that gossip reached Paris by September 1777, and (b) Franklin heard it. But actual evidence would be some document showing that Franklin knew more facts than he let on.

In fact, the evidence we have suggests Franklin knew less. Here’s the letter that he and his fellow envoy  Silas Deane sent to Gen. George Washington on 4 Sept 1777, recommending Steuben for a role in the Continental Army. The diplomats wrote:
The Gentleman who will have the Honour of waiting upon you with this Letter is the Baron de Steuben, lately a Lieutenant General in the King of Prussia’s Service, whom he attended in all his Campaigns, being his Aide Camp, Quartermaster General, &c. He goes to America with a true Zeal for our Cause, and a View of engaging in it and rendring it all the Service in his Power.
Steuben had never been “a Lieutenant General in the King of Prussia’s Service” or a “Quartermaster General.” He had indeed been an aide de camp to Frederick the Great for a while, but his highest Prussian army rank was captain. He’d been working in the civil government of a small German state since 1764.

I have to add that there’s nothing in Steuben’s European career to suggest he had “a true Zeal” for America or republican government, unlike some other Old World officers offering their services. He had personal reasons, both legal and financial, for sailing thousands of miles from home.

Where did Franklin and Deane get their information about Steuben? They dropped the names of two French high officials: “Mr Le Comte de Vergennes,” the foreign minister and spymaster, and “Mr Le Comte de St Germain,” the minister of war. St. Germain especially admired the Prussian military, and his attempts to reform the French army along those lines ran into such opposition that he resigned later that September.

But most of the American diplomats’ information probably came from Steuben himself. And he was a habitual liar. In John Macauley Palmer’s 1937 biography there’s an index entry for “Steuben…, his fictitous autobiography, 2-5, 53, 85-6, 103-108, 305, 407.” And those pages don’t even include all of his false claims to have become become a lieutenant general in Europe (e.g., 97, 138).

Palmer viewed Steuben as indispensable to American independence, and he didn’t want to believe that his hero lied as he offered his services to the young nation. In fact, when Palmer considered that possibility early in his research, he was ready to set aside the project. He wrote:
My first reaction upon discovering that my hero was a systematic, circumstantial and deliberate liar, was one both of disgust and disappointment. I was disposed to proceed no further with my book. Here was, indeed, a golden opportunity for a debunker or a muckraker, but that sensational role made no appeal to me. 
But eventually Palmer came up with a way to explain the discrepancy between the baron’s actual résumé and what Franklin and Deane wrote about him: Franklin came up with the lie. 

This approach depended on Franklin’s status in American culture and memory. We accept him as a trickster. From his teen-aged essays as “Silence Dogood” to his false supplement for a Boston newspaper printed at Passy and how we remember the oil in his cane, we enjoy stories of Franklin fooling people. We don’t tell such stories about Washington, Adams, or Hamilton, and Jefferson’s duplicity still gets people angry.

In the case of Steuben, Palmer decided that the baron didn’t make any false claims about his career to Franklin (who was supposedly too smart to fall for such lies, anyhow). Instead, Franklin was so smart that he made up those falsehoods himself. He recognized how useful Baron de Steuben would be near the top of the Continental Army. Therefore, he ensured that Gen. Washington and the Continental Congress would treat this newcomer as a man of invaluable experience who deserved top rank by harmlessly—even helpfully—inflating his Prussian credentials.

As for the hapless Silas Deane, Palmer blamed him for falsely claiming to have seen documents to confirm the baron’s credentials—a deception that, unlike Franklin’s, he couldn’t forgive. Palmer didn’t present the simpler possibility that Steuben had fooled Deane. The baron appears to have flashed papers and described their contents at his first meeting with the American envoys, but never handed them over; at the second meeting he said that, alas, he had left those documents behind.

Thus, Palmer rejected the evidence that Baron de Steuben was gay and argued that he was—if only at this crucial moment—honest about his past. Many later authors who accept that Steuben was gay have adopted Palmer’s conclusion that he was also honest. But if there’s one thing we can say for sure about the baron, it’s that he told a lot of lies about himself.

The simplest explanation for the glowing recommendation that Franklin and Deane sent to Gen. Washington is that they actually believed what Steuben had told them about his brilliant career. And the simplest explanation for why Franklin didn’t write anything about the baron being gay is not that he covered up that fact but that the baron didn’t tell him.

TOMORROW: Gen. Steuben in the Continental Army.

Friday, July 27, 2018

What Do We Know about Gen. de Steuben’s Sexuality?

Last month The Nib published Josh Trujillo and Levi Hastings’s comic about Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben as a gay man.

I found it inaccurate at several spots. Yet the core message—that Steuben was both important to the Continental Army’s success and sexually attracted to other men—is almost certainly correct. It’s just that a lot of the details, especially those supporting that conclusion, are wildly exaggerated.

Most of the evidence about the Baron de Steuben’s sexuality appears in John Macauley Palmer’s 1937 biography, General von Steuben. Palmer admired Steuben greatly and disliked the idea of the baron being gay, so he tried hard to refute the evidence, leaving logical circles in the ground as he spun. But he did publish the relevant sources in English translation.

Many of the original European documents were probably destroyed in World War 2, along with others that might have been helpful. It’s therefore unlikely that we’ll find new evidence from Steuben’s lifetime. But we can do a better job than Palmer of interpreting those documents and spotting the most likely conclusions.

