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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Friday, November 30, 2018

“Whether we are or are not a proper garrison town”

It’s time for another peek into the Boston Whigs’ complaints about soldiers being stationed in their town. Here’s the entry from their “Journal of Occurrences” dated 30 Nov 1768, or 250 years ago today.

An honourable gentleman of his Majesty’s Council, lately riding over Boston Neck in his coach, was stopped by some soldiers on guard, one of which had the assurance to open the door, and put in his head; upon being asked what had occasioned such freedom, he had the insolence to reply, that he was only examining whether any deserter was concealed there.
As I wrote earlier, the main reason for the checkpoints on Boston Neck at this point was to stop deserters. The army command did have reason to suspect that locals, even members of the Council, didn’t care as much about desertion as they did. Earlier in the week a jury had acquitted “A countryman named Geary” on the charge of enticing soldiers to desert. (This may have been the same man whom Capt. John Willson had confined at the Castle in October.)

But there were army guards posted elsewhere in town as well:
A number of gentlemen passing in the night by the Town-House, were hailed by the guards three [there?] several times, without answering; whereupon they were stopped and confined in the guard-house for a considerable time:

A young gentleman in another part of the town, having a lanthorn with him, was challenged by some soldiers, but not answering so readily as was expected, he was threatened with having his brains immediately blown out unless he stopped:

A merchant of the town passing the grand guard this night about ten o’clock, was several times challenged by the soldiers, and upon telling them, that as an inhabitant he was not obliged to answer, not had they any business with him; they replied that this was a garrison town, and accordingly they presented their bayonets to his breast, took and detained him a prisoner for above half an hour, when he was set free; having procured the names of those who had thus used him, he is prosecuting them for the same; and we may expect soon to have it determined, whether we are or are not a proper garrison town.

Perhaps by treating the most respectable of our inhabitants in this sort, it is intended to impress our minds with formidable ideas of a military government, that we may be induced the sooner to give up such trifling things as rights and privileges, in support of which we are now suffering such great insults and injuries.
A 1780 military dictionary defined a “Garrison Town” as “a strong place, in which troops are quartered, and do duty for the security of the town; keeping guards at each port, and a main guard in the market place.” That would mean taking control from the town watch and other civil authorities.

The “Journal of Occurrences” was sounding a classic British Whig political warning: if people don’t protest abridgments of their rights, even small ones, then gradually they’ll be reduced to vassalage and slavery.

Of course, the same Whigs had earlier approvingly reported that “orders have been given by the Selectmen to the town watch, to take up and secure all such Negro servants as shall be absent from their master’s houses, at an unseasonable time of night.” Slavery meant different things for different people.

The 30 November mention of the “young gentleman” out walking with a “lanthorn” is notable. Supposedly carrying a light signaled that one was out for an innocent purpose. By November 1769 the watchmen were specifically instructed that enslaved people of color out after 9:00 P.M. had to be “carrying Lanthorns with light Candles.”

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Fate of Levi Ames’s Body

Last month I took another look at the crimes and execution of Levi Ames, but I neglected the important topic of what happened to his body.

Back in 2009 I discussed how groups of medical students competed to seize Ames’s body for dissection. In a postscript to his letter describing the chase, William Eustis wrote:
By the way, we have since heard that Stillman’s gang rowed him back from the Point up to the town, and after laying him out in mode and figure, buried him—God knows where! Clark & Co. went to the Point to look for him, but were disappointed as well as we.
“Stillman” was the Rev. Samuel Stillman, minister of Boston’s second Baptist meeting. Ames had begged him to preserve his body from the anatomists, and he succeeded.

So what happened to the corpse? The printer John Boyle left us an answer: “His Body was carried to Groton after his Execution to be bury’d with his Relations.”

Levi Ames was the son of Jacob Ames, Jr., and Olive Davis of Groton. They married in Westford in 1749. Levi was their second child, born on 1 May 1752. In his confession, Levi Ames said his father died when he was two years old., though there are no vital records to confirm that.

On 9 Oct 1765, Olive Ames married Samuel Nutting in Groton. Nutting was a Waltham widower with children born from 1752 to 1761. Levi Ames and his little brother Jacob thus became part of a blended family—presumably in Waltham, where Samuel and Olive Nutting had a little girl named Olive in 1770.

In his dying speech, Ames described committing some minor thefts in his childhood and promising his mother he would stop. At some point in his teens he was apprenticed into a household he didn’t identify and didn’t like. He stated:
Having got from under my mother’s eye, I still went on in my old way of stealing; and not being permitted to live with the person I chose to live with, I ran away from my master, which opened a wide door to temptation, and helped on my ruin; for being indolent in temper, and having no honest way of supporting myself, I robbed others of their property.
Ames robbed “Mr. Jonas Cutler, of Groton” and “Jonathan Hammond, of Waltham,” as well as householders in other towns where he didn’t have family.

Levi Ames’s corpse was buried among his Groton relatives in 1773. There was no marker.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

“Pre-Revolutionary Newspaper Wars” in Jamaica Plain, 4 Dec.

On Tuesday, 4 December, I’ll speak at the Loring-Greenough House in Jamaica Plain on the topic of “Boston’s Pre-Revolutionary Newspaper Wars (and What They May Tell Us About Today’s News Media).”

This is part of the site’s “Tuesday in the Parlor” lecture series. Here’s the description we came up with:
In the period leading up to the Revolution, colonial journalists produced a lively array of print publications aimed at keeping the populace informed about—or inflamed by—the political news of the day.

On the left were The Boston Gazette and The Massachusetts Spy while The Boston News-Letter, The Boston Chronicle, and Boston Weekly Post-Boy espoused viewpoints from the right. The Boston Evening-Post tried to maintain a centrist voice. The newspaper business could be a nasty and dangerous one, prompting rivalries between printers and occasional violence.

Join us for J. L. Bell’s enlightening talk about the how America’s early news medium operated in the volatile pre-Revolutionary environment and the significance of this history for today’s information media.
We’re scheduled to start promptly at 7:00 P.M. After the talk, there will be a book signing and light refreshments.

Tickets for this event are $5 for members of the Loring-Greenhough House and $10 for the public, plus a small processing fee to Eventbrite. Folks who join now will of course enjoy discounted tickets for events all the coming year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Holiday Traditions at the Paul Revere House, 1-2 Dec.

This weekend, 1-2 December, the Paul Revere House is hosting “Traditions of the Season,” a series of special events free with admission to the site.

The event description says:
Why did New England colonists consider Thanksgiving “the one day above all others”? Which Bostonians kept Christmas and which did not? What types of gifts were exchanged at New Years? Learn the answers while helping us celebrate the holiday season in the style of colonial Bostonians with 18th-century music, culinary delights, and crafts.

