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, January 08, 2019

Newport Talk Postponed Because of Government Shutdown

I’m postponing the next installment of The Saga of the Brazen Head to share this announcement from Newport and some thoughts about it.

The Newport Historical Society was planning to host a lecture this week on “‘I am an honest woman’: Female Revolutionary Resistance along the New England Seacoast” by Dr. Emily Murphy, curator for the National Park Service at Salem Maritime National Historical Site.

This talk focuses on the spinning bees that became popular in New England in the late 1760s and early 1770s and what they can tell us about women’s political activity:
This presentation will examine how middle-class women participated in resisting the importation of British Goods in the years leading up to the American Revolution.

In Colonial New England, lower class men and women could take to the streets and protest, men of the middling sort could participate in political action, yet women of the middling class were restricted by law and society. This didn’t stop these wealthier women, who became known as Daughters of Liberty, from showing their support for the Patriot cause. Along the New England seacoast, it became a popular springtime occurrence for ladies to participate in spinning bees where they would create homespun fabric and boycott purchasing fabrics imported from England.
Murphy earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from Boston University in 2008 and has worked for the National Park Service for nearly twenty years. She’s also participated in many living history events across New England; the photo above shows her carding wool. She’s a terrific researcher who loves sharing history with the public.

Unfortunately, because Emily is an N.P.S. employee, the federal government shutdown means that right now she can’t do her job, isn’t being paid, and can’t deliver this lecture in Newport.

What’s more, Emily’s husband, a ranger at Minute Man National Historical Park, is also on furlough and not being paid. They’re not the only couple I know in which both partners work for the Park Service. Thousands of N.P.S. employees chose to serve the public by preserving our historical and natural inheritance, and most are now locked out without salary payments.

Without rangers and other staff, large parks are being damaged with litter and human waste. Three park visitors died in late December. The only N.P.S. site with more than a skeleton security staff, the Associated Press reports, is the one in the Trump-operated hotel in Washington, D.C.:
The Trump administration appears to have gone out of its way to keep the attraction in the federally owned building that houses the Trump hotel open and staffed with National Park Service rangers, even as other federal agencies shut all but the most essential services.
Before the Secretary of the Interior left office under multiple ethics investigations, Congress appeared to be moving toward a budget with more money for the department to tackle “deferred maintenance” projects. Now the parks are instead suffering more damage, the department is bending the law to grab other money, and much of the federal budget is up in the air.

It’s easy to trace the source of this mess. Back in mid-December, Donald Trump said he’d be “proud” to preside over a government shutdown. Then the White House press office signaled that in fact he’d accept a bill funding all government agencies through the end of the budget year. The Senate unanimously passed such a bill. Then the President broke that commitment. Earlier this month, he repudiated his designated negotiator’s compromise offer, confirming that no one has any reason to trust him. We’re all paying the price for his deep flaws, with some of our national historical properties and the people who care for them suffering extra hard.

The Newport Historical Society has postponed Emily Murphy’s talk to Thursday, 24 January, at 5:30 P.M.—assuming, that is, that the government shutdown will be over by then. This event will take place at the Newport Historical Society Resource Center at 82 Touro Street. Admission is $1 for members and retired or active-duty military, $5 for others. Keep watch for further announcements.

[ADDENDUM on 22 January: With the Trump shutdown still dragging on, this talk has been canceled.]


Charles Bahne said...

The scary thing is that some people are talking about making this shutdown last for years.

rvaccare said...

Again I ask you to please keep the politics out of a history blog. I realize this is your platform and you can do as you wish, but I come here every day to read about Revolutionary history, not current politics. There are plenty of other outlets for current political analysis. We are inundated with it every day... Trump this, Trump that, blah, blah, blah! I don't necessarily disagree with you, but please do not be another tentacle of the political analysis machine! Enough is enough! Post this story on CNN or MSNBC, you may get more fame for bringing the story to their attention.

J. L. Bell said...


This posting is about an event in Revolutionary New England history, sites of Revolutionary history, and people who interpret Revolutionary history all being shut down because of the President’s demands. It’s entirely relevant to the scope of this blog.

Let’s imagine that a municipal mayor somewhere was closing down her town’s little Revolutionary historic site and stopping pay for its caretakers because of an unrelated political demand. No one would claim that it would be inappropriate for this blog to report on that event and criticize the mayor’s position. The current federal government shutdown is the same situation, except magnified by several orders of magnitude.

Cady Liberty Caucus said...

I am going to stop following this blog due to this post. I didn't come here for politics, I came here for history.

J. L. Bell said...

Funny thing is, a lot of people go to National Park Service sites for history. Or the National Archives. Or other federal government agencies that are currently shut down, with their employees not being paid or working without pay. That situation makes this posting appropriate.

Let’s be honest, Todd Koeppel. You’re a right-wing fan of Donald Trump who doesn’t like to see his faults criticized, even when those faults are hurting the preservation and sharing of American history. You wouldn’t object to a mix of history and politics if the politics were the sort you agree with.

Aethelred the Unready said...

Seriously. Besides, this has gone beyond mere "politics" to affect every aspect of American life--including how we remember the past.