This comic instead overstates the evidence in various ways. It doesn’t cite sources but appears to have been based on articles written for American newspapers, magazines, and websites over the past twenty-five years since Randy Shilts’s Conduct Unbecoming focused attention on Steuben as a gay man.

I’ll go through the statements I think are exaggerated.

“Steuben lived openly as a homosexual before the term was even invented.”

It’s true that the word “homosexual” was coined in 1868. More important (as Trujillo and Hastings later acknowledge), people’s understanding of sexuality and expectations of how gay men behave were different in the Baron de Steuben’s lifetime and in our own. So what does it mean to say he “lived openly as a homosexual”?

Gen. de Steuben was a lifelong bachelor. He didn’t marry a woman while having affairs with men, as it was and is said of his monarch Frederick the Great of Prussia, Frederick’s brother Prince Henry, and Lord George Germain in Britain. The baron’s title was too new, his estate too small, to make a direct heir necessary. In that respect, Steuben was more like Horace Walpole or Charles Paxton.

But neither is there any evidence of Gen. de Steuben claiming a longtime partner or expressing sexual interest in males. When he set up a household with a young man late in life, he presented that man as his secretary.

Some of Gen. de Steuben’s letters express affection for other men more plainly than 20th-century male correspondents did, but there are similar letters between eighteenth-century men who had active heterosexual lives. Even in the baron’s circle, there’s a lot of joshing about young ladies, whether sincere or not.

So the comic’s statement that Steuben “lived openly as a homosexual” is highly questionable at best.

“Steuben was expelled from Germany on charges of sodomy.”

There was of course no political entity called “Germany” in Steuben’s lifetime. He was born in Prussia, but in the late 1760s and early 1770s he was a powerful government minister in the small principality of Hohenzollern-Hechingen. And then suddenly he wasn’t.

The baron met with American envoys Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin in Paris in the summer of 1777, but they couldn’t promise him a rank and good pay in the Continental Army. He instead sought a position in Baden. An official from that small country wrote to the prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen on 13 Aug 1777:
It has come to me from different sources that M. de Steuben is accused of having taken familiarities with young boys which the laws forbid and punish severely. I have even been informed that that is the reason why M. de Steuben was obliged to leave Hechingen and that the clergy of your country intend to prosecute him by law as soon as he may establish himself anywhere.
That’s the principal contemporaneous evidence for Gen. de Steuben’s homosexuality. We might even say the baron wasn’t accused of “sodomy” but of molesting children (in the original French, “d’avoir pris avec de jeunes garçons des familiaritiés, que les Loix defendent & punissent sévérément”). Again, the period’s understanding of sexual behavior is significant: the Prussian court appears to have revived the classical Greek admiration of adolescent boys as a noble way of expressing homosexual desire.

About five days after this letter was drafted, Steuben was back in Paris, over 300 miles away. Now he was quite interested in the Americans’ offer. By 4 September the baron had signed on to their cause, on 10 September he left Paris for Marseilles, and on 26 September he sailed for America, never to return.

All that said, no one has found evidence that Baron de Steuben faced formal “charges of sodomy” or that he was officially “expelled” from any country. Palmer even argued that the real problem in Hohenzollern-Hechingen was a budget crunch, and that the accusations of sexual misconduct were trumped up by Steuben’s court enemies—though he offered no evidence for such enmity. But the most likely explanation is that Baron de Steuben left his post and then Europe under a cloud because of those accusations of sexual misconduct, thus removing himself in a bid to keep the scandal as quiet as possible.

So again, The Nib’s comic takes the incomplete, somewhat murky evidence from Steuben’s lifetime and offers readers a definite statement reflecting modern expectations.

TOMORROW: What Franklin, Washington, and others knew.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Door into the Past

This week I got a look at the Bostonian Society’s new exhibit “Through the Keyhole” and its attendant short play, “Cato and Dolly.”

The starting-point for both exhibit and play is the door of the Hancock mansion on Beacon Hill, preserved when that 1737 building was destroyed in 1863. (The land that the mansion sat on is now occupied by a wing of the Massachusetts State House, but its initial replacement consisted of luxury townhouses in the newer taste.)

The Bostonian Society has exhibited the Hancock door in its Old State House Museum off and on over the years, but for the last couple of decades it was in storage. The society partnered with the preservation carpentry department at the North Bennet Street School to conserve the original door and create a setting for it.

(When I first heard about this project online, I got the impression that the school’s students were building a replica of the original door. In fact, they were recreating the original doorway based on measured drawings from 1863. That structure serves as a frame and support for the actual door.)

While that work was going on, the society also went to playwright Patrick Gabridge and director Courtney O’Connor, who had created the play Blood on the Snow for the Council Chamber of the Old State House two years ago. Their challenge: produce an interesting drama inspired by the door, incorporating the door—but no one could touch the door! It is, after all, a museum artifact.

Blood on the Snow immerses the audience in the events that took place inside the Old State House on the day after the Boston Massacre. It takes place in a somewhat sped-up real time without many obvious theatrical artifices.

In contrast, the actors in “Cato and Dolly” address viewers directly, take on different roles by donning and doffing hats, and portray moments in the title characters’ lives over half a century from the 1760s to the 1810s. The North Bennet Street School’s frame includes lots of bare wood, a carpenters’ choice that also reminds us of the constructed quality of this drama.

