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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Sunday, March 31, 2019

“The Tendency and Design of the Letters”

On 2 June 1773, the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court listened to a reading of the bundle of letters that Benjamin Franklin had sent from London.

The record doesn’t show whether Samuel Adams did the reading as the assembly’s clerk, but he certainly orchestrated the moment.

Members noted that the authors of those letters included Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, Customs Commission Charles Paxton, and Admiralty court judge Robert Auchmuty. All royal appointees who had advocated accepting Parliament’s new taxes and other laws.

The representatives decided to make themselves into “a Committee of the whole House” to discuss what to do next, then broke for midday dinner.

At three o’clock the members returned to their chamber. Speaker Thomas Cushing stepped down from the chair, and member John Hancock took his place as chair of the committee of the whole. At the end of the discussion, Hancock put forward this report:

That it was the Opinion of the Committee, that the Tendency and Design of the Letters read in the Forenoon and committed to their Consideration, was to overthrow the Constitution of this Government, and to introduce arbitrary Power into the Province.
The men in the chamber approved that accusatory statement by a vote of 101 to 5. The next morning, they decided, they would choose a committee of nine to make a formal response to the letters.

All that happened on a Wednesday. Two print shops in Boston were preparing newspapers to be published on Thursday morning.

Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter had detailed reports on the opening days of the legislative session, including the house’s vote to form a committee of correspondence and the Council’s reply to the governor’s opening address. (Ordinarily the two houses would reply together, but this year the house had declined.) The News-Letter had no mention of the letters.

Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy, on the other hand, laid out the Whig line:
For several days past some extraordinary discoveries have been talked of, which were expected to amaze the whole province. Hints have been thrown out, that the characters of some men in power would appear infamous to the highest degree; all seemed to be a general surmise and expectation, until yesterday about eleven o’clock before noon, when the galleries in the Commons House of Assembly, were ordered to be cleared of all present.

This confirmed the general opinion, and we are well informed, that very important matters will soon transpire, which will bring many dark things to light—gain many proselytes to the cause of freedom—make tyrannical rulers tremble, and give occasion for the whole people to bless the providence of God, who causeth the wicked man to fall into the pit he hath digged for another.
Way to raise expectations, Mr. Thomas.

COMING UP: More maneuvers around secret letters.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

“Letters of an extraordinary Nature”

When the Massachusetts General Court convened in Boston’s Town House in May 1773, one of the first substantial pieces of business the house did was to respond to a letter from the House of Burgesses in Virginia suggesting a committee to trade information and coordinate action.

On 28 May, Boston representative and house clerk Samuel Adams proposed setting up a committee of correspondence. Four staunch supporters of the royal government voted against it. The committee was soon stacked with strong Whigs.

The next day other committees took up the issues of banning slave imports, improving the militia, getting rid of Boston’s old powder house, and paying the legislature’s lobbyists in London, including Benjamin Franklin.

For a while, the Council kept asking for the house to join in a response to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s address opening the session, and the house kept putting that off. Adams himself went up the Council chamber to explain why. The Council stopped asking.

Then on 2 June:
The House was informed by one of its Members, that he had Matters that greatly concern’d the Province, to communicate with the Leave of the House. And the same Member moved that the Galleries be cleared.
Word went out that all members should come into the chamber, and the doors were closed.
Then Mr. Adams acquainted the House, that he had perceived the Minds of the People to be greatly agitated with a prevailing Report that Letters of an extraordinary Nature had been written and sent to England, greatly to the Prejudice of this Province:

That he had obtain’d certain Letters with different Signatures, with the Consent of the Gentleman from whom he had received them that they should be read in the House under certain Restrictions, namely that the said Letters be neither Printed nor Copied in Whole or in Part; and accordingly he offered them for the Consideration of the House.
The “Gentleman” who had given the letters to Adams was Thomas Cushing, speaker of the house, who had received them from Franklin. As quoted back here, Franklin had asked those letters to be shown around only to a small circle of men.

Adams argued that public concern meant that the entire house should hear the letters read aloud. Of course, if “the People” were “greatly agitated” about those documents, that was because Adams and his political allies had been talking about them for months.

TOMORROW: Behind closed doors.

Friday, March 29, 2019

“No Copies of the whole or any Part to be taken”

On 24 Mar 1773, as described yesterday, Thomas Cushing promised Benjamin Franklin that he and other Massachusetts Whig legislators wouldn’t make any copies of the letters Franklin had sent from London with his approval.

Franklin had also specified that those letters should circulate only to a small number of men. But two days before Cushing wrote, they were in the hands of a man who wasn’t on Franklin’s list.

On 22 March John Adams wrote in his diary:
This Afternoon received a Collection of Seventeen Letters, written from this Province, Rhode Island, Connecticutt and N. York, by [Thomas] Hutchinson, [Andrew] Oliver, [Dr. Thomas] Moffat, [Charles] Paxton, and [George] Rome, in the Years 1767, 8, 9.
By 1773 Hutchinson was governor, Oliver lieutenant governor, and Paxton still a Customs Commmissioner. Dr. Moffat of Connecticut and Rome of Rhode Island were supporters of the royal governments in those colonies, which still elected their governors. The full collection also included letters Nathaniel Rogers, a young merchant and nephew of Hutchinson who had died in 1770, and from Robert Auchmuty, an admiralty court judge, to Hutchinson.

Adams’s diary entry recorded what he had heard and thought of the letters:
They came from England under such Injunctions of Secrecy, as to the Person to whom they were written, by whom and to whom they are sent here, and as to the Contents of them, no Copies of the whole or any Part to be taken, that it is difficult to make any public Use of them.

These curious Projectors and Speculators in Politicks, will ruin this Country—cool, thinking, deliberate Villains, malicious, and vindictive, as well as ambitious and avaricious.

The Secrecy of these epistolary Genii is very remarkable—profoundly secret, dark, and deep
Adams used the word “Secrecy” twice in three short paragraphs—once referring to the leaker’s conditions about the letters, and again referring to the supposed schemes of the men who wrote those letters. In Adams’s eyes, some secrecy was necessary, other secrecy was nefarious.

Decades later, on 28 Jan 1820, Adams told the botanist David Hosack how he had helped to spread the word about the documents that spring:
I was one of the first Persons to whom Mr Cushing communicated the great bundle of Letters of Hutchinson and Oliver, which have been transmitted to him as Speaker of the House of Representatives by Dr Franklin their Agent in London—I was permitted to carry them with me upon a Circuit of our Judicial Court—and to Communicate them to the chosen few—

they excited no suprise; excepting at the Miracle of their acquisition—how that could have been performed nobody could conjecture—none doubted their Authenticity; for the hand writing was full proof, and besides all the leading Men in opposition to the Ministery had long been fully convinced that the writers were guilty of such malignant representation—and that those representations had suggested to the Ministery their nefarious projects
While I’ve learned to take Adams’s late-life reminiscences about his central place in some incidents of the Revolution with a grain of salt, this story fits with the contemporaneous evidence.

