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, April 16, 2019

“Mr. Adjutant Daws & the Sergeants”

In Paul Revere’s Ride, David Hackett Fischer made an impressive case that Paul Revere had a social network among the Boston Whigs second only to Dr. Joseph Warren.

As I’ve delved into the sources myself, I came to see the data that went into that analysis as seriously flawed. Nonetheless, I think the conclusion about about the importance of those two men’s social networks is sound.

One of the main themes of my talk last weekend about William Dawes, Jr., was that he, too, enjoyed a broad and buzzing social network.

Dawes got off too a good start as first cousin to the builder Thomas Dawes (1731-1809), who hosted a political caucus in the early 1760s, later rose to be colonel of the Boston militia regiment, and eventually was a deacon at Old South.

In the early 1770s, William Dawes began to climb in Boston society by those same routes. He was elected to office in town meetings, starting as an “Informer of Deer”—basically a game warden. Provincial law required all towns to elect such deer-reeves. Boston was unlikely to have had many deer being hunted out of season, and I can’t tell if Dawes got this job as a sinecure or because as a leather-dresser he was actually in touch with deer poachers.

Dawes also rose within the militia, being designated as the regiment’s adjutant with the rank of lieutenant in 1772. (In The Road to Concord I said he was “junior adjutant” because I was misled by old typography and didn’t think through old prose with new knowledge. The “Junr.” was part of Dawes’s name, not his rank.) As adjutant, he helped organize the militia drills and therefore must have gotten to know all the officers and most of the men.

On 4 Nov 1772, for example, the selectmen of Boston (including John Hancock) met at Faneuil Hall to consider a request for the use of that building. According to the official town records:
Mr. Adjutant Dows, has desired on behalf of a milatary chore [i.e. corps] to have the use of Faneuil Hall three Monday Nights in a Month which was granted accordingly.
Dawes’s crowd used the hall through that winter. On 10 Mar 1773, another militia officer came to the selectmen with a competing request:
The Selectmen having heard Capt. Waters and Mr. Adjutant Dows relative to the Hall, it was determined that they should each have the Hall two Nights, in a Month. the Adjutant to have the first Monday Night.
I believe “Capt. Waters” was Josiah Waters, Sr. (1721-1784), listed with that rank in the militia in 1774. He was also William Dawes’s uncle by marriage.

A few weeks later, on 28 April, Waters was back at the selectmen’s office:
Capt. Waters attended, and desired the use of the Hall for his Company every Monday Evening, as Capt. Waters informs that Mr. Adjutant Daws & the Sergeants have done with it.
It would be nice to know how “Mr. Adjutant Daws & the Sergeants” used Faneuil Hall. Were they training themselves in the standard drill so they could train the men, training some of those men, or just socializing?

That winter the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company met in Faneuil Hall every first Wednesday evening before shifting to Fridays. Dawes was also a member of that organization from 1768, and he served as a sergeant in 1770. In 1772, however, he was fined a shilling for not appearing at a meeting. After the war, Dawes helped to revive the company by signing up a large class of new members, several related to him—more networking.

Since Dawes knew so many men in Boston, it makes sense that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety went to him in early 1775 when they needed to connect with the militiamen hiding two brass cannon. Likewise, he made a good messenger for Dr. Warren. Col. John Hancock of the Company of Cadets must have recognized Adjutant Dawes in Lexington in the early morning of April 19, 1775, just as he recognized Paul Revere.


twfmd said...

Could you expand on your assessment of Fischer's flawed assessment of the extent of Revere's network? It what way was his analysis flawed?
Thank you!
Tom Frank

J. L. Bell said...

Sure. As I discussed in this post, the analysis can be only as good as the data behind it. And that data is flawed.

Two of the lists of Patriot activists that Fischer used, the “Long Room Club” and the participants in the Tea Party, weren't created contemporaneously with the Revolution but decades later. Hannah Mather Crocker is our earliest source on the “Long Room Club.” The Tea Party list comes from Francis S. Drake writing more than a century later and collecting family traditions from all over, solid and not. Both thus privilege names of people remembered or brought forward by descendants rather than men documented at the time as participating in Boston politics.

(Another of Fischer’s lists, identified as an “enemies list” produced in London, is in fact a list of men appointed by the Boston town meeting to enforce the Continental Association boycott. As such, it’s an even more reliable source on Patriot activists than Fischer’s label suggests.)

Fischer’s analysis also tilts toward Warren and Revere by including the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons, which they helped to lead. That group had no overt political purpose. If we include it, why not include Boston's other Masonic lodge, or other social organizations, or churches, or military units?

The analysis includes the North End Caucus, for which we have records. Those documents indicate there were similar caucuses for the South End and Middle parts of Boston, but we don't have records for those. Including the North End Caucus list therefore tilts the scale toward men who lived in that neighborhood, like Paul Revere, and away from men who lived elsewhere but were also politically active.