The play’s main characters are Cato Hancock, who began working for Thomas Hancock as an enslaved child, served his widow Lydia and nephew John, and finally returned to the house as a free middle-aged man; and Dorothy (Quincy) Hancock (Scott), fiancée, wife, and widow of Gov. Hancock. The cast I saw was Stephen Sampson as Cato (as well as Lafayette, James Scott, and others) and Becca A. Lewis as Dolly (as well as John and others), but three other people are playing those roles at other performances.

The result is a sort of smaller, earlier, and Bostonian version of Driving Miss Daisy, exploring America’s historical color line through the lives of an employer and an (at times coerced) employee. While the play discusses such major events as the fight at Lexington and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, it’s most affecting when the drama focuses on the two people in front of us.

Thus, I don’t recall the play ever mentioning the Massachusetts court decisions that made slavery unenforceable in the state, a moment in Hancock’s first stint as governor. But it delves into the difficulties of Cato’s status—Thomas and Lydia Hancock each freed Cato in their wills, but only conditionally, and the opportunities for a black man remained constricted in the early republic.

Likewise, the “Through the Keyhole” exhibit highlights the theme of how past lives are recorded and recalled, particularly those of people without the access to wealth and power like John Hancock. Paradoxically, it does this through artifacts preserved because they’re associated with John Hancock.

Since the Bostonian Society became the city’s attic during the Colonial Revival, it owns a miscellany of objects and papers once in the mansion on Beacon Hill. Items on display in “Through the Keyhole” include Thomas Hancock’s indenture to a bookseller, the family Bible, and a copper teapot. And, of course, the front door.

“Through the Keyhole” is part of the Old State House’s exhibits through September at least. Performances of “Cato and Dolly” take place every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 11:00 A.M. and 12:30 and 2:00 P.M., thus offering a chance to sit out the height of the summer sun. Each performance runs about half an hour, and the show is suitable for all ages (though attendees should be prepared for sad moments). A seat at the show is included in museum admission.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

British Political Cartoons of Boston Under Attack

Above is a political cartoon from the Boston Public Library’s online collection.

It’s titled “Virtual Representation,” and I haven’t seen it reproduced like other Revolutionary political art. One factor is that it’s been colored, making it harder for printers to copy. The British Museum has an uncolored print that might be easier to read.

In her 1935 Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum, M. Dorothy George wrote:
This contrast is an attack on the Quebec Act and on the punitive measures taken against Massachusetts for the Boston tea-party. The attack on the Quebec Act as the establishment of Roman Catholicism in Canada is further stressed by the figures of the monk and of France

The words of Bute and the action of the Speaker indicate that America was being taxed for the benefit of England, while the title derides the theory that the colonists, like Englishmen without the franchise, were “virtually represented” in the House of Commons.
George guessed that the same artist produced the cartoon called “The Scotch Butchery.” I think that artwork shows more professional training in the posing of the human figures, the rendering of the sky, and the like.

Nevertheless, the two cartoons share a number of features. The principal villain of both is the Earl of Bute, prime minister in the early 1760s and tutor of the future King George III before that. Bute had been out of power and retired from politics for over a decade when these cartoons were published. Nonetheless, he was still a convenient villain for British Whigs because he was a Scotsman, easily depicted in a tartan and kilt.

Another common element is the destruction of Boston. In “Virtual Representation” the town is in flames while Catholic Québec enjoys royal protection. In “The Scotch Butchery,” Bute and others preside as “The English Fleet with Scotch Commanders” bombards the town.

“Virtual Representation” was published in early April 1775, before the war began and well before anyone in London heard about the fighting. The exact date of “The Scotch Butchery” is less clear, but neither cartoon appears to have been inspired by specific actual events. Instead, these incendiary images were created to rile up America’s supporters in Britain, showing the worst that could happen as if it already had.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Searching for Margaret Corbin

Now this is a lede:
Revolutionary War hero Margaret “Captain Molly” Corbin was long thought to be buried beneath her granite monument at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The Daughters of the American Revolution moved her remains there in 1926 from an unmarked grave nearby. But it’s now clear they removed the wrong remains.
That’s from Michael Hill’s dispatch for the Associated Press.

Corbin is known from decisions by the Pennsylvania government and the Continental Congress in June 1779 to provide her with financial support. The paperwork surrounding that grant describes her as:
Margaret Corbin, who was wounded and disabled in the attack on Fort Washington whilst she heroically filled the post of her husband who was killed by her side serving a piece of artillery
Because of her wound, a 1780 report said, she was “deprived of the use of one arm.” Which for me raises questions about the statements that she worked as an army nurse until 1783. The original Congress documents don’t mention such service.

To confuse matters further, nineteenth-century authors amalgamated Corbin’s story with the legend of “Molly Pitcher,” though that tall tale grew from the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, two years after Corbin lost her husband and the use of her arm.

Corbin retired to the vicinity of West Point. In 1786 and 1787 Maj. George Fleming, in command at that army outpost, reported to Secretary of War Henry Knox about arranging for locals to board “Captain Molly” and supplying her with clothing. “Molly is such a disagreeable object to take care of,” the major said.

But sentiment and nostalgia for the Revolutionary generation won out, and by the mid-1800s Margaret “Captain Molly” Corbin was being recalled as a hero, with a growing set of anecdotal legends. In the first wave of American feminism authors lionized her as the first woman to receive a U.S. military pension.