Adams returned the bundle to Cushing when he came back from riding circuit. Evidently those documents continued to circulate among Whigs in Boston, but still secretly. On the eve of the May session of the new Massachusetts General Court, Adams wrote in his diary:
The Plotts, Plans, Schemes, and Machinations of this Evening and Night, will be very numerous. By the Number of Ministerial, Governmental People returned, and by the Secrecy of the Friends of Liberty, relating to the grand discovery of the compleat Evidence of the whole Mystery of Iniquity, I much fear the Elections will go unhappily.
The “Elections” Adams referred to there weren’t the towns’ elections of representatives to the new house, which had already taken place. Rather, he meant the choice by that new house and the outgoing Council of men to sit on the new Council. Adams knew that he himself was up for consideration, and he had mixed feelings about that:
For myself, I own I tremble at the Thought of an Election. What will be expected of me? What will be required of me? What Duties and Obligations will result to me, from an Election? What Duties to my God, my King, my Country, my Family, my Friends, myself? What Perplexities, and Intricacies, and Difficulties shall I be exposed to? What Snares and Temptations will be thrown in my Way? What Self denials and Mortifications shall I be obliged to bear?
The legislature’s strong Whig majority indeed voted Adams onto the Council, the last of the eighteen men named from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (There were separate choices for Councilors from the Plymouth, Maine, and northern Maine districts and for two members at large.)

The next day, Gov. Hutchinson vetoed Adams’s membership, along with two other men. So he needn’t have fretted.

TOMORROW: The letters in the legislature.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

“I have engag’d that it shall not be printed”

In the spring of 1773, the Boston Whigs had an incendiary document that they wanted to share with the public. But the person who supplied that document had asked them not to make copies or circulate it widely.

The document was a collection of letters from Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver, and other friends of the royal government to the British official Thomas Whately in the late 1760s. The person who had supplied that collection was Benjamin Franklin, the London lobbyist for the Massachusetts house.

On 2 Dec 1772 Franklin had sent the letters to Thomas Cushing, speaker of the house, saying:
On this Occasion I think it fit to acquaint you that there has lately fallen into my Hands Part of a Correspondence, that I have reason to believe laid the Foundation of most if not all our present Grievances. I am not at liberty to tell thro’ what Channel I receiv’d it; and I have engag’d that it shall not be printed, nor any Copies taken of the whole or any part of it; but I am allow’d and desired to let it be seen by some Men of Worth in the Province for their Satisfaction only.

In confidence of your preserving inviolably my Engagement, I send you enclos’d the original Letters, to obviate every Pretence of Unfairness in Copying, Interpolation or Omission. The Hands of the Gentlemen will be well known. . . .

I therefore wish I was at Liberty to make the Letters publick; but as I am not, I can only allow them to be seen by yourself, by the other Gentlemen of the Committee of Correspondence, by Messrs. [James] Bowdoin, and [James] Pitts, of the Council, and Drs. [Charles] Chauncey, [Samuel] Cooper and [John] Winthrop, with a few such other Gentlemen as you may think it fit to show them to. After being some Months in your Possession, you are requested to return them to me.
Chauncy and Cooper were Boston’s most respected Whig ministers. Winthrop was a Harvard professor.

On 24 March, Cushing wrote back:
I have communicated them to some of the Gentlemen you mentioned. They are of opinion, that though it might be inconvenient to publish them, yet it might be expedient to have Copys taken and left on this side the water as there may be a necessity to make some use of them hereafter, however I read to them what you had wrote me upon the occasion, and told them I could by no means Consent Copys of them or any part of them should be taken without your express Leave, that I would write you upon the subject and should strictly Conform to your directions.
Despite Cushing’s assurances, other men besides the six Franklin had specified had already seen the copies of the letters.

TOMORROW: Information wants to be free.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Rev. Dr. Stiles Ponders When “Dr. Church was wavering”

On 16 Mar 1773, the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles of Newport put some Massachusetts news into his diary:
At Boston the Sons of Liberty celebrated or commemorating the Anniversary of the Massacre 5th. Inst. [i.e., of this month] when Dr [Benjamin] Church delivered an Oration in the Old South Church or Meetinghouse. Gov. [Thomas] Hutchinson had sent for Dr. Church and endeavored to dissuade him, but without Success.
Church had been born in Newport, and Stiles, a fan of Boston’s Whigs, knew members of his family.

In the fall of 1775, a ciphered letter sent through Newport revealed that Dr. Church was in secret correspondence with people in Boston. This was a bombshell for Patriot leaders. (Some of their wives, knowing that Church was flagrantly cheating on his own wife, were less surprised by this betrayal.)

Patriot men reluctantly concluded that Church had been a paid informant for Gen. Thomas Gage for months. They still lacked definite proof (which didn’t become public until the twentieth century), so they still didn’t know when Church started to cooperate with the royal authorities or what information he had shared.

On 28 Jan 1777, Stiles was back at his diary, pondering the mysteries of Dr. Church. He started by recalling the moment he had recorded almost four years before, but in a different light:
Dr. Church was wavering when he delivered his Oration in 17—. He was a firm Patriot at penning the Suffolk Resolves Sept. 1774—he was already corrupted at the Battle of Lexington Apr. 1775. It is matter of Inquiry, the time of corruption?

I tho’t his conduct odd, and Bravado like, in going into Bo[ston]. after Lexington, carrying in Letters, being taken up, carried before Gen. Gage, in being suffered to talk so laconicly as it was said he did to Gage.

In the Summer of 1775 he was up at Newp[or]t., but little seen by Friends of Liberty, & his Cousin Ch[urch]. then said he was not good. Col. Ezra R[ichmond (1721-1800)] tells me Dr. Ch[urc]h. was at Newp[or]t. between 5th. March & Lexington, he spent Eveng. with the Dr. at Dighton & found him unaccountable & shrewd & sagacious.

The Col. asked, wh[at] would the End of these things be? His Answer vague, yet implying that after fightg. awhile the affairs would be compromised, yet so that America would be conquered & G[reat]. B[ritain]. carry her point.

Also said, he & [John] Hancock &c had been invited to dine with Gen. Gage who treated them with great Politeness & Affability, & beg’d them to use their Influenee to prevent the Oration 5 March—that a week after Gage sent for him—& says Chh., what would you think of £30000.—

The Colonel thinks he reallized 25 Thousd. So his Conversion in March 1775; He is now in Bo[ston]. Goal [jail].
In researching The Road to Concord, I concluded that Dr. Church started to feed Gage serious information on 25 Feb 1775, immediately after the doctor had attended three days of meetings with the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety and supplies.