Festivities will be held on Saturday and Sunday; sample warm, mulled cider and treats baked from period recipes all day.

Visit with Rachel Revere, portrayed by History At Play’s Judith Kalaora, from 11:00-3:00 throughout the site.

Craftspeople working in traditional methods will demonstrate and sell wares from 12:00-4:00 in our Education and Visitor Center.

R. P. Hale will play 18th c. Advent music on the harpsichord and hammered dulcimer from 12:00-4:00 in the Pierce/Hichborn House.
At the top of this post is the music for “A Christmas Hymn” engraved by Revere for a collection titled Sixteen Anthems, published by fellow silversmith Josiah Flagg (1738-1795) in 1766. This image comes courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society’s online display of Revere’s engravings.

Regular admission to the Paul Revere House is $5.00 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and college students, and $1.00 for children ages 5 to 17. (Members and North End residents can visit free at all times.) The house will be open 9:30 A.M. to 4:15 P.M. that weekend.

Monday, November 26, 2018

“Went so far as to wound some officers with their Watch Crooks”

Yesterday I quoted the Boston Whigs’ side of some early confrontations between British army officers and the town watch.

There were, of course, two sides to such stories. I haven’t found officers’ accounts of such conflicts from the 1768-70 occupation, but there are reports from 1774-75.

On 15 Nov 1774, Capt. Hugh Maginis of the 38th Regiment told Gen. Thomas Gage that three nights before he and another captain had been attacked near Liberty Tree by a local named Bennet and his “whole Guard” armed with “long Poles with Spikes & Bills at the Ends of them.”

Looking back from 1782, Ens. Jeremy Lister of the 10th noted this same incident in his account of the outbreak of war. Bostonians, he wrote, “even went so far as to wound some officers with their Watch Crooks Captn. McGinny of the 28th. [sic] Regt. was one of those unfortunate gentlemen amongst many more.”

The way those officers described the altercation shows how they rejected the authority of the watchmen. Magenis mentioned “long Poles with Spikes & Bills at the Ends of them,” which were the billhooks or pikes that watchmen carried all over the British Empire. Lister even called those weapons “Watch Crooks.” But neither officer deigned to admit that those men might have had legal power to stop people.

The leader of that crowd probably even identified himself to Magenis since the captain knew his surname. Checking the Boston town records shows that man must have been John Bennet, appointed “Constable of the Watch at the South and near the sign of the Lamb” in December 1772.

Notably, back on 28 Sept 1774 Bennet had reported “a very Warm dispute between an Officer of the Fourth Regiment about the Right of Challening of One of their Cloth”—i.e., someone wearing a scarlet army uniform. That confrontation ”was Decided by an Officer of the 38 who Comanded the Grand Rounds at that Time”—the same regiment Magenis came from. Since Bennet didn’t complain about that second officer’s decision, he must have been satisfied with the outcome. Not every confrontation had to end in violence.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Officers versus Watchmen in the Streets of Boston

I’ve remarked a few times on how Boston’s town watchmen and the British army officers sent to the town in the fall of 1768 got into arguments and fights.

Those conflicts were about different forms of government authority, and they were about class deference. In fact, some of the combatants made those arguments explicit, as in this report from the Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” on 25 Nov 1768, 250 years ago today:
The town watch has been lately greatly abused and interrupted in their duty by some officers, two of them came to the Town-House watch with swords under their arms, calling them damned scoundrels, forbidding them to challenge officers as they passed, or to give the time of night in their rounds as also from keeping in the watch house, threatening that in such case they would have them in irons, and bring four regiments to blow them all to hell; also telling the watchmen they were the King’s soldiers and gentlemen, who had orders from his Majesty, and they were above the Selectmen who gave them their orders:

Upon another night, others officers came to the dock-watch, one of them with a drawn hanger or bayonet, striking it against the door and asking, whether they thought the times were now as they had been, and that they could stand four regiments; also damning them, and threatening to burn all of us to ashes, and to send us all to hell in one month’s time:—

At another time the south watch was also assaulted, one of the men struck at, and much abused with profane and threatening language.
I happily quoted the first paragraph of that complaint about “the King’s soldiers and gentlemen” in my Dublin Seminar paper about the town watch in the years leading up to the Boston Massacre, published in this volume.

Depending on the individuals, of course, there might have been other factors in those conflicts. Some British officers in their late teens and early twenties might have still been enjoying their wild youth. The watchmen tended to be middle-aged and tasked with keeping the peace. And surprising as it might seem, alcohol might have been involved in some of these incidents.

The same dispatch from the Whigs had other complaints about military officers:
The last evening a gentleman of distinction, seeing an officer of a man of war in the coffee-house, who had two evenings before called out to him in a rude manner, thought proper to ask him why he was thus accosted; upon which the officer desired him to go into a room, for he wanted the pleasure of taking his life; that as he did not suppose him acquainted with the sword, pistols would do; he then called out to the gentleman, will you not fight me? upon which the gentleman desired, and the officer agreed to meet him at his house in the morning, to determine what was to be done; the officer not coming, we hear the gentleman having learned he was a Lieut. of marines, intended a prosecution, but was prevented by his confining himself to his ship.
This report suggests the marine lieutenant was threatening a duel with swords or pistols, but the local “gentleman of distinction” responded with a legal “prosecution” instead—another example of New England culture at odds with the manners of British military gentlemen.

Finally, there were more complaints about Capt. John Willson of the 59th Regiment:
Captain W——n, of the regulars, tho’ bound to his good behaviour for the Negro business, has notwithstanding repeated his offences, by drawing his sword upon some persons the last evening and otherwise abusing them, and we hear complaint has been made to one of our magistrates respecting this affair.
Again, Boston’s civil authorities were trying to keep army officers bound to the local law.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

“I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen”

Now it’s true that at one point Benjamin Franklin suggested that the turkey, rather than the bald or American eagle, should be the emblem of the new nation.

But Franklin didn’t make that remark in 1776 during the earliest discussions of the U.S. national seal. He wrote that in January 1784 after learning about the public debate over the Society of the Cincinnati, the new hereditary organization of Continental Army officers and their male heirs.

Still the U.S. minister to France, Franklin wrote to his daughter Sarah Bache (pronounced “Beach”):
I received by Captn. Barney those relating to the Cincinnati. My opinion of the institution cannot be of much importance. I only wonder that when the united wisdom of our nation had, in the Articles of Confederation, manifested their dislike of establishing ranks of nobility, by authority either of the Congress or of any particular state, a number of private persons should think proper to distinguish themselves and their posterity, from their fellow citizens, and form an order of hereditary Knights, in direct opposition to the solemnly declared sense of their country.
In interpreting this letter, it’s useful to recognize how Franklin handled it. Yes, he addressed his daughter and kept the tone folksy. But he rarely discussed politics with Sarah Bache, and this letter didn’t include any personal news that she would presumably want to hear. He was simply using the form of a family letter to get some political thoughts off his chest.