Back to the A.P. dispatch:
Corbin died in 1800 at the age of 48 and was buried in a modest grave, likely near West Point. By the time the DAR decided to honor Corbin with a reburial in 1926, any marker on the 126-year-old grave was gone.

Relying in part on passed-down information from locals, the DAR pinpointed Corbin's grave a few miles south of West Point near a cedar stump on the old riverside estate of banker J. P. Morgan. The disinterred remains were placed in a silk-lined casket and driven by hearse to the storied cemetery in West Point and a new monument depicting Corbin beside her cannon.

End of story. Until October 2016.

Excavators working near the monument accidentally disturbed the grave, starting a chain of events that led to high-tech tests on the exhumed remains. Tests showed the skeletal remains belonged to a male, probably one who lived in the 19th century.
The monument was rededicated this spring, but it’s now more symbolic of women’s contributions to the U.S. of A. than an actual grave marker.

Monday, July 23, 2018

“Evidence that his country was once as ours is”

In 1838 a contributor to the Southern Literary Messenger who signed himself (or, less likely, herself) “J.A.” set out to fill column inches by describing two “Relics of the Olden Time,” as the headline had it. Both were in the hands of “A gentleman in the county of Albemarle,” Virginia.

The first was a copy of Henry Pelham’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, shown here. The second was a copy of Green and Russell’s Boston Post-Boy for 27 June 1768, with news of John Wilkes’s election in London, the Circular Letter, and the Virginia House of Burgesses’ response to it.

But it’s clear from the space the correspondent devoted that the real interest lay in that newspaper’s advertisements about escaped slaves and slave sales. The magazine quoted three ads in full, concluding with this one, which ran in the other Boston newspapers as well:
On Thursday next, 30th Inst, at Three O’clock Afternoon, Will be sold by Public Vendue, at the Auction Room in Queen Street, A Variety of GOODS, among which are, Irish Linnens, Calicoes, Lutestrings, black Sattins, black corded Silk, stripe Hollands, Kenting Handkerchiefs, Scotch Threads, Dowlass, Duroys, Druggets, Breeches Patterns, Men’s and Women’s fine Cotton Hose, Felt Hats, Men’s and Women’s Saddles, Portmanteaus, Housings and Holsters, Cases with 15 Bottles, a Cask of very good Indigo; also a Negro Girl, 13 years old.
J. Russel, Auctioneer.

At Private SALE, Two Pipes of Sterling Madeira, a Negro Man 40 years of age, a Boy of 14, and two Girls about 12 Years of Age, a second-hand Chaise and Harness, and sundry riding Habits, trimm’d with Gold and Silver Lace.
“J.A.” then commented:
Men, boys, and girls, classed among ‘GOODS’s!!–and this, not in New Orleans—not in Charleston—not in Richmond: but in Boston!

‘But,’ some “philanthropist” may say, on seeing this evidence that his country was once as ours is, ‘we have put away that evil from us. We declared a general emancipation in 1780.’

And how many of that species of GOODS did Massachusetts have, at that time? Why, not quite five thousand. Virginia has little, if any fewer than five HUNDRED thousand: just an hundred for one! How could she follow the example of her northern sister? Other considerations, make the contrast, and the impossibility, yet more striking: the difference of climate; and the inmensely greater disproportion of the whites to the blacks (in Massachusetts sixty to one; in Virginia not two to one.)

The facts here presented are designed to rebuke only the intermeddlers—not the rational and forbearing part—of the northern people. I am among those who believe the latter sort to be a majority there; not only in numbers, but still more in virtue and intelligence.
I believe today we’d call that article “trolling.”

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Counterfeiting along the Borderlands

Last April Brian Barrett published an interesting article on the New York History Blog about a legal dispute between Massachusetts and New York on the eve of the Revolutionary War.

The underlying issue was people in western Massachusetts making and passing counterfeit New York currency. One of the men caught up in the trouble was a West Stockbridge farmer named Ichabod Miller.
On December 20, 1772 at two in the morning, Ichabod Miller and his family were awoken by Albany County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Davids knocking down the door. Miller lived close to the New York-Massachusetts border, but on the Mass. side of the line. He later testified that in arresting him for counterfeiting, the Deputy Sheriff and his five-man posse smashed open his door with an axe, and shackled and removed him to the jail in Albany, where he contracted smallpox.

At the time, New York asserted jurisdiction over all residents west of the Connecticut River, part of a long-standing dispute between New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts (and what would become Vermont). During examination by the King’s Attorney, Ichabod Miller invoked Massachusetts’ authority in the case. The King’s Attorney responded: “God Damn your Authority.” The King’s Attorney told Miller he would get a Massachusetts authority to endorse the Miller warrant after the fact. . . .

On March 9, 1773, the Pittsfield Inferior Court found against the Albany Posse and in favor of Ichabod Miller. The finding was that the posse assaulted, beat, wounded and abused Miller for a period of three weeks. He was awarded 150 pounds in damages, but the case was continued. On August 17, the court specified that only defendants Joshua Root, Icabod Squire Jr. and Abajiah Root were responsible for the damages, but again the case was continued.