What then should we make of this story of Gage traducing Church with thousands of pounds a couple of weeks later? Why would the governor make such an offer to a man already working for him? Why, for that matter, would Church report such an offer to anyone else? (Assuming, of course, that Stiles correctly recorded what Richmond had told him, and that Richmond accurately remembered what he had heard.)

I conclude that when Dr. Church talked about Gage’s money, he was boasting to Richmond about an offer he had ostensibly turned down as a way to burnish his Patriot credentials. Perhaps that story was fueled by a guilty conscience or simple wishfulness—we know Church was eager for money, a running theme in his surviving reports to his handlers during the siege of Boston. But the doctor surely wasn’t trying to raise suspicions about his loyalty that summer.

A couple of years later Richmond, feeling certain of Church’s treachery but baffled by the motive behind it, looked back on that conversation and saw it as a confession. He could then express his belief that the doctor “reallized 25 Thousd.” When, of course, he and Stiles had no better information on that point than before.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

“There the people were much frightened”

Yesterday we left James Reed of the “Woburn Precinct” (Burlington) hosting about a dozen British soldiers in his house on the afternoon of 19 Apr 1775.

Some of those redcoats had given themselves up in Lexington in the morning while others had seen hard fighting on their way back from Concord. Testifying in 1825, Reed said, “Towards evening, it was thought best to remove them from my house.”

Reed’s house was probably prominent. It was located near a highway through Middlesex County. John Hancock and Samuel Adams had stopped there early that day, long enough to send back to Lexington for Lydia Hancock and Dolly Quincy before they all moved on to the parsonage where the widow Abigail Jones was ready to feed them.

But a prominent house wouldn’t have been an asset if the British military came looking for its lost men. The Massachusetts militia had defeated a force of over a thousand men with two cannon, but they knew there were thousands more soldiers, and scores more cannon, inside Boston.

Reed therefore gathered some other militiamen and moved the prisoners on:
I, with the assistance of some others, marched them to one Johnson’s in Woburn Precinct, and there kept a guard over them during the night.
There were simply too many Johnsons in Woburn to identify this one with certainty. I think the most prominent local man of that name was Josiah Johnson, a militia officer who would be elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress the following month. But some of his cousins might dispute that.

Reed evidently stayed at one Johnson’s house with the redcoats and his fellow guards because he stated:
The next morning, we marched them to Billerica; but the people were so alarmed, and not willing to have them left there, we then took them to Chelmsford, and there the people were much frightened; but the Committee of Safety consented to have them left, provided, that we would leave a guard. Accordingly, some of our men agreed to stay.
Having moved his charges further northwest into the Massachusetts countryside, Reed got to go home to his less-crowded house on 20 April.

The people of Billerica and Chelmsford and nearby towns probably worried about a British military attack just as much as people in Woburn. And that’s where my talk last Saturday about those P.O.W.’s intersects with that day’s other presentation, by Alexander Cain of Historical Nerdery and Untapped History.

Alex explored the “Great Ipswich Fright,” a panic on 21 April in towns along the North Shore from Beverly to Newburyport. Almost all the militiamen from those Essex County towns had gone down to the siege lines. That morning a British naval vessel appeared at the mouth of the Ipswich River. That set off a panic of people fearing that enraged redcoats would land, burn, and pillage—perhaps on their way to those prisoners that Patriot officials had insisted on holding in Chelmsford.

Monday, March 25, 2019

James Reed and His Prisoners of War

In 1825 James Reed of Burlington testified about his experiences on 19 Apr 1775. At that time, Burlington was still part of Woburn, and Reed turned out with a company of Woburn militiamen. They reached Lexington shortly after the British column had passed through, killing eight men on the common.

Reed stated:
I also saw a British soldier march up the road, near said meeting-house, and Joshua Reed of Woburn met him, and demanded him to surrender. He then took his arms and equipments from him, and I took charge of him, and took him to my house, then in Woburn Precinct.
Reed’s house appears in the photo above, from the collection of the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington. That shows the house in 1955 as Route 128 was constructed nearby. Rob Cotsa reported last year that “The house was moved to construct the Burlington mall and later was destroyed by fire.”

Back to Reed’s recollection:
I also testify, that E. Walsh brought to my house, soon after I returned home with my prisoner, two more of said British troops; and two more were immediately brought, and I suppose, by John Munroe and Thomas R. Willard of Lexington; and I am confident, that one more was brought, but by whom, I don’t now recollect. All the above prisoners were taken at Lexington immediately after the main body had left the common, and were conveyed to my house early in the morning; and I took charge of them.
Thus, Reed had taken one redcoat to his house, but by noon he was in charge of six. All of these men were stragglers from Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s column. They hadn’t seen any fighting, and there was no chance they were wounded. Not did Reed mention any of them putting up any resistance. They were deserters as much as prisoners of war.

Reed’s “I suppose” suggests he had heard John Munroe’s recollection in his own 1825 deposition:
On the morning of the 19th, two of the British soldiers, who were in the rear of the main body of their troops, were taken prisoners and disarmed by our men, and, a little after sun-rise, they were put under the care of Thomas R. Willard and myself, with orders to march them to Woburn Precinct, now Burlington. We conducted them as far as Capt. James Read’s, where they were put into the custody of some other persons, but whom I do not now recollect.
Remarkably, Munroe’s father Robert had just been one of the first men killed on the town green, as he stood nearby. Thomas Rice Willard had watched the firing from the window of a house.

As for Reed’s house in Woburn, it was just beginning to fill:
In the afternoon five or six more of said British troops, that were taken prisoners in the afternoon, when on the retreat from Concord, were brought to my house and put under my care.
Those men had been all the way out to Concord and seen hard fighting on the way back. Reed said nothing about any of those regulars being wounded, however. It looks like the hurt regulars were cared for by local doctors closer to the line of march instead of marched up to the next town. With ten to twelve of the enemy to look after, Reed might have been getting nervous.

TOMORROW: What to do with the Massachusetts army’s first prisoners?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

“Speak Out!” at Old South, 27 Mar.

On Wednesday, 27 March, the Old South Meeting House will host the fifth annual “Speak Out!” commemoration of the annual Boston Massacre orations, co-sponsored by the Bostonian Society.

The event description says:
Each year from 1772 to 1775, massive numbers of men, women, and children gathered here at Old South Meeting House to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, with rousing speeches by John Hancock, Benjamin Church, and Dr. Joseph Warren. Join us to hear excerpts of these speeches, performed by an inter-generational group in the same hall where the orations took place 240 years ago!

This year’s program will include excerpts from the “Crispus Attucks Memorials” delivered in 1858 by William Cooper Nell and Dr. John Sweatt Rock, which zeroed in on the institution of slavery in relation to the rhetoric of liberty.
This occasion isn’t just for listening to speeches, though. Audience members can choose to read selected excerpts, and the most rousing orators in youth and adult categories will receive prizes.