Even more significantly, Franklin actually never sent this letter to his daughter. Instead, in the spring of 1784 he shared it with a couple of French friends, the abbé André Morellet and the comte de Mirabeau. He also continued to revise the text.

All three men appear to have agreed that it would be impolitic for Franklin to publicize his views of the Cincinnati under his own name. Instead, Mirabeau quoted portions of the letter without attribution later that year in a London pamphlet titled Considérations sur l’ordre de Cincinnatus, ou imitation d’un pamphlet anglo-américain. Morellet published a complete French translation after Franklin’s death in 1790. (The Society of the Cincinnati included a French branch as well as one for each of the thirteen states, so French noblemen knew about the debate.)

Franklin’s whole letter didn’t appear in English until his grandson William Temple Franklin published a collection of writings in 1817. By then the founding of the Cincinnati was no longer a burning political issue. The comments about the national emblem were more striking, even if Franklin had originally drafted them to make sarcastic points about a particular issue:
Others object to the bald eagle [of the Cincinnati medal, example show above], as looking too much like a Dindon or turkey. For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly.

You may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him, and takes it from him. With all this injustice, he is never in good case, but like those among men who live by sharping and robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: the little king bird not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district.

He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America, who have driven all the king birds from our country, though exactly fit for that order of knights which the French call Chevaliers d’Industrie [i.e., “knights of the road”]. I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey.

For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours, the first of the species seen in Europe being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, and served up at the wedding table of Charles the ninth. He is besides, (though a little vain and silly tis true, but not the worse emblem for that) a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.
(Ironically, that American emblem the turkey was named after a European country, either because Turkish merchants sold New World turkeys in early modern Europe or because sixteenth-century Englishman conflated turkeys with guinea fowl that Turkish merchants imported from Africa.)

The musical 1776 therefore has a slight foundation for portraying Benjamin Franklin in the song “The Egg” as wanting the turkey to be the U.S. of A.’s national bird.

However, as I discussed yesterday, there’s no evidence for John Adams championing the eagle, as in that song. And I’ve found no evidence for Thomas Jefferson suggesting that the national symbol should be a dove.

The whole debate in “The Egg” was a last-minute creation of songwriter Sherman Edwards. During the tryouts of 1776 in New Haven, Edwards and his colleagues decided the show needed a light-hearted number in the second act. The musical’s poster, designed by Fay Gage, showed a patriotic eagle hatching. With the inspiration of that art and Franklin’s 1784 letter, Edwards imagined his lead characters arguing over the national bird.

And a few years later, I watched that scene as an impressionable schoolboy and assumed it had some solid basis in fact. Another Bicentennial myth shattered!

Friday, November 23, 2018

“The great Seal should on one side have…”

As discussed yesterday, in the summer of 1776 a committee of Continental Congress heavyweights—Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson—asked the Swiss-born artist and historical collector Pierre Eugène du Simitière to design a seal for the new United States of America.

Of course, each of those gentlemen also gave the artist a helpful, and contradictory, suggestion of what the seal should look like. And Du Simitière had his own ideas.

Jefferson reported the result of that committee discussion to the Congress on 20 August:
The great Seal should on one side have the arms of the United States of America which arms should be as follows. The Shield has six Quarters, parti one, coupe two. The 1st. Or, a Rose enammelled gules and argent for England: the 2d Argent, a Thistle proper, for Scotland: the 3d. Verd, a Harp Or, for Ireland: the 4th. Azure a Flower de Luce Or for France: the 5th. Or the Imperial Eagle Sable for Germany: and the 6th. Or the Belgic Lion Gules for Holland, pointing out the Countries from which the States have been peopled.

The Shield within a Border Gules entwind of thirteen Scutcheons Argent linked together by a Chain Or, each charged with initial Letters Sable as follows: 1st. NH. 2d M.B. 3d RI. 4th C. 5th NY. 6th NJ. 7th P. 8th DC. 9 M. 10th V. 11th NC. 12th. SC. 13 G. for each of the thirteen independent States of America.

Supporters, dexter the Goddess Liberty in a corselet of Armour alluding to the present Times [i.e., the ongoing war], holding in her right Hand the Spear and Cap and with her left supporting the Shield of the States; sinister, the Goddess Justice bearing a Sword in her right hand, and in her left a Balance.

Crest. The Eye of Providence in a radiant Triangle whose Glory extends over the Shield and beyond the Figures.

Motto e pluribus unum.

Legend round the whole Atchievement. Seal of the United States of America mdcclxxvi.

On the other side of the said Great Seal should be the following Device. Pharoah sitting in an open Chariot a Crown on his head and a Sword in his hand passing through the divided Waters of the Red Sea in Pursuit of the Israelites: Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud, expressive of the divine Presence and Comman[d] beaming on Moses who stands on the Shore and extending his hand over the Sea causes it to overwhe[lm] Pharoah.

Motto Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.
The shields showing the countries where most European-Americans had come from was Du Simitière’s idea. He was, after all, an immigrant—though not from any of the nations represented. Du Simitière had originally pictured an American rifleman standing opposite Liberty, but Justice made a better pairing.

The Biblical scene on the reverse side was Franklin’s suggestion, with the addition of the “Pillar of Fire” from Jefferson. The motto “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God” also came from Franklin, though it had an older history (which I’ll discuss at some point). Jefferson liked that saying so much he added it to a seal for Virginia that he commissioned from Du Simitière in this same summer. None of Adams’s ideas made it to the final proposal.

The committee presented this proposal to the Congress. With the British army about to attack New York City, the delegates tabled that symbolic matter till later. And they didn’t return to the question of a national seal until four years later, when Franklin and Adams were in Europe and Jefferson was in Virginia. And then the Congress tossed out their 1776 report and started over.

The U.S. of A. had to get along without a seal for another couple of years as more committees discussed the question. Finally in 1782 the Congress’s secretary, Charles Thomson, got sick of waiting and drew one himself. Only two elements from the 1776 proposals survived to the final seal: the “Eye of Providence in a radiant Triangle” and the motto “E pluribus unum.” There’s no positive evidence about who came up with either.

Thomson adopted the latest committee’s suggestion of a heraldic eagle but chose the bald or “American Eagle” because that species was American, he later explained to James Madison. The idea of an eagle definitely didn’t come from John Adams, whatever the 1776 musical depicts.