A separate complaint filed by Miller against Joshua and Abajiah Root was presented in Inferior Court on March 1, 1774 and the jury awarded Miller an additional 45 pounds plus costs. Miller walked away empty handed again however, as the award was appealed to the Supreme Court in Northampton, MA.
Unfortunately for Miller, his case didn’t get though the entire Massachusetts system before Patriot crowds forced the county courts to close in the late summer of 1774 as a protest against the Coercive Acts. Lawsuits remained closed for the rest of the war, and when the courts reopened so much of society had changed that Miller’s case was moot.

Barrett’s article details several other men who were much deeper into the counterfeit scheme than Miller, who might even have been innocent.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

“A Woman of Good Understanding” at Faneuil Hall

On 21 July 1769, Eunice Paine wrote to her brother, Robert Treat Paine, about a preacher she had just seen at Boston’s Faneuil Hall.

The speaker was Rachel Wilson (1722-1775) from Kendal, England. Wilson was a Quaker, evangelizing a faith that a century earlier would have exposed her to capital punishment. But times had changed. Boston now had a small permanent Quaker meeting, and people were more curious about what a traveling preacher had to say.

The merchant John Rowe estimated the audience who came out to hear Wilson as “at Least Twelve hundred people.” Paine was impressed by how the visitor maintained her composure in front of so many:
’Twas a very crouded assembly but Perfect order maintain’d. Everything was Novel to me—the approach of a woman into a Desk Dash’d me I cou’d hardly look up but I soon found She felt none of those perturbations from the Gaze of a Gaping multitude which I pity’d.

Shes a Gracefull woman & has attain’d a very modest assurance. She spoke clear & Loud Eno’ to be heard distinctly into the Entry. Her Language is very Polite & no doubt her mind is Zealously bent on doing good, her Exhortations to seek the Truth & Court that Light which Evidenith the truth were Lenthy & towards the close workt up to Poesy & produced a tune Not unlike an anthem—her fluency gains the applause She receives for these, nothing like method, & many are her repetitions to my Ear tiresome.

I learnt but one thing new which was an Exposition on the Parable of the woman who hid her Leaven in 3 measures of meal till the whole was Leavened this she says represent the Compound of man Soul, Body, and mind in which the spirit of God is hid & shou’d be kept Close, the man being inactive as meal till animated by the spirit as the meal with Leaven.

After the Exhortation she rested, rose to Conclude with Prayer which was short & pertinent. She then thanked the Audience for their Decent attendance & reprove’d the Levity she observed in some few faces in a very Polite & kind manner & in the Apostles words Blessed the assembly & dismissd us.

A great Number of the Gentlemen of the town with their Ladys shook hands with her. Mr. [James] Otis Desire’d the men to go out to Leave room for the women to retire Comfortably & that they woud be orderly for the Honour of the town, twas done to his mind and Saving the Excessive heat of so crouded a place there was no inconvenience.
Rowe was also favorably impressed: “She seems to be a Woman of Good Understanding.” On 27 July, Robert Treat Paine followed his sister’s example and went to hear Wilson preach.

Rachel Wilson had been speaking to crowds about the Quaker faith since she was a teenager. She and her husband back in England had also raised nine children. In 1768 and 1769 she traveled through the North American colonies; her diary of that experience is now at Haverford College. Wilson died near London on 18 Mar 1775.

Wilson appears in many books about Quaker missionaries in the eighteenth century, and there’s also a book just about her.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Beggar’s Opera Comes to Lexington, 11 Aug.

In December 1750 the New-York Gazette announced performances of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera at the Nassau Street Theatre. That was, theater historians say, the first musical play staged in America. It had already been popular in Britain for twenty-two years.

On 6 May 1751, the New York players announced their “last Time playing the Beggar’s Opera this season” on the upcoming Monday. In the same advertisement they asked if anyone had a copy of a comedy called The Intriguing Chambermaid which they could borrow.

New England, with its Puritan roots, was much more resistant to theater. Opera had to sneak in under the guise of uplifting musical concerts, not full-fledged productions. On 16 Sept 1769 the Providence Gazette announced a “reading” of The Beggar’s Opera in which “All the songs will be sung.”

In Boston, the Deblois family—Anglican and Loyalist—pushed the boundaries for musical entertainment, especially after the arrival of a large number of British army officers in 1768. On 23 Mar 1770 the merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary:
In the evening I went to the Concert Hall to hear Mr [James] Joan read the Beggars Opera & sing the Songs. He read but indifferently but Sung in Taste. there were upwards one hundred people there.
That provides a precedent of sorts for an event at the Lexington Historical Society on Saturday, 11 August. The organization will host “a bawdy singalong and a presentation of The Beggar’s Opera,” as abridged by Diane Taraz, founder of the society’s Colonial Singers.

This concert will take place starting at 7:00 P.M. at the Depot in the center of town. Tickets cost $15-20. There will be snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and an open bar, so attendees must be over age 21.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Taste of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s Diary

Here’s another nifty new online resource on eighteenth-century New England: the diary of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman (1703-1782) of Westboro, Massachusetts.

It’s part of a larger Westborough Public Library project to make Parkman’s church and family papers available. The diary, which covers sixty-five years, was transcribed by Holy Cross professor Ross W. Beales, Jr., who’s written many papers on it. (Versions have also been published by the Westborough Historical Society and in the American Antiquarian Society Proceedings.)

The other members of the project team include James Cooper of New England’s Hidden Histories and Anthony T. Vaver of the Westborough Library and Executed Today (not that Parkman ever was).