Folks who want to study the texts in advance can send a request to education@osmh.org with the subject line “Orations Reader.”

This event will start at 6:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public, but Old South asks people to register here.

The picture above shows William Cooper Nell (1816-1874), who in addition to being one of Boston’s foremost civil-rights activists in the mid-1800s was also a Revolutionary War historian.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

“If one old Yankee woman can take six grenadiers…”?

In his 1864 address West Cambridge on the Nineteenth of April, 1775, Samuel Abbott Smith told the story of six regulars surrendering to “Mother Batherick” after the supply wagon they were rolling west was attacked.

Smith added:
The squib went the rounds of the English opposition papers, “If one old Yankee woman can take six grenadiers, how many soldiers will it require to conquer America?”
Within ten years, that story and that line were appearing in an American school textbook, The Franklin Fourth Reader by G. S. Hillard:
16. The drivers are said to have surrendered themselves to an old woman whom they met, whose protection they begged. Whereupon there went the rounds of the English papers belonging to the opposition this interesting sum in the Rule of Three: “If one old Yankee woman can take six grenadiers, how many soldiers will it require to conquer America?”
The line has been quoted in many histories of the battle, from Colonial Society of Massachusetts publications to Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride to popular compendiums published in the last few years.

But all the citations for the statements about that gibe in British newspapers appear to go back to Smith, writing almost ninety years after the event on a different continent. No author points to an actual newspaper or politician in Britain saying such a thing.

I don’t have access to a British newspaper database, but I’ve looked for such a statement quoted in American newspapers during the war and in the books and magazines scanned on Google Books. And I’m still looking.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Samuel Phillips Savage: “ye fire fell all around us”

When the Great Fire of Boston broke out in March 1760, merchant Samuel Phillips Savage was one of the town’s selectmen, thus bearing extra civic responsibilities.

Two weeks later, Savage wrote an account of the fire. He heavily revised his draft, crossing out and inserting many phrases and even scribbling a whole new paragraph in between the lines of another.

Savage evidently kept that draft for his records, and it’s now held at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The document doesn’t state the letter’s recipient, but it must be someone who lived nearby because he or she had already heard about the fire.

Savage wrote back:
I am obligd for your Sympathy with the Afflictd Town of Boston on Acct of the late awfull Fire,

I was wak’d with the Cry just after two and when I left the house which was not till I had fully dresd me, I could scarce see any Effects of the Flames but before I got way there the whole house were it began was on fire and by a little after day it had distroyd 345 houses, Warehouses & Shops, never did my Eyes behold so amazing a Scene—

in the hight I happened to be on the top of Fort hill, leading a poor old Woman of 80 just escaped with her life to a Brothers house who had escaped, then I beheld a torrent of Fire, impitously carrying all before it, & would I believe how watered [?], had the town reached 20 Miles farther in yt direction for not one house is left in the exant to leeward of ye Wind.

Once in ye hight of the fire, trembling for fear of the Magazine I went to speak at a fireward who stood in the Midst of fire, then I can say without Exageration that I never in my life was in a greater Storm of Snow or knew it snow faster than ye fire fell all around us.

the Engines then provd useless—their Every attempt provd in vain, the flames had their Commiss’. and tryumphed over, the
And there that page ends.

Here’s the paragraph interlined after “Town of Boston”:
We are really worthy yr pity, you canot have any just Idea of the Calamity, and yet I have not heard One murmering Word. I was out the whole Night and happend abt the hight to be on top of the adjoined hill assisting a aged Woman who had escaped the Flame of her own house and wanted my help to lead her to a friends—the Sight was awfull, I confess at the time the thought of its being a Stroke of heaven absorbd all other Considerations. The loss [?] seemd nothing—but although so many have sufferd and come so greatly yet our Xtian benevolent Neighbors help us.
When transcribing this letter, I struggled with several words, particularly “impitously.” Then I went home and discovered that Savage must have written a variation of “impiteously,” meaning “pitilessly.”

“Watered,” which appears in an inserted phrase written hastily and in small letters, is still a guess. The sentiment is clear—Savage didn’t see any way to stop the fire from going where the wind took it, which fortunately was to the harbor.

(In quoting the letter above, I omitted crossed-out words, didn’t note inserts, and broke the text into shorter paragraphs for easier reading.)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Seeking Out a Statement by “Samuel Savage”

On 21 Mar 1760, Bostonians were assessing the damage from the great fire that had started in Mary Jackson’s shop the night before. So this is a good day to resume The Saga of the Brazen Head.

I’ll start a peek behind the scenes of tomorrow’s posting. I really wanted to find a first-person, close-up account of that fire. I’ve quoted newspaper reports, a broadside, a sermon, and diaries from men in other neighborhoods. But all those descriptions had a distanced quality, produced by either actual physical distance or their collective voice.

I spotted a couple of short quotations in Stephanie Schorow’s Boston on Fire: A History of Fires and Firefighting in Boston (2002) which gave me hope of tracking down more. Schorow’s notes pointed me to the books that she’d (inexactly) quoted from, including Carl Seaburg’s Boston Observed (1971).

And there the trail went dead. Boston Observed is a reader made up mostly of a lot of quotations about Boston from across the centuries, Seaburg noted the sources of those long quotations reasonably well—but not the shorter quotations in his introductory essays. And that’s where the sentences in question appeared.

Seaburg credited certain comments on the 1760 fire to a man he called “Samuel Savage.” He also wrote that the fire had started in “the Brazen Head tavern on King Street.” This whole series of postings started simply because I wanted to correct the misunderstanding (which goes back to a town publication in the late 1800s) that the Sign of the Brazen Head was a tavern rather than a hardware shop. Also, that shop was on Cornhill, not King Street. So I wasn’t completely confident about Seaburg’s quoting.

I made a self-educated guess that “Samuel Savage” was Samuel Phillips Savage (1718-1797, shown above), a Boston merchant and town official in the early 1760s who then moved out to Weston. He came back to chair some of the big public meetings in Old South during the tea crisis. Some of the letters Savage received from his old colleagues and neighbors are valuable sources about what was going on in the big town during the pre-Revolutionary turmoil.

The Massachusetts Historical Society holds Samuel Phillips Savage Papers. In fact, it holds four series of S. P. Savage Papers, apparently because descendants have donated those documents in batches. Unfortunately, the M.H.S. doesn’t have a finding aid for that collection, which would make it easier to look for a particular document, or at all documents from the spring of 1760. Instead, each series has its own chronological sequence.

M.H.S. reference librarian Anna Clutterbuck-Cook helped me understand those nuances of the S. P. Savage Paperses. She also suggested it was worth looking in the Catalogue of Manuscripts of the Massachusetts Historical Society, a nine-volume reference printed in 1969 (with a supplement in 1980). Since Seaburg wrote in 1970, I could probably ignore manuscripts acquired after then.