TOMORROW: And how did the turkey and the dove come in?

[The picture above shows a nineteenth-century recreation of the seal that Du Simitière described, courtesy of Mental Floss; no drawings from 1776 survive.]

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Turkey of a Great Seal

In the musical 1776, the characters of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson debate which bird would be the best symbol for the new United States: turkey, eagle, or dove.

I saw the movie version of that show during the Bicentennial. My class even performed that scene’s song, “The Egg,” as a chorus. But now I know it was all bunk.

The Continental Congress did assign those three members to design an official seal for the new union on 4 July 1776, the same day it sent a certain Declaration they had drafted to the printer. However, those guys didn’t come up with any ideas involving birds.

As Adams explained the process in a 14 August letter to Abigail, the three politicians consulted with the Swiss artist Pierre Eugène du Simitière on the seal design. That put Du Simitière in the role of the professional graphic designer trying to please three clients who all fancy their own ideas, haven’t decided priorities among themselves, and have to go back to their bosses for final approval anyway.

Every man had a different concept, Adams wrote. Du Simitière:
For the Seal he proposes. The Arms of the several Nations from whence America has been peopled, as English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German &c. each in a Shield. On one side of them Liberty, with her Pileus, on the other a Rifler, in his Uniform, with his Rifled Gun in one Hand, and his Tomahauk, in the other. This Dress and these Troops with this Kind of Armour, being peculiar to America…
Moses lifting up his Wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh, in his Chariot overwhelmed with the Waters.—This Motto. Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.
The Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night, and on the other Side Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon Chiefs, from whom We claim the Honour of being descended and whose Political Principles and Form of Government We have assumed.
I proposed the Choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribeline in some Editions of Lord Shaftsburys Works. The Hero resting on his Clubb. Virtue pointing to her rugged Mountain, on one Hand, and perswading him to ascend. Sloth, glancing at her flowery Paths of Pleasure, wantonly reclining on the Ground, displaying the Charms both of her Eloquence and Person, to seduce him into Vice.
That meant Simon Gribelin’s engraving of “Hercules at the Crossroad,” shown above, based on a painting by Paolo de Matteis. Adams had the self-awareness to add, “But this is too complicated a Group for a Seal or Medal, and it is not original.”

TOMORROW: The result of that committee process.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An International Mystery at the Fraunces Tavern Museum

A recent email newsletter from the Fraunces Tavern Museum raised interesting questions about one of its prize artifacts, the painting shown here.

The article said:
Since November 17, 1913 the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York have been proud to refer to the man in the portrait…as Samuel Fraunces, a New York City tavern keeper, an entrepreneur, an American Revolution spy, and a professional relation of George Washington. But this article is not about the man but the continued research being conducted on the painting and its sitter.

This 18th century Museum object was purchased by the Society for thirty-five dollars at auction from Merwin Sales Company in 1913. The auction catalogue lists this painting along with other items for sale, “Artist Unknown / Colonial Period / Portrait of Samuel Fraunces. / Canvas. Height 29in.: width, 23in.” Since 1913 the portrait has hung proudly in the Museum’s galleries and always interpreted as the image of Samuel Fraunces.
This portrait comes up in discussions of Fraunces’s nickname, “Black Sam.” In the early and mid-twentieth century, many African-Americans interpreted that name to mean the tavern keeper was of African descent. That would have been remarkable, given Fraunces’s social standing in slaveholding New York, but none of his contemporaries wrote anything else to support the idea. And of course the portrait shows a pale man.

But now there’s reason to question whether that portrait shows Fraunces at all. As the museum explains in this article, in December 2017 a German historian named Arthur Kuhle contacted the museum about a painting of an unknown nobleman at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden. That man’s face and wig look very much like the picture of Samuel Fraunces, and the clothing is similar.

Kuhle hypothesizes that the Dresden portrait came from the court of Frederick the Great and shows one of that king’s six most intimate friends in the 1740s. Evidently Frederick had portraits of all six of those men painted, and only four survive. Judging by other images of the two missing men, I think the most likely candidate from that group is Michael Gabriel Fredersdorf (1708-1758). He was allegedly a royal lover who rose from a soldier guarding the prince to a powerful court administrator before he married a woman, fell from favor, and died.

But of course the Dresden portrait may show someone entirely different, not even from Prussia. And the Fraunces Tavern portrait likewise. Even the resemblance could be a coincidence or the sign of an artist with a limited range. There’s much more research to do.

The idea that Samuel Fraunces was African-American is still unlikely. His nickname might have reflected his Caribbean background in some way, or perhaps his coloring was just darker than the man in this painting—whoever he was.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Pronouncing on Printers

In 1767 Benjamin Franklin’s daughter Sally married Richard Bache (1737-1811, shown here), a Yorkshireman who had moved to Philadelphia two years before.

A note in the Papers of Benjamin Franklin states:
The family’s name was originally Bêche or de la Bêche, and one tradition traces the family back to the Norman Conquest. In England the name seems to have been pronounced Beech, but in America it is pronounced to rhyme with the eighth letter of the alphabet, “H.”
Even before I saw that note, that’s how I (an American) pronounced the Bache surname.

But it appears that Bache’s American contemporaries pronounced the family name “Beech” just as the English did—at least when referring to Richard’s son, the iconoclastic printer Benjamin Franklin Bache. Here’s Thomas Jefferson in 1788:
If young Mr. Beach has begun to exercise his destined calling of a printer, he would be the best correspondent for Pissot for many reasons…
And here’s President George Washington in 1793:
The publications in [Philip] Freneau’s and Beach’s Papers are outrages on common decency…
Most tellingly, here’s Franklin himself, writing to John Adams in 1787:
My Son Beach and my Grandson are much flatter’d by your remembrance of them, & join in presenting their Respects.
I found those references during a discussion on Twitter started by Jordan E. Taylor.

But that situation prompted me to wonder about the name of one of Boston’s leading printers, Benjamin Edes. Was I pronouncing that right? Even more important, was I correct years ago in assuring Gary Gregory of the Edes & Gill Print Shop in Faneuil Hall that we were pronouncing it right?

Fortunately, we have a phonetic spelling from Abigail Adams in 1775:
Poor Eads escaped out of town last night with one Ayers in a small boat, and was fired upon, but got safe and came up to Braintree to day.

(And speaking of names, Richard Bache’s older brother, who came to Philadelphia before him, was named Theophylact Bache. Pronounced “beech.”)

Monday, November 19, 2018

An Immigrant’s Advice to Jefferson about Thanksgiving

Benjamin Vaughan (1751-1835) was a British radical politician who in the 1790s both served a term in Parliament and moved to Maine. He made his first appearance on Boston 1775 as a Ben Franklin fanboy.