The diary website appears to be built on a blogging platform, with a day for each entry and its footnotes. That allows one to search for names and to look at an entire month of entries at once.

I went to find the month of August 1752, which I’d read about in one of Ross Beales’s articles for the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife.

That was a bad month for the Rev. Mr. Parkman because he was ill. “I had an exceeding poor Night. Feverish, profusely Sweating, and extreme faint,” reads the first diary entry he managed to write that month, on 16 August. Indeed, Parkman felt so sick that he wasn’t able to preach that Sunday or the next (and the replacement he had lined up finked out on him).

On 22 August Parkman wrote:
A pritty good Night for Sleep, and yet this morning full of pain chiefly in my left Hip, Shoulder and Foot. Great Frost last Night. Dr. [Samuel] Scammell came while I was at Dinner.

P.M. pains increase exceedingly especially in my left Shoulder. May God almighty sustain me and prepare me for his sovereign Will. My little Samuel a Twelve Month old. May he be born again in the Blessed Spirit of God!

The Evening and night were most distressing with pain that ceased not, no not in any Situation whatever, a Circumstance which I have not, I think, at any Time had till now. I put on a Blister upon the upper part of my arm
Parkman’s doctor diagnosed both rheumatism and gout. Aside from the blisters he applied, the minister reported taking “A portion of Rhubarb,” which seemed to do some good. Later, he wrote, “My wife stills a miscellany of Meat, Herbs, Roots, seeds etc. by the Doctor’s Direction.” A fellow minister sent an unnamed “remedy,” and a neighbor brought “some bak’d Bear with Sauce which I could Eat of.”

There was another remedy as well. Remember “little Samuel,” who turned one year old on 22 August? Two days later, his father wrote, “Child carry’d away to be wean’d at t’other House.” New England families often physically separated a mother and child to make weaning easier, or at least more certain. The Parkman family tended to wean babies between twelve and eighteen months, so this was a little on the early side.

Hannah Parkman, the minister’s second wife, stayed home to treat her husband. In addition to distilling that mix the doctor prescribed, on 26 August Ebenezer wrote: “My wife tends me o’nights and supply’s me with Breast-Milk.” So that was why they had to send the baby away.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Thoughts on the Powdered Wig

When we picture Europe or its North American colonies in the 1700s, we usually think of men in white wigs. Such men appear in most of the images we have from that period (which of course lean toward showing the upper class as they wanted to appear).

What’s more, the fashion for white wigs got confined to the eighteenth century, not evolving the way the modern three-piece suit traces back to the gentlemen’s garb of the 1700s. So white wigs now seem not only emblems of an antique style but very, very strange.

Having one’s perfectly good hair shaved in order to wear an expensive wig covered in white powder was not only common but practically required in the mid-1700s. People like George Washington had their natural hair powdered to achieve the same look for formal appearances. Upper-class boys got their heads shaved for wigs as they came of age. (One reason this habit is so alien to us is that our culture values looking young and back then people were trying to look like distinguished older men.)

The style didn’t affect only upper-class males. The most fashionable women also powdered their hair. Middling men with social aspirations invested in wigs, though I think they tended to avoid the white powder to avoid appearing too uppity. And British soldiers comprised a large class of working-class men also powdering their hair on a regular schedule.

At Regency History Rachel Knowles traced the story of white hair powder:

Louis XIII (1601-1643) also had a hair problem—he started to go bald at a young age. To hide his baldness, he started to wear a long haired wig and, unsurprisingly, his courtiers soon followed suit. The fashion spread to England and was adopted by Charles II (1630-85) and his court.

The rarest and most expensive wigs were white. As a result, people put white powder on their wigs in order to make them look as white as possible. People also used white powder on their hair. It intensified the blondeness of very fair hair but made darker hair look grey, the shade depending on the natural hair colour. . . .

Hair powder was made from flour or starch and varied considerably in quality, with the best powders being made from highly refined starch.

Although white was the most popular colour, other shades were also used, including brown, grey, orange, pink, red, blue and violet. . . .

In 1795, [the younger William] Pitt introduced a new tax on hair powder. Those wishing to use hair powder had to obtain an annual certificate for the privilege at a cost of one guinea. There was an outcry against the expense of this licence and the tax did not have quite the effect that Pitt had hoped for.

There was already a move toward more natural hairstyles and many people chose to abandon their hair powder altogether rather than spend a guinea on a licence. The tax never brought in the anticipated revenues; it simply hastened the demise of the fashion for hair powder.
Lots more detail at that post.

As for the wigs themselves, Geri Walton offered a taxonomy of styles that evolved over the decades:
Besides the tie-wig, the bob-wig (minor and major) also became popular in the 1700s. It arrived on the scene during George II’s reign. What made this wig popular was it “was a direct imitation of the natural hair, and was used chiefly by the commonalty. The ’prentice minor bob was close and short; the citizen’s bob major, or Sunday buckle, had several rows of curls.”[4]

The macaronis similarly introduced a toupee that was supposed to be natural. It had “a large queue, which required the hair to be very long to be fashionable. The wig, having been made to imitate natural hair, became in its turn the model, and the natural hair was [soon] arranged to imitate the wig.”[5]

In France, bag wigs were called Peruqes à la Regencé. They came into fashion when the Duke of Orléans was serving as regent (1715-1723) to King Louis XV. Bag wigs came into vogue in England [a] little later, around 1730. When they first appeared there, they were not as popular as other style of wigs because these wigs were claimed to have originated with French servants, “who tied up their hair in a black leather bag as a speedy way of dressing it, and keep it out of the way, flowing curls being thought out of place for a man waiting at table.”[6] Bag wigs got their name because they were exactly that, a bagged wig. In England, the long hair at the back of the wig was placed in a black silk bag. Then the ribbons attached to the bag were pulled to the front and tied in a bow, known as a “solitaire.”