And that worked! One of the items listed in the printed manuscript catalog was S. P. Savage II’s 3 Apr 1760 “Letter to [unknown] about fire in Boston.” That told me which series of Savage Papers to request in the reading room.

(The manuscript catalogue described another letter in that series this way: “Letter to Mr. Joslyn about young Savage’s conduct,” dated 5 Feb 1756. So of course I made a note to look at that, too. Just a taste: “…it seems a little Strange if they are married, they should be ashamd or afraid to say by whom . . . you have the facts as to his Conduct with Bety Wyre and his Child, whose Care is peculiar and really calls for Pitty—I wish that young Creature may be the only One he has ruined—I should be glad if you would inform me, if Mary Sharrad (for Mary Savage I really believe is not her name), is brought to bed…” Savage conduct indeed.)

TOMORROW: Samuel Phillips Savage at the Great Boston Fire.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Another Mystery of Nero Faneuil

The likelihood that George Washington’s cook Hercules took his first owner’s surname and went by Hercules Posey in New York brought back thoughts about how another black man might have negotiated slavery and freedom in the early republic.

Last month I highlighted the name of “Nero Funels” on a 1777 Massachusetts anti-slavery petition. I posited that this was a phonetic spelling of Faneuil, and that the same man as Nero Faneuil was involved in two Boston burglaries in 1784.

One of the witnesses in those trials was Nero Faneuil’s wife Flora. Two other witnesses were surnamed Hitchborn (or a variation on that name):

  • Prince Hitchborn, almost certainly given that first name as an enslaved child, was at Nero and Flora Faneuil’s house in November 1784.
  • Elite young lawyer Benjamin Hichborn testified to Nero’s character.

That suggests some link between the Nero Faneuil and the Hitchborn household in the North End.

Boston town records state that on 20 Apr 1780 Nero Williams of Roxbury and Flora Hitchburne, “free negroes,” were married. I haven’t found any record of the marriage of Nero and Flora Faneuil. Nor have I found any other mention of Nero Williams. To be sure, there were other black men named Nero and other black women named Flora, but I haven’t found any other married couples with those names.

So here’s one possible reconstruction of Nero Faneuil’s life. He was either born into slavery or enslaved by a member of the Faneuil family, and used that family’s surname when signing the anti-slavery petition in 1777.

The Revolution sent different members of the white mercantile Faneuil family in different directions:
  • Benjamin Faneuil, Sr., had become blind and lived in retirement with his daughter and son-in-law, Mary and George Bethune, in the part of Cambridge that became Brighton.
  • That man’s sons Benjamin, Jr., and Peter were Loyalists, moving to Canada and elsewhere during the war and thus at risk of losing their Massachusetts property.
  • Pierre Benjamin Faneuil, a francophone cousin, came to Boston from Saint-Domingue with the hope of raising a regiment of French Canadians to support the Continental cause, but died of illness in 1777 before accomplishing anything.

Nero Faneuil might have belonged to any of those households in 1777 and then been sold to someone named Williams in Roxbury by 1780. Joseph Williams was a big farmer in that town, for example. If so, town authorities might have listed Nero with the surname Williams in 1780 in the record of his marriage to Flora Hitchburne.

In 1783, Massachusetts’s high court ruled slavery unenforceable. By the following year Nero Faneuil was a free man in Boston married to a woman named Flora. Was he also Nero Williams, having reverted to using the Faneuil surname?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hercules Posey, Cook in New York

Craig LaBan’s article for the Philadelphia newspapers about the mysteries surrounding George Washington’s escaped cook Hercules didn’t stop at debunking the claim that he was the black man wearing a tall white hat in a widely reprinted portrait.

LaBan also reported new information about what really happened to Hercules. The last known trace of him had been a 15 Dec 1801 letter from Martha Washington to the mayor of New York, thanking him for seeking Hercules and concluding, “I have been so fortunate as to engage a white cook who answers very well. I have thought about it therefore better to decline taking Hercules back.”

That hinted that the Washingtons, having previously sought Hercules in Philadelphia, came to suspect he was in New York.

Back in 2016, a children’s book about Hercules was abruptly canceled just before publication, as discussed back here. The author who had been recruited to write that book, Ramin Ganeshram, had already been working on a novel about the cook and the painter Gilbert Stuart, inspired by the mistaken belief that LaBan wrote about. That book, The General’s Cook, was published last year.

Ganeshram is also the executive director of the Westport Historical Society in Connecticut, and as doubts arose about the “Hercules portrait” that inspired her fiction she wanted to find out more about the real man. Ganeshram and her colleague Sara Krasne, an archivist, looked at New York records for traces.

The crucial clue was that Washington had bought Hercules as a young man from another Virginia planter named John Posey. We know that William Lee, the general’s body servant during the war, continued to use the surname of his first owner throughout his life. Had Hercules done the same?

The New York city directory for 1812 listed a black man named Hercules Posey living on Orange Street. On 15 May of that year, that Posey died of consumption. The death record stated that he was sixty-four years old and had been born in Virginia, which is a reasonable match for what little we know about Hercules the cook.

As described in this blog post, New York City archivists found evidence from a few years later that Posey’s address was in a neighborhood of black workers.

I’m adding another breadcrumb to this cook’s trail. The 1812 directory listed Posey as a laborer. The 1808 edition of Longworth’s American Almanac: New York Register and City Directory listed him at another address on Orange Street, and identified him as a cook.

ADDENDUM: After I wrote about this posting on Twitter, Sara Krasne replied that she and Ramin Ganeshram had just found Hercules Posey listed as a cook in an 1807 New York city directory.

Monday, March 18, 2019

New Findings about an Old Portrait

Earlier this month Craig LaBan reported for the Philadelphia newspapers on the portrait shown here.

In recent decades this been widely identified as showing Hercules, a cook enslaved by President George Washington. Hercules achieved high status in the Mount Vernon workforce, but then he secured his freedom by leaving in 1797.

The painting has been attributed to Gilbert Stuart, apparently because he’s the most famous painter known to have painted the Washingtons around that time.

One detail which should have made people wonder, I think, is that this painting is at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. An odd place to find an American painting linked to an American President, wouldn’t you say? (To be sure, there are reproductions in many American museums now.)

LaBan reported some important conclusions about the painting and Hercules:
  • Experts in Stuart’s art agree that this canvas doesn’t match his technique. The only link to that artist is wishfulness.
  • The tall white cylindrical hat that we know as a toque didn’t become standard for chefs in France until the early 1800s, spreading from that country to others. Hercules surely didn’t wear one at Mount Vernon or the Presidential mansion.
  • The headgear in the painting looks similar to the hat of a man in a painting of free black people on Dominica made by the Italian artist Agostino Brunias (d. 1796) around 1770. 
Thus, the painting is most likely a portrait of a man on Dominica or another Caribbean island. An unnamed man by an unnamed artist—at least for now.