While in America, Vaughan corresponded with various politicians, including President Thomas Jefferson. Living in New England, Vaughan was acutely aware how many of his pious neighbors distrusted Jefferson’s thoughts on religion.

Worried about the new President’s emphasis on keeping church and government separate might fly in New England, Vaughan wrote to Jefferson on 15 Mar 1801:
I trust that your administration will have few difficulties in these parts, provided it steers clear of religion. You are too wise & just to think of any official attacks upon religion, & too sincere to make any affected overtures in favor of it. You know where you are thought to be in this respect; & there it may be wise to stand.—

If a ruler however at times acts with a view to accommodate himself to the feelings, in which many of the citizens for whom he takes thought, participate; this can neither be considered as a violation of truth or of dignity; and is not likely to prove unacceptable, if done avowedly with this view.—

For example, it is not in, & is perhaps without the constitution, to recommend fasts & thanksgivings from the federal chair, at the seasons respectively when the New Englanders look for those things; & therefore you will not think it perhaps needful for you to meddle with such matters. But, if you did, this example will serve my purpose. You may then I presume safely & acceptably interfere with a view to name a time, when a large proportion of your constituents may be enabled to do the thing in question consentingly & cotemporarily. You certainly may make yourself in this an organ of the general convenience, without departing from any of your own principles; especially as you will take due care to use decorous language, should the occasion be used.

I do not however see any necessity for a federal fast or federal thanksgiving, when these things are open, to the states approving them, to order for themselves.—I treat the case therefore merely for illustration.—

The religion of the New-Englanders will require to be touched with tenderness. Your opinions are known, & in defiance of those opinions you have your office: consequently you m[ay?] continue to hold them, as a privileged person. But it will be wise, as to these parts of the Union, to keep these opinions in the only situation in which they have hitherto been seen; a private one; & for the regulation of your private conduct.
Presidents George Washington and John Adams had each proclaimed two national Thanksgivings. Adams’s proclamations became controversial, and he even blamed them in part for his loss to Jefferson in 1800. Adams had made his proclamations in the spring, which might explain why Vaughan was so eager in March to counsel the new President about how to handle that tradition.

President Jefferson maintained his stance against proclaiming Thanksgivings, but, as he wrote to his attorney general in 1802, he also felt the need to explain his reasons to the public.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

“Landed and quartered in town”

On 18 Nov 1768, 250 years ago today, the Boston Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” alerted their readers in other North American ports to this news:
The 64th Regiment of those troops Col. [John] Pomeroy, are landed and quartered in town, the 65th Regiment Col. [Alexander] Mackay, at Castle Island; they consist of 500 men each.—The battalion-men of the detachment of the 59th are to return to Halifax.
The Whigs also counted eleven Royal Navy ships, not counting the chartered transport ships, in the harbor.

With four regiments (the 14th, 29th, 64th, and 65th) in town, plus part of the 59th and a contingent of Royal Artillery, this was the largest number of soldiers stationed in Boston before late 1774.

The 64th and 65th were fresh from recruiting in Ireland, so they were at full strength. The Whigs’ estimate of “500 men each” is probably a little high and doesn’t necessarily apply to the two regiments that had arrived earlier from Nova Scotia.

Nonetheless, there were probably around 2,000 soldiers in Boston for a couple of weeks that fall. The 1765 census counted 2,941 white men above age sixteen (i.e., eligible for militia duty). Thus, in that stretch two out of every five white men in Boston belonged to the British army.

[The photograph above comes from Revolution250’s recent “Boston Occupied” reenactment, photographed by Chris Christo for this gallery at the Boston Herald.]

Saturday, November 17, 2018

“The town was altogether under the government & controul of the military power”

One of the things that Bostonians found most irritating about the British army regiments who arrived in the fall of 1768 was how they posted armed guards around town.

There were sentries at the gate on the narrow Neck to the mainland. There were sentries in front of major government buildings like the Province House, where the royal governor lived, and at the houses that commanders rented for themselves. That meant armed soldiers were standing at some of the busiest corners of the town.

Yesterday I quoted the Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” huffing about rude and even violent guards on the Neck and elsewhere.

On 5 December Samuel Adams as “Vindex” complained in the Boston Gazette:
I Can very easily believe that the officers of the regiments posted in this town, have been inform’d by our good friends [i.e., royal officials] that the inhabitants are such a rude unpolish’d kind of folks, as that they are in danger, at least of being affronted during their residence here; and therefore their placing centinels at their respective dwellings seems to be a natural precaution, and under that apprehension may be a necessary step to guard their persons from injury.

Or if it be only a piece of respect or homage every where shown to the superior officers of the army, it is a matter which concerns no other persons that I know of, I am sure it is no concern of mine: In this view it is a military custom, in no way interfering with, obstructing or infringing the common rights of the community.

But when these gentlemens attendants take upon them to call upon every one, who passes by, to know Who comes there as the phrase is, I take it to be in the highest degree impertinent, unless they can shew a legal authority for so doing.

There is something in it, which looks as if the town was altogether under the government & controul of the military power: And as long as the inhabitants are fully perswaded that this is not the case at present, and moreover hope and believe that it never will, it has a natural tendency to irritate the minds of all who have a just sense of honor, and think they have the privilege of walking the streets without being controul’d.
When the regiments first arrived in Boston, the royal authorities had been worried about locals rising up and attacking those men. But there was no rebellion. Indeed, the Whigs themselves worked to channel public anger into political, not physical, resistance.

So why did the army command keep the sentries out stopping everyone coming into and leaving the town or passing major landmarks? Sure, that provided more protection, but it also exacerbated people’s anger, which could only lead to more trouble in the future.

Part of the answer is that setting up sentry posts is what armies did. It was how garrisons worked. It kept the men occupied, trained, and alert.

But another part of the answer is that the commanders weren’t really trying to stop civilians. They were trying to stop deserters from their regiments.

On 1 November the “Journal of Occurrences” reported:
The last night a soldier passed the guards, at the south part of the town, and was haled, but not answering, they followed and fired at him several times, and being impeded in running by the sea-weed on the beach, he was taken and brought back to the guards: This man was present at the execution [of Richard Eames] in the morning, but nothing is like to prevent desertion while the troops remain in this place.
The army was thus locked in a vicious cycle. The Crown had ordered those regiments to keep peace inside Boston, not out on Castle Island. But being stationed in a populous town made it easier for soldiers to escape. Which meant the army had to set up sentries, search parties, and firing squads to stop deserters. Which angered the civilian population and only made it harder to keep the peace in Boston.