Various wigs remained popular throughout the 1700s, and almost every profession had their own peculiar wig, with “the oddest appellations … given to them.”[11] One author noted, that each profession seem to chose a perwig that best expressed its function. For instance, “The caricatures of the period represent[ed by] full-fledged lawyers with a towering frontlet and a long bag at the back tied in the middle; while students of the university … [sported] a wig flat on the top, to accommodate their stiff cornered hats, and a great bag like a lawyer’s at the back.”[12]
Again, more detail at that site.

All told, an eighteenth-century person could look at a bewigged man and pick up information about his profession, wealth, and personal style. Which of course was the point. We no longer understand that visual language, making the habit all the more strange.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Dr. Thacher’s Diagnoses

On 7 June 1780, Dr. James Thacher served as a Continental Army surgeon during the Battle of Springfield, New Jersey. In his diary, published decades later, Thacher described one casualty like this:
In the heat of the action, some soldiers brought to me in a blanket, Captain Lieutenant [Alexander] Thompson of the artillery, who had received a most formidable wound, a cannon ball having passed through both his thighs near the knee joint. With painful anxiety, the poor man inquired if I would amputate both his thighs; sparing his feelings, I evaded his inquiry, and directed him to be carried to the hospital tent in the rear, where he would receive the attention of the surgeons. "All that a man hath will he give for his life." He expired in a few hours.
After the battle, Gen. Nathanael Greene reported to the commander-in-chief: "The Artillery under the command of Lt Colonel [Thomas] Forest was well served—I have only to regret the loss of Capt. Lt Thompson who fell at the side of his piece by a cannon ball."

Dr. Thacher recalled having to leave another casualty of the British artillery fire:
While advancing against the enemy, my attention was directed to a wounded soldier in the field. I dismounted and left my horse at a rail fence, it was not long before a cannon ball shattered a rail within a few feet of my horse, and some soldiers were sent to take charge of the wounded man, and to tell me it was time to retire.

I now perceived that our party had retreated, and our regiment had passed me. I immediately mounted and applied spurs to my horse, that I might gain the front of our regiment. Colonel [Henry] Jackson being in the rear, smiled as I passed him; but as my duty did not require my exposure, I felt at liberty to seek a place of safety.

It may be considered a singular circumstance, that the soldier above mentioned was wounded by the wind of a cannon ball. His arm was fractured above the elbow, without the smallest perceptible injury to his clothes, or contusion or discoloration of the skin. He made no complaint, but I observed he was feeble and a little confused in his mind. He received proper attention, but expired the next day. The idea of injury by the wind of a ball, I learn, is not new, instances of the kind have, it is said, occured in naval battles, and are almost constantly attended with fatal effects.
As for other soldiers, Thacher noted another curious condition:
Our troops in camp are in general healthy, but we are troubled with many perplexing instances of indisposition, occasioned by absence from home, called by Dr. [William] Cullen nostalgia, or home sickness. This complaint is frequent among the militia, and recruits from New England. They become dull and melancholy, with loss of appetite, restless nights, and great weakness. In some instances they become so hypochondriacal as to be proper subjects for the hospital. This disease is in many instances cured by the raillery of the old soldiers, but is generally suspended by a constant and active engagement of the mind, as by the drill exercise, camp discipline, and by uncommon anxiety, occasioned by the prospect of a battle.
As at summer camp, staying busy helped alleviate homesickness. As did the prospect of being hit, or even nearly hit, with a cannon ball.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Confiscation of John McWhorter’s Gun

On 16 July 1775, the Taunton Patriot leader David Cobb (shown here, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society) wrote to his brother-in-law, Robert Treat Paine, about the Battle of Bunker Hill, smaller skirmishes, and a local conflict:
John McWhorter from a trifling incident that happen’d in the Weymouth Alarm, in which I was oblig’d to take his Gun by force, has wag’d an eternal war with the Neighbourhood and now lives in a surly, morose, malicious, damn’d Scotch looking manner without conversing with his Family or Friends.
John McWhorter was a big man in Taunton. He owned a tavern where John Rowe visited (calling him “McQuarters”), the local Sons of Liberty reportedly met, and attorney and near neighbor Daniel Leonard supped after his wife died. It contained upscale tea tables and was still referred to as “McWhorter’s Inn” years after his death—probably because his wife kept it running most of the time. McWhorter also owned at least one slave, and he had interests in shipping.

Most important for the war effort, McWhorter was part-owner of an ironworks in Stoughton. (David Cobb’s father had also been in the iron business.) Responding to a resolution of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in February 1775, Stoughton’s committee of inspection
stopped upwards of a Ton of Iron, the Property of John McWhorter of Taunton, by seizing and storing the same in the Town of Stoughton, which Iron they had every probable Reason to suspect was designed for the Use of the British Army.
Whether or not that suspicion was accurate, as war approached people clearly regarded McWhorter as a potential Loyalist. And he no doubt perceived Patriot officials as infringing on his property.