TOMORROW: A real trace of Hercules the cook?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

“The more I think of our Enemies quitting Boston…”

Here’s how Abigail Adams experienced the British evacuation of Boston on 17 Mar 1776. She was at the family home in Braintree, writing to her husband John in Philadelphia. (And she had a cold, but I’m skipping that.)
I find the fireing was occasiond by our peoples taking possession of Nook Hill, which they kept in spite of the Cannonade, and which has really obliged our Enemy to decamp this morning on board the Transports; as I hear by a mesenger just come from Head Quarters.

Some of the [Boston] Select Men have been to the lines and inform that they have carried of[f] [every]thing they could [po]ssibly take, and what they could not they have [burnt, broke, or hove into the water. This] is I [believe fact,] many articles of good Household furniture having in the course of the week come on shore at Great Hill, both upon this and Weymouth Side, Lids of Desks, mahogona chairs, tables &c.

Our People I hear will have Liberty to enter Boston, those who have had the small pox. The Enemy have not yet come under sail. I cannot help suspecting some design which we do not yet comprehend; to what quarter of the World they are bound is wholy unknown, but tis generally Thought to New york. Many people are elated with their quitting Boston. I confess I do not feel so, tis only lifting the burden from one shoulder to the other which perhaps is less able or less willing to support it.—
(You know, that sounds like a dig at New York.)
To what a contemptable situation are the Troops of Britain reduced! I feel glad however that Boston is not distroyed. I hope it will be so secured and guarded as to baffel all future attempts against it.— . . .

From Pens Hill we have a view of the largest Fleet ever seen in America. You may count upwards of 100 & 70 Sail. They look like a Forrest.

It was very lucky for us that we got possession of Nook Hill. They had placed their cannon so as to fire upon the Top of the Hill where they had observed our people marking out the Ground, but it was only to elude them for they began lower upon the Hill and nearer the Town. It was a very foggy dark evening and they had possession of the Hill six hours before a gun was fired, and when they did fire they over shot our people so that they were coverd before morning and not one man lost, which the enemy no sooner discoverd than Bunker Hill was abandoned and every Man decamp’d as soon as he could for they found they should not be able to get away if we once got our cannon mounted.

Our General may say with Ceasar veni vidi et vici.
On Monday morning Adams returned to the topic of the British departure and the end of the siege:
The more I think of our Enemies quitting Boston, the more amaz’d I am, that they should leave such a harbour, such fortifications, such intrenchments, and that we should be in peaceable possession of a Town which we expected would cost us a river of Blood without one Drop shed. Shurely it is the Lords doings and it is Marvelous in our Eyes.
Like Gen. Washington, Adams didn’t know that the British commanders had been wanting to leave Boston for months, harbor and entrenchments or no.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

“His Excellency is apprehensive”

On 16 Mar 1776, the British military still hadn’t evacuated Boston.

To be fair, that wasn’t for lack of trying. The previous day, Capt. John Barker wrote in his journal:
The Wind being fair at 12 oclock in the day, the Troops were order’d under Arms in order to embark; but after waiting some time returned to their Quarters, the Wind having shifted.
As far back as 9 March, a British officer wrote: “I have slept one night on board [a transport ship]; the troops are embarking as fast as possible.”

But that wasn’t fast enough to reassure Gen. George Washington. Within a few days of the Continental move onto Dorchester heights, Gen. William Howe had signaled through the Boston selectmen that he was pulling out. Washington had responded by ordering the Continental artillery to hold back, as his military secretary Robert Hanson Harrison wrote to Gen. Artemas Ward:
It is his desire that you give peremptory Orders to the Artillery Officer commandg at Lams Dam [in Roxbury], that he must not fire upon the Town of Boston tonight unless the Enemy first begin a Cannonade, and that you Inform the Officer at Dorchester heights that he is not to fire from thence on the Town—If they begin, and we have any Cannon on Nuke Hill, his Excellency wou’d have the fire to be returned from thence among the Shipping and every damage [don]e them that possibly can.

Notwithstanding the accounts received of [the] Enemy’s being about to evacuate the Town with all seeming hurry & expedition, his Excellency is apprehensive that Genl Howe has some design of having a brush before his departure and is only waiting in hopes of findg us of[f] our Guard
What Harrison called “Nuke Hill” was more commonly known as Nook’s Hill or Foster’s Hill. It was the corner of the Dorchester peninsula closest to Boston. The Continentals had started to fortify that position, but then backed off after a British artillery attack killed a man and the commanders reached their “tacit agreement.”

But now it was a week later, and the British hadn’t left. “Still detained by the Wind,” Barker wrote on Saturday, 16 March. Selectman Timothy Newell reported only “Rain” and looting.

Gen. Washington had had enough. He ordered Continental soldiers back to Nook Hill, where they completed building an artillery emplacement without suffering any casualties from British fire. From that position they could hit both the town of Boston and the scores of ships gathered in the harbor.

TOMORROW: Gone at last.

Friday, March 15, 2019

“He would raise a thousand Men at his own expence”?

At last night’s presentation on the John and Abigail Adams and George Washington, I related an anecdote that circulated at the First Continental Congress. It raised a question, so I decided to take a closer look at the record.

On 31 Aug 1774, John Adams dined with South Carolina delegate Thomas Lynch, Sr. (1727-1776, shown here) and wrote this into his diary:
He told us that Coll. Washington made the most eloquent Speech at the Virginia Convention that ever was made. Says he, “I will raise 1000 Men, subsist them at my own Expence, and march my self at their Head for the Relief of Boston.”
Silas Deane of Connecticut heard the same story about George Washington, writing home to his wife in the middle of September:
It is said that in the house of Burgesses in Virginia, on hearing of the Boston Port Bill, he offered to raise and arm and lead one thousand men himself at his own expense, for the defence of the country, were there need of it. His fortune is said to be equal to such an undertaking.
Adams recalled his conversation with Lynch in the autobiography he wrote in the early 1800s:
Mr. Lynch a Delegate from South Carolina, who, in conversation on the Unhappy State of Boston and its inhabitants, after some Observations had been made on the Eloquence of Mr. Patrick Henry and Mr. Richard Henry Lee, which had been very loudly celebrated by the Virginians, said that the most eloquent Speech that had ever been made in Virginia or any where else, upon American Affairs had been made by Colonel Washington.

This was the first time I had ever heard the Name of Washington, as a Patriot in our present Controversy, I asked who is Colonel Washington and what was his Speech?