Friday, November 16, 2018

“The inhabitants of this town have been of late greatly insulted and abused”

By late October 1768, the army regiments in Boston had all moved into rented barracks. The town’s Whigs therefore could no longer complain about them occupying public buildings or trying to push poor people out of the Manufactory.

Those activists therefore focused on recording conflicts between soldiers and locals in the streets. Here’s a sample of their complaints from the “Journal of Occurrences.”

29 October:
The inhabitants of this town have been of late greatly insulted and abused by some of the officers and soldiers, several have been assaulted on frivolous pretences, and put under guard without any lawful warrant for so doing.

A physician of the town walking the streets the other evening, was jostled by an officer, when a scuffle ensued, he was afterwards met by the same officer in company with another, both as yet unknown, who repeated his blows, and as is supposed gave him a stroke with a pistol, which so wounded him as to endanger his life.

A tradesman of this town on going under the rails of the Common in his way home, had a thrust in the breast with a bayonet from a soldier; another person passing the street was struck with a musket, and the last evening a merchant of the town was struck down by an officer who went into the coffee-house, several gentlemen following him in, and expostulating with the officers, were treated in the most ungenteel manner…
Note how solid the class division of eighteenth-century British-American society was. The physician, merchant, and other “gentlemen” got into conflicts with officers who allegedly behaved “in the most ungenteel manner.” Meanwhile, the tradesman and “another person” were accosted by enlisted men.

1 November:
An householder at the west part of the town, hearing the cries of two women in the night, who were rudely treated by some soldiers, ventured to expostulate with them for this behaviour, for which boldness he was knocked down with a musket and much wounded, they went off undiscovered; another had a thrust with a bayonet near his eye, and a gentlemen of this town informs, that a day or two before the physician already mentioned met with his abuse, he overheard several officers discoursing, when one of them said, if he could meet that doctor he would do for him.
2 November:
Two men and a lad coming over the Neck into the town, were haled by one guard and passed them: soon after they were challenged by another, they replied they had just answered one, but they hoped they were all friends; upon which a soldier made a pass or two with his bayonet at one of them, who parried the bayonet at first, but was afterward badly cut on the head and grievously wounded in divers parts of his body.

One passing the south town watch was challenged but not stopped, he drew his sword and flourished it at the watch, using very insulting language; he was then discovered to be an officer a little disguised [i.e., drunk], another soon joined him, full as abusive, both declared that if they had been challenged in the street and no orders shewn, they would have deprived the watchman of his life.

A country man also coming into town, was thought to have approached nearer the guards than he should have done, for which offence he was knocked off his horse with a musket.
The conflict between the “south town watch” and the two officers was unusual in crossing class boundaries. The watchmen were working-class men, but they were employed and empowered by the town to keep the peace. The officers, in contrast, were gentlemen answering to the Crown government. Which group of men had authority to order the other around? That argument played out in the streets for months.

And then there was the exacerbation of the guardhouse on the Neck.

TOMORROW: Why did the British army need to guard the Boston Neck?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Giving Dickinson His Due

Back in 2012 I compared the number of books lately published about Thomas Paine, supposedly a neglected Founder, with the much smaller number published about John Dickinson.

That will probably change after the John Dickinson Writings Project starts to publish the projected eight volumes of The Complete Writings and Selected Correspondence of John Dickinson in late 2019. The leaders of the project state:
John Dickinson (1732–1808), America’s first political celebrity, wrote more for the Founding than any other figure, including many issuances from the national congresses and conventions from 1764 to 1786. He also wrote prolifically for ordinary Americans with the intent to educate them about their rights and how to resist tyranny peacefully.

In addition to being one of the foremost legal scholars of the era, he was also the only leading founder who was an abolitionist, an advocate of women’s rights, and a champion of other subordinated peoples, including Indians, the poor, and prisoners. As a fellow traveler with the Quakers, though not a member of their society, he brought his religious beliefs to bear on his legal and political work with the goal of “defending the innocent & redressing the injurd.” . . .

For a number of reasons, including illegibility, complexity, and lack of archival identification and processing, Dickinson’s papers have never before been fully accessible. These factors, combined with misperceptions about Dickinson’s role in the Founding, mean there is very little extant scholarship on this central figure. Yet the Dickinson material is a rich resource on almost every aspect of 18th-century American society, including:
  • London/Middle Temple in the 1750s
  • The William Smith libel trial of 1758
  • The flag-of-truce trade of the 1750s–60s
  • Pennsylvania royal government controversy
  • Resistance to Britain from 1764 to 1776
  • Military 1775 to 1783
  • Resistance to 1776 Pennsylvania constitution
  • Peace negotiations in 1779
  • Presidency of Delaware, 1781–82
  • Presidency of Pennsylvania, 1782–85
  • Mutiny of 1783
  • Celebrations for the birth of the Dauphin
  • Wyoming controversy
  • Res Publica v. Longchamps
  • Res Publica v. Doan
  • Creation/Ratification of the Federal Constitution, 1786–1788
  • Delaware constitutional convention of 1792
  • Jay Treaty Protest of 1795
  • Abolitionism/slavery
  • Agrarianism
  • Books and book ownership
  • Democracy
  • Democratic Republican party politics
  • Celebrity
  • Education
  • Federal power v. states’ rights
  • Foreign relations
  • Indian rights/diplomacy
  • Jurisprudence
  • Peace activism
  • Philanthropy
  • Political moderation
  • Religion—Quakerism and “nature religion”
  • Religious liberty
  • Taxation and economic policy
  • Westward expansion/land and property rights
  • Virtue and corruption in government
In April 2020, in connection with the first volumes of Dickinson’s collected writings, the American Philosophical Society, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and Library Company of Philadelphia will host a day-long symposium about the man in Philadelphia. The organizers hope to feature eight to ten papers, the best of which will be published in an essay collection, the first ever devoted to Dickinson.

There’s a two-stage process for scholars to propose papers for that symposium. First, “Preliminary proposals of ca. 250 words accompanied by a CV” are due on 15 Nov 2018. The organizers will consider those “initial ideas and interests…based on their substance and viability considering the sources.”

The scholars whose projects show potential will then receive access to the server that contains the transcriptions, document images, and secondary sources being used to create the print edition. After consulting those materials, the researchers can then submit “Final proposals of ca. 500 words” by 15 Jan 2019. The organizers will choose the projects for the symposium. Final papers will be due on 1 Mar 2020. Symposium speakers will be reimbursed for travel and lodging.

The director of the John Dickinson Writings Project is Jane E. Calvert, Associate Professor of History at the University of Kentucky. Questions, requests for extensions on the preliminary proposal deadline, and proposals should go to her at jane.calvert@uky.edu.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Execution of Richard Eames

As described yesterday, on 22 Oct 1768 a general court martial in Boston convicted Pvt. Richard Eames of the 14th Regiment of desertion. A week later, the court sentenced the soldier to death.