That was the situation when there was an alarm about the Royal Navy threatening Weymouth in the summer of 1775. With many of the region’s fighting men off at the siege of Boston, the task of defending the coast fell to militia companies, including the men of Taunton. A “trifling incident” during that tense time prompted Cobb to confiscate McWhorter’s musket.

In December 1776 Taunton’s militia commander noted that McWhorter was one of twenty men on the town’s “alarm list” who hadn’t turned out to protect Rhode Island from the return of the British military. Of course, McWhorter couldn’t have turned out for militia service if Cobb still had his gun.

McWhorter’s feuds continued. On 5 May 1777 the town’s committee of correspondence considered “the verbal complaint of Mr. [John?] Porter [a committee member] respecting the abuse he received from Mr. McWhorter[;] after hearing both parties, the Chairman was desired to give Mr. McWhorter a reprimand which was accordingly done.”

Back in 1776 the Stoughton committee had sold the confiscated iron, offering McWhorter “24s. per Hundred for said Iron, and Interest from the Time it was seized and stored.” But he refused and sued the committee members for “£486, Lawful Money.”

Just before the case was to be tried in June 1779, the committee brought the Massachusetts General Court into the dispute. In September the legislature ordered the Stoughton committee to pay £30.7s.4p. for the iron—basically the initial offer, nowhere close to what McWhorter had demanded.

John McWhorter stayed in Taunton through the war and died in 1800. By then he had probably reconciled himself to his neighbors and they to him, but people might still have been surly and morose.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Call for Studies of Biography and Celebrity in the 1700s

Prof. Kristina Straub of Carnegie Mellon University and Prof. Nora Nachumi of Yeshiva University have issued a call for contributions to a scholarly volume entitled "Making Stars: Biography and Eighteenth-Century Celebrity."

They say:
A celebrity is not a person, exactly, but a construct established through the public discourse and representation that we now think of as celebrity culture. During the long eighteenth century, biography was key to an earlier form of celebrity culture that anticipates what we experience as modern celebrity.

This volume proposes to explore the relationship between biography and celebrity in the long eighteenth century. In inviting essays, we keep that relationship open to definition: are biography and celebrity mutually constitutive? Does one drive the other? Are there contradictions as well as connections between biography as a genre and the celebrity culture that is manifest in a wide range of print, visual materials, and embodied performances? Similarly, we maintain an open definition of celebrity to include the many different variations in the period: theatrical, criminal, aristocratic, royal, and even the freakish.

We welcome work that clarifies and gives nuance to the prehistory of the celebrity bio as a genre and that thinks about ways in which particular material and ideological conditions shaped the formal and experiential effects of celebrity during the period roughly between 1660 and 1830. Essays might focus, for example, on comparing biography’s relationship to celebrity representation in other genres and media; a specific challenge or problem posed by a person or text or a particular form of representation; or contested representational forms.

We also are interested in work that grows out of or reflects on the process of writing a modern biography of an eighteenth-century celebrity. How do biographies create celebrity? How do various rhetorics of biographical discourse contest or refuse celebrity? How might attention to the formal rhetorics of biographical studies provide us new ways to think about celebrity culture in the long eighteenth century and conversely how might the terms of celebrity studies allow us new insights into biography? What case studies allow us to see the constitutive work of celebrity and biography in action?
The editors invite abstracts 300-400 words long, accompanied by capsule biographies of the authors no more than 150 words long, by 15 Sept 2018. Material should be sent to both ks3t@andrew.cmu.edu and nachumi@yu.edu.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Online Collections of Engravings and Samplers

Here are a couple of online databases of visual interest.

The Anderson House library of the Society of the Cincinnati in Washington, D.C., has created an online collection of engravings and prints from and relating to the Revolutionary War. The website explains its contents:
Works of art on paper featuring engravings of Revolutionary War battle scenes, allegorical and commemorative prints, and portraits of original members of the Society of the Cincinnati. A significant collection of satirical prints includes caricatures of major figures on all sides during the Revolutionary War and political cartoons of relevant events of the longer Revolutionary era from the Seven Years' War through the War of 1812.

Highlights include: an extremely rare wartime mezzotint of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale; a pair of rebus letters skewering the Carlisle Peace commission; and images of leaders such as George III, John Wilkes, the marquis de Lafayette, and Louis XVI.
The website format lets viewers magnify the images to study details.

Turning from warfare to the domestic sphere, the Sampler Consortium unveiled the Sampler Archive, an online searchable database of American schoolgirl samplers and related embroideries. The archive begins with material from the Winterthur Museum, the D.A.R. Museum, and the Rhode Island Historical Society. Images from a dozen other collections and recent events will follow.

The samplers are catalogued with detailed information on their physical characteristics, history of the maker and her family, and provenance. The collection can be browsed according to the contributor, type of object, maker's age, place, and date.

As an example, the sampler shown above bears the name of "Nancy Tucker aged 8 1791." Curators at the D.A.R. Museum think it may have been made in Essex County, Massachusetts. Below an alphabet it bears the motto:
This Work In Hand my Friend may hav
When I am Dead And in My Grave
Which may have been meant well but rather reminds me of the dire warnings against theft that schoolboys used to write in their schoolbooks.