Colonel Washington he said was the officer who had been famous in the late french War and in the Battle in which [Gen. Edward] Braddock fell. His Speech was that if the Bostonians should be involved in Hostilities with the British Army he would march to their relief at the head of a Thousand Men at his own expence. This Sentence Mr. Lynch said, had more Oratory in it, in his Judgment, than all that he had ever heard or read.
And in an 11 Nov 1807 letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Adams included the story among the influential “anecdotes” that preceded Washington:
Mr Lynch of South Carolina told me before We met in Congress in 1774 that “Colonel Washington had made the most eloquentt speech that ever had been Spoken upon the Controversy with England, viz That if the English Should Attack the People of Boston, he would raise a thousand Men at his own expence and march at their head to New England to their Aid.”
It’s a pity that there’s no basis to Lynch’s story. Sources from Virginia, where people were after all most likely to have heard Washington speak, say nothing about it.

Lynch and Adams spoke at the end of August. The Virginia delegation to the Congress started to arrive on 3 September, with Washington coming the next day. Yet the story continued to spread among the New England delegates, as shown by Deane repeating it in the middle of September. Even decades later, when Adams repeated the story, he didn’t write about now knowing it was untrue.

Evidently people were so impressed by Washington’s reported promise to march a thousand men to Boston that no one actually asked him about it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Massacre, Black Lives, and Boys

Before departing this Massacre season, I want to call attention to Farah Peterson’s thought-provoking article in The American Scholar titled “Black Lives and the Boston Massacre.”

Peterson, a law professor and legal historian at the University of Virginia School of Law, writes:

The trial cemented [John] Adams’s reputation as the archetypal lawyer-as-hero, a man willing to be hated in order to give individuals the chance to have their cause fairly heard. And it confirmed for Revolutionary British North Americans that theirs was a cause rooted in legal ideals. We have remembered the trial this way ever since: as a triumph of principle over self-interest or impetuous emotionalism.

But an honest look at the transcript complicates the story by showing how racial prejudice contributed to the outcome. A critical part of Adams’s strategy was to convince the jury that his clients had only killed a black man and his cronies and that they didn’t deserve to hang for it.
Peterson underscores how Adams’s trial argument made the most of Crispus Attucks being a tall, muscular man of color, just as apologists for some recent dubious law-enforcement shootings have insisted that young black men or children looked dangerous.

That’s an compelling parallel to think about, and not necessarily new. Twenty years ago, the Massacre reenactment took place a month after New York police officers killed Amadou Diallo, and some people in the crowd called out the similarities.

Ironically, Peterson undercuts the argument with the way she presents the start of the confrontation on King Street:
This is how the massacre began, with a group of “boys”—that is, teenagers—surrounding a young soldier named Hugh White, who was standing stiffly in his red coat on sentry duty at the Custom House. They started shouting at him, calling him a “son of a bitch” and a “lobster” and screaming to each other (hilariously), “Who buys lobster?” They made a game of pitching snowballs and debris at him and joked about picking up the sentry box and lobbing it into Boston Harbor.
That description has (white) teenagers picking on Pvt. White for no reason. But the sentry was the first to use violence, clubbing an apprentice named Edward Garrick for speaking disrespectfully of an army captain. The article refers to “a rumor that a soldier had hurt a young boy,” immediately suggesting that rowdies might have concocted that story to rile up other Bostonians. In fact, there’s a lot of testimony about the interaction between the sentry and the apprentice.

Peterson quotes Adams reminding the soldiers’ jury about “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tars.” Genteel society worried about all those classes of people, seeing them as on the boundaries of society and prone to impetuous violence.

Peterson rightly notes how Adams’s argument as a defense attorney and a Whig depended on casting such a mob as unrepresentative of Boston. That was a common stance for Boston politicians; the year before, Loyalist printer John Mein had complained about their “usual sayings” that any violence “was done by Boys & Negroes, or by Nobody.” The blame never fell just on blacks—those men were always grouped with boys and/or sailors.

Thus, while rightly noting how Adams played on the prejudice against men of color like Attucks, Peterson’s recounting of the Massacre trips into replicating the similar prejudice against teenagers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Mad March with the Junto and History Camp

The Junto Blog is hosting its annual March Madness brackets, a way to bring attention to articles, books, and (this year) digital projects in early American history.

Boston 1775 was generously nominated in the category of “Blogs and Online Publications,” bracketed against the highly respectable Age of Revolutions blog. That’s currently running a series of essays by different scholars on “Revolutionary Material Cultures.”

Check out Round 1 of the Junto’s March Madness and the many digital projects highlighted this year. If you feel like it, vote for your favorites to see which advance to the second round.

In other news, on Saturday, 16 March, I’ll speak at History Camp Boston on “Tales from Boston’s Pre-Revolutionary Newspaper Wars.”

This event is already at capacity, so I can’t encourage you to show up unless you’re already registered. There may still be seats left for the evening performance of “The House of Hancock,” an “immersive living history performance” that somehow uses the music of Hamilton to explore the lives of John and Dorothy Hancock.

I recommend keeping an eye out for History Camps in other locales, and for next year’s Boston gathering, which might expand into multiple days to accommodate more attendees.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

‘“When John & Abigail Met George” in Cambridge, 14 Mar.

On Thursday, 14 March, I’ll speak at the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge on the topic “When John & Abigail Met George: The Adamses' Earliest Encounters with General Washington.”

Here’s our event description:
John Adams met George Washington in Philadelphia in 1774, and the next year Abigail Adams was highly impressed by the new general in Cambridge. Those meetings grew into a strong political partnership in the 1790s, but the first interactions were not entirely smooth.

This talk delves into the relationship between Washington and the Adamses in the first year of the Revolutionary War. Is John’s story of nominating Washington to be commander-in-chief reliable? How did John’s stolen mail lead to Abigail shaking a dog’s paw in Medford? Which Native American leaders dined with Washington and Adams in Cambridge in 1776? And did Abigail Adams ever visit George and Martha Washington in the Vassall house?
When John Adams met Washington at the First Continental Congress, it was the first time the lawyer had ever been outside of New England. Washington, in contrast, had explored the near west, spent a season on Barbados, and even visited Boston in early 1756, when Adams was off in Worcester teaching school while trying to decide on a profession.

On the other hand, Washington had never been to college or received the classical education that Adams had. He didn’t have Adams’s breadth of reading or depth of thought about law and government.

Each man had experience in his own colony’s legislature, and both saw benefits in a colonial union against the London government. To that end, their different strengths and experiences complemented each other. Washington and Adams became allies and worked closely together until the end of Washington’s political career more than two decades later.

For this talk I’ll focus on the personal details of the relationship between the men and their wives from the fall of 1774 to the spring of 1776.

Space in the Longfellow carriage house is limited, and I understand most of it has been spoken for already. Please call 617-876-4491 or email reservationsat105@gmail.com to ask about a seat or a spot on the waiting list.