“Some of the first ladies among us presented a petition for his pardon” on 30 October, the Boston Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” later reported. The town politicians managed to bring Eames’s case back to their main cause: “it was his first desertion, and in a time of peace, and which could not have happened had he been quartered agreeable to act of Parliament on Castle-Island.”

But the army command, headed by Gen. Thomas Gage, wanted to discourage other soldiers from deserting. The issue of the Boston Chronicle printed on 31 October reported that Eames
is ordered to be shot on the Common this afternoon, between the hours of 8 and 12 o’clock.—All the troops in town were ordered into the Common this morning by 6 o’clock, to attend the execution.
The regiments marched onto the Common “drumming the dead beat.” Eventually Eames was brought out “dressed in white,” accompanied by the chaplain of his regiment, reported in different sources as named Palmer or Palms.

A firing squad lined up. Eames “appeared very penitent,” the Boston News-Letter stated. The muskets fired, and Eames’s body collapsed. The Whigs wrote:
The regiment then marched round the corpes as it lay on the ground, when it was put into the coffin, which was carried by his side into the Common, and buried in a grave near where he was shot, and the church service read over him.
Some later accounts say Ames’s body was buried where it lay, but this wording suggests it was moved to the Common burying-ground.

(Local newspapers called the soldier “Ames,” but David Niescior reports that army records call him “Eames.”)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tracking Down Pvt. Richard Eames

As soon as the British regiments arrived in Boston, soldiers began to desert. Don Hagist of British Soldiers, American Revolution has found that desertions went up just before and after a move—perhaps because of higher discontent, perhaps because the disruption made it easier to slip away.

In his thesis, “‘We might now behold American Grievances red-dressed:’ Soldiers and the Inhabitants of Boston, 1768-1770,” and other essays, David Niescior reports that on 12 Oct 1768 a party of soldiers from the 14th Regiment went out into the Massachusetts countryside searching for deserters. This group included Sgt. John Phillips and Pvts. Thomas Wilson and Thomas West of the grenadier company. They were all dressed in civilian garb.

On the 14th the search party was about twenty-five miles out of Boston. The men stopped at a tavern, where Sgt. Philips asked “a Negro Woman” about deserters. She told them “one of the Men had got a place with a Farmer the last Week” and pointed out that farmer’s house.

The sergeant sent Wilson and West to the farm to ask for more information. The farmer led those men to Richard Eames, a soldier of the 14th Regiment, who had hired on as a hand.

The search party hauled Eames back to Boston. On 22 October he was court-martialed. Eames tried to excuse his departure by saying he was owed back pay and “had often been struck” during drill. Other men testified that he had been paid no less and struck no more than any other soldier.

Character witnesses said Eames was “an Honest man tho’ sometimes unfortunate in Liquor.” However, going twenty-five miles away, staying away for several days, and taking a job on a farm didn’t seem like the actions of a drunken binge.

The court martial found Richard Eames guilty and sentenced him to death.

TOMORROW: An execution on Boston Common.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Philbrick on the Battle of the Chesapeake, 13 Nov.

On Tuesday, 13 November, the American Antiquarian Society will host Nathaniel Philbrick speaking on the topic of “The Naval Battle that Won the American Revolution.”

This talk is based on Philbrick’s latest book, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown. In retelling the history of that decisive campaign, this book focuses on its naval dimension and the Battle of the Chesapeake between the French and British navies.

In a prepared interview his publisher shared with History News Network, Philbrick spoke about that emphasis:
Since In the Heart of the Sea (2000) I have been making the point that before there was the wilderness of the American West, there was the wilderness of the sea. But I have to say even I was surprised by the impact that water had on the course of the Revolutionary War. As Washington realized from the very beginning of the alliance, the only way to defeat the British was with the help of the French navy. Only then could he break the British navy’s stranglehold on the Eastern Seaboard and win the victory that made possible American independence. Ultimately the course of the war came down to America’s proximity to the sea, the watery realm that I’ve been writing about since I moved to Nantucket 32 years ago.
Because of the ongoing construction to expand the A.A.S. building, this talk will take place across Park Avenue at the First Baptist Church, 111 Park Avenue in Worcester. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M., and the talk is due to start at 7:00. There is parking along Regent Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and Drury Lane, as well as in the lot at 90 Park Avenue.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Redcoats Return to Newport, 17 Nov.

On Saturday, 17 November, the Newport Historical Society, the Redwood Library & Athenæum, and two dozen of the region’s top-notch Revolutionary War reenactors will present a program titled “Redcoats at the Redwood: A 1778 Living History Event.”

The British military occupied Newport, Rhode Island, for years during the Revolutionary War, fending off threats from land and sea. This event focuses on the year 1778. Here’s the event description:
The Redwood Library’s Harrison Room will be transformed into an officer’s club as men from the British army and Royal Navy discuss the latest news and intelligence about the war efforts, in-between relaxing, playing cards and enjoying a few drinks.

Chat with reenactors portraying key figures such as General [Richard] Prescott, Mary Almy, Joseph Wanton Jr. and the newly wed Henrietta Overing Bruce. Other personas will include a printer, a minister, a merchant, officer’s wives, and a local woman who’s courted by a British officer.

Hourly activities range from toasts to games and will include a skit inspired by the Redwood’s history from this time. Visitors can learn about 18th-century newspapers, letters, artwork and military passes, including the pass that was required to leave the island, along with life during the Revolutionary era in Newport.
Spectators can also try a Spy Challenge, collecting intelligence as they chat with the reenactors to learn about the British military plans.

This event is scheduled for 2:00 to 7:00 P.M. at the Redwood Library, 50 Bellevue Avenue in Newport. There is a parking lot beside the building. Admission is free, though donations are welcome.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Wheelwright to Apthorp to Molineux

Yesterday I quoted a letter from William Molineux stating that in October 1768 he had agreed to rent buildings near the center of Boston to the royal army, despite being one of the Whig activists most opposed to having troops in town. Was that rank hypocrisy?

When the historian John Richard Alden published that letter for the first time in the New England Quarterly in 1944, he wrote:
It is possible that Molineux acted merely as an agent in these transactions, but it is most likely that he rented his own properties to the British army, in full knowledge that they would be used as quarters for the redcoats.
But a 28 Oct 1768 letter from provincial secretary Andrew Oliver, while also portraying Molineux as a money-grubbing hypocrite, shows that the man was indeed acting as an agent for the real property-owner.