This talk is cosponsored by the Friends of the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters with support from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. Copies of The Road to Concord will be available for purchase and inscription.

Monday, March 11, 2019

More of Mary Clapham’s Massacre Memorials

In the early 1770s, Mary Clapham managed the Royal Exchange tavern on King Street, near the center of Boston.

In this 1801 view of State Street, as it was renamed, the tall white building was the one that housed the tavern. The Boston Massacre had taken place in front of the red building across a small street. That made Clapham’s tavern an appropriate place for Massacre memorial displays, the Boston Whigs decided.

Yesterday I quoted the Boston Gazette description of the first such exhibit in 1772. The large “lanthorn” the Whig activists built, with strikingly painted scenes illuminated from inside, was similar to what the South End and North End gangs carted around on Pope Night, and to the paper obelisk made in 1766 to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act.

The Massacre exhibit was back at the Royal Exchange tavern in 1773, as described by the 11 March Massachusetts Spy:
At night a select number of the friends of constitutional liberty, met at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-street, and exhibitted on the balcony a lanthorn of transparent paintings, having in front a lively representation of the bloody massacre which was perpetrated near that spot on the 5th of March 1770, over their heads was inscribed, the fatal effects of a standing army being posted in a free city.

On the right, America sitting in a mourning posture, looking down on the spectators, with this label, Behold my Sons.

On the left, a monument, sacred to the memory of
Who were barbarously murdered by a party of the 29th regiment, on the 5th of March, 1770.

At a quarter after nine, the time of the evening when the bloody deed was acted, the paintings were taken in, and most of the bells in town tolled till ten.
That was the same display, described in the same words, as the previous year. The Boston Gazette reported one new feature: in a “Window East of the Balcony” was a translucent sheet decorated with a 24-line poem on the Massacre. I’ve decided to spare you that until another year.

In 1774 the exhibit was a little delayed, as the 7 March 1774 Boston Gazette explained at the end of its report on that year’s oration:
As this Anniversary happened on Saturday, the Evening of which is considered by many Persons as the Commencement of the Sabbath, the Exhibition Portraits of the Murderers, and the slaughtered Citizens, was put off till this Evening, when they will be exposed to publick View at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-Street.
When the exhibit finally appeared, it included a new visual element, reflecting the new political controversy over the salaries and letters of royal appointees Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and Chief Justice Peter Oliver. The Gazette stated:
On Monday evening the horrid tragedy of the 5th of March was observed with the usual solemnity, by exhibiting to pubic view a portrait of that inhuman and cruel Massacre perpetrated by [Capt. Thomas] Preston, and his infamous butchers;

on the right, a figure of America pointing to her slaughtered sons, on the left, a monument to the memory of Gray, Attucks, Maverick, Caldwell, and Carr.

In one of the windows was a representation of H[utchinso]n and J[udg]e O[live]r, in the horrors, occasioned by the appeared of the two ghosts of Empson and Dudley, advising them to think of their fate. They appeared to be worshipping their ill-gotting gold the modern deity of the North.
Ye TRAITORS; “Is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the men
Who owed their greatness to their country’s ruin?
The poetry is from Joseph Addison’s Cato.

John Adams mentioned the display in his diary for 7 March:
This Evening there has been an Exhibition in Kingstreet of the Portraits of the soldiers and the Massacre—and of H[utchinso]n and C[hief]. J[ustice]. Oliver, in the Horrors—reminded of the Fate of Empson and Dudley, whose Trunks were exposed with their Heads off, and the Blood fresh streaming after the Ax.
Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley were administrators for Henry VII executed for treason in 1510 under Henry VIII. They weren’t evoked often in American Revolutionary rhetoric, but one of the writers who did so was Adams himself.

In March 1775, with thousands of British soldiers stationed in Boston, the Whigs put their display away. Those troops stayed through the next Massacre anniversary. In 1777 the town of Boston once again commissioned an oration to commemorate the killings, this time from Benjamin Hichborn, but the Boston Gazette made no mention of an illuminated display.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Maintaining the Memory of the Massacre

We know that Boston kept the memory of the Massacre of 1770 fresh in people’s minds with an annual oration on or about 3 March until 1783. Those orations were published, so they remain visible.

The town had another way to highlight each anniversary of the Massacre which we can no longer see. That tradition started in 1771 when Paul Revere mounted an illuminated display in the upper windows of his newly acquired house in the North End. I quoted the full description of it from Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette back here.

There were three pictures in three windows:
  • Christopher Seider showing his wound to weeping friends, with his bust on an obelisk that also listed the names of the Massacre victims.
  • ”the Soldiers drawn up, firing at the People assembled before them—the Dead on the Ground—and the Wounded falling,” which was of course was Henry Pelham and Paul Revere had shown in their prints published the previous year.
  • “the Figure of a Woman, representing AMERICA, sitting on the Stump of a Tree, with a Staff in her Hand, and the Cap of Liberty on the Top thereof,—one Foot on the Head of a Grenadier lying prostrate grasping a Serpent.” This is similar to the figure shown above, from the lower right of Revere’s engraving of the regiments landing in Boston in October 1768. But the illuminated America held a staff with a Liberty Cap, like the allegorical woman on the Boston Gazette masthead.
I believe Revere must have copied the Seider image from a British print, but I haven’t spotted the model yet.

The next year, the nighttime exhibit moved to the Royal Exchange tavern on King Street, a couple of doors west from the Customs office where the soldiers shot into the crowd. The proprietress of that tavern was a divorcée named Mary Clapham.

The 9 Mar 1772 Boston Gazette reported on that anniversary:
In the Evening a select Number of the true Friends of Constitutional Liberty, met at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-Street, and exhibited on the balcony a Lanthorn of transparent Paintings, having, in Front, a lively Representation of the bloody Massacre which was perpetrated near that Spot.

Over which was inscribed,
“The fatal Effect of a standing Army, posted in a free City.”

On the Right, was the Figure of America sitting in a Mourning Posture, and looking down on the Spectators, with this Label, “Behold, my SONS.”

On the left Side, a Monument inscrib’d,
“To the Memory of
Messrs. Samuel Gray,
Samuel Maverick,
James Caldwell,
Patrick Carr, and,
Crispus Attucks, who were barbarously murdered by a Party of the 29th Regiment, on the 5th of March 1770.”

At a Quarter after Nine, the Painting was taken in, and the Bells muffled toll’d ’till Ten.

The whole was conducted with the greatest Regularity; and the Spectators, though amounting in the Course of the Evening to some Thousands, behaved with that Gravity as well as Decency, which evidently show’d, that their Hearts were deeply affected with the Retrospect of so horrid a Transaction.
Of course, deeply affecting hearts was the whole point of the commemoration.

TOMORROW: Two more years.