As I quoted yesterday, Oliver wrote that Molineux
made an Offer of the Stores on Wheelwrights Whff. at the modest rate of £400 Sterl. p. Ann:? The General has however agreed with Mr. Apthorp himself for them at the rate of £300 and you may guess who will finally pay the reckoning.   
The final price, per Molineux’s letter, was indeed £25 per month or £300 per year—the price “Mr. Apthorp” had arranged.

“Mr. Apthorp” was Charles Ward Apthorp, oldest son of Boston’s richest merchant and military contractor of the previous generation, Charles Apthorp. The younger man had migrated to New York City with the army command. There he built a successful mercantile career and served on the governor’s council.

After Charles Ward Apthorp dissolved his Boston partnership with his brother-in-law Nathaniel Wheelwright, that led to a frightening wave of bankruptcies in early 1765. Apthorp ended up owning most of Wheelwright’s property. And to manage that property, Apthorp made William Molineux his Boston agent.

Thus, when Molineux wrote that he leased “all the Stores on Wheelwrights Warffe, (so Called)” to the army, he was leasing Apthorp’s property. The 1769 map of Boston even relabeled that wharf as “Apthorp’s” (shown above in the lower left, next to John Rowe’s Wharf).

Oliver’s statement that “The General has however agreed with Mr. Apthorp himself for them” indicates that Gen. Thomas Gage had made a deal with Apthorp before he even left New York. The owner of those buildings wanted the army to have them. Molineux wasn’t acting on his own.

But that doesn’t mean Molineux was above blame. He always had a hard time distinguishing the public good from what was good for himself. In this case, he first offered the Wheelwright’s Wharf buildings for £400 per year. Did he think that would be a prohibitive price that would keep the army out, or did he just want the extra £100? Did Apthorp require him to rent the sugar-distilling house as well, or did Molineux decide to do that on his own?

It’s pertinent that Molineux wasn’t just forwarding the proceeds of these deals to Apthorp with a little commission retained. He was apparently living off the Apthorp properties, tallying up revenue and expenses for some future settlement. In late 1774 that would catch up with him—but that’s a story for another time.

What mattered on 10 Nov 1768, 250 years ago today, was that as the first transport ships carrying soldiers of the 64th and 65th Regiments arrived from Cork, Ireland, the army had secured quarters inside Boston for them.

Friday, November 09, 2018

“What do you think of the Patriotism of W.M”?

When Boston businessmen started to lease property to the royal army in late October 1768, word of those deals got around quickly.

Andrew Oliver, secretary of the province and merchant, sent this news to a business associate in London on 28 October:
[The army] is taking up Stores & other Buildings for their accomodation. They first took up Mr. [James] Smiths Sugar House of Mr. [James] Murray; this was well enough; he acted in character and upon Principle, but what do you think of the Patriotism of W.M who used his utmost interest in supporting the People in the Manufactory House in their Opposition to the Troops coming in there; and then made an Offer of the Stores on Wheelwrights Whff. at the modest rate of £400 Sterl. p. Ann:?

The General has however agreed with Mr. Apthorp himself for them at the rate of £300 and you may guess who will finally pay the reckoning.

Or what do you think of the patriotism of J R. to sollicit the Supply of the Troops and in fact letting his Stores for the Use of the Troops?

Or what do you think of J O’s sending a Card to the General & his Family to dine with him? Or of their refusing it? Where is Patriotism or where is Principle?
“J O” was probably James Otis, being polite to Gen. Thomas Gage and “his Family”—in this case meaning his aides. Otis had indeed opposed the Crown’s decision to station troops in Boston, but he was also an upper-class gentleman (even a bit of a snob) and a canny politician. He understood that being personally polite to the king’s general would look better than snubbing him. There was no financial interest in what he did.

In contrast, “J R.” or John Rowe did indeed profit from leasing buildings to the army. We know that he made that deal from his own diary. We also know he was both joining the other selectmen in protesting those troops and socializing with army officers, sometimes on the same day. Rowe’s politics swung with the prevailing winds.

The real surprise was “W.M”—William Molineux. He was one of the Whigs’ most confrontational leaders. Just the month before, Oliver had probably heard Gov. Francis Bernard and Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson discuss a warning that Molineux was prepared to lead 500 men in an attack on the troops. So did the same Molineux really rent buildings to the army?

We know that he did because of a letter from Molineux himself. On 13 Feb 1769 he sent a complaint to Lt. Col. John Pomeroy, at that time the highest-ranking officer in Boston:
By Indentures of Agreement between [Royal Engineers Capt.] John Montresor Esq [shown above] & my Self, the 28th. Octr. Last I Lett him all the Stores on Wheelwrights Warffe, (so Called) at £25 Sterling per month to be paid monthly, which he promisd to Pay Punctually—& also on the 5th. Novemr: Let him a Sugar House for the Artillery Company, which they now Occupy, at £5 per month to be paid in Like manner.
In 1769 Molineux was no longer complaining that the army had barracks near the center of Boston. He was complaining that the army hadn’t given him enough money for those buildings.

TOMORROW: But who really owned that property?

Thursday, November 08, 2018

“The stench occasioned by the troops in the Representatives Chamber”

Even after His Majesty’s 14th Regiment of Foot moved out of Faneuil Hall, owned by the town of Boston, some troops remained in the Town House, which had become provincial property.

That building is now known as the Old State House. Its interior is different from how it looked in the 1760s. Back then it included a large, elegant room where the governor met with the Council and an even larger room with a small spectators’ gallery where the lower house of the General Court met.

No representatives had met in the Representatives’ Chamber since June 1768 when Gov. Francis Bernard had dissolved the legislature. But that space was also used as Boston’s courtroom. (A standalone courthouse was under construction a block away on Queen Street, to open in 1769.)

On 8 Nov 1768, 250 years ago today, Massachusetts’s top court met in that room. That offered the Boston Whigs another opening for a complaint about Crown policy, written the next day:
Yesterday the Superior Court met by adjournment at the Court House. In the afternoon a motion was made by J[ame]s O[ti]s, Esq; one of the bar, that the court would adjourn to Faneuil-Hall, not only as the stench occasioned by the troops in the Representatives Chamber, may prove infectious, but as it was derogatory to the honour of the court to administer justice at the mouths of cannon and the points of bayonets.
At the time, many doctors thought bad odors and miasmas could carry disease.

The Superior Court judges, led by Thomas Hutchinson, turned aside Otis’s suggestion to move, but he had made his point. The Whigs’ report continued:
This day the troops were removed from that Chamber, much to the satisfaction of the people who have looked upon their being placed there at first by the G[overno]r as an insult upon the whole province.
The army set up its main guard in a building facing the Town House, with a guard and a couple of small cannon at the door. So the Whigs complained that set-up threatened the civil government.