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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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

“While on the tree the summons came”

Eleven years ago, Caitlin G. DeAngelis shared images of a gravestone that was lying on the ground and slowing sinking into the soil of Bristol, Rhode Island.

It reads:

ALLEN WARDWELL
son of Mr. Peleg
Pitman & Mary his
wife; who lost his
life by a fall from
a tree April 13th
1799, in the 11th
Year of his age.
While on the tree
The summons came
And call’d me
to my GOD.
The stone includes not only a carving of a droopy tree, not unlike those one sees on mourning embroidery of this period. But in this case the art also includes a picture of young Allen falling to his death, broken branch clutched in his hand.
Photos at Find a Grave suggest that this stone has been stood up again. Let’s hope it will be looked after.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

As the David Library Moves to the Big City

The David Library of the American Revolution has long been an idiosyncratic institution. Collector Sol Feinstone named it after his grandson David. Its far-reaching collection of Revolutionary War histories is shelved in order of acquisition, not by subject, author, or publication date. As a young archive, it has amassed a vast collection of microfilm records related to the Revolution from other repositories.

Since the 1970s the library has stood on a hillside outside Washington’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, close to a national historical park but far from any other research institution. It offers research fellowships and also welcomes all other researchers who can make it through the front door. When I was there during the holiday season a few years ago, the reference librarian even had cookies to share. The library hosts many lectures in a barn converted into a lecture hall, and the turnout for those talks reflects its local following.

This spring the David Library announced that it was merging with the American Philosophical Society in downtown Philadelphia. In the Bucks County Courier Times Francine Lida Stone, Feinstone’s granddaughter and vice president of the library’s board of trustees, noted the old ties between those institutions. Feinstone was friends with A.P.S. librarian Whitfield Bell, and Bell’s current successor, Patrick Spero, has been a D.L.A.R. fellow, historian, and board member.

Most important, Feinstone’s own collection of Revolutionary-era manuscripts has been housed at the A.P.S. for years. One condition of the merger is that those documents will be digitized and put on line, making them more widely available.

Of course, most of the David Library’s idiosyncrasies will go away as it becomes the David Center at the A.P.S. The books won’t be on open shelves, so the shelving will no longer make researchers contemplate a wide range of subtopics. Visitors will go through a more rigorous registration process, though Stone notes, “the new David Center will have a special curator to assist any member of the public, prior to and during any visit.” There won’t be cookies in the reading room.

At this point, it looks like the David Center board still hopes to offer a Revolutionary speakers series near Washington’s Crossing. It would be hard to find a venue with the same character, but there are surely other halls in the area and an established audience.

Now I’ve always visited the D.L.A.R. while staying with relatives in Princeton, New Jersey. With a car, the site was quite convenient (narrow bridge notwithstanding). Going into Philadelphia won’t be so handy. But of course for people based at most compass points, the David Collection will now be more accessible. So I can lament that change but I can’t make an unselfish argument for preserving the old location.

What I’ll really miss is the D.L.A.R.’s proudly unique way of doing things. Not that I always understood the reasons. But it was fun knowing that there was a serious institution following its own path.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Recreating the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Data

Scholars and technicians at Lancaster University in Britain and Emory University In Atlanta have collaborated to create a 3D model of an eighteenth-century slave ship.

The model is based on the plans for the Aurore, launched from La Rochelle in August 1784. Those are the only plans for a slaving ship known. The Aurore sailed for Africa and then carried people in captivity to Saint-Domingue, now Haiti.

That trip is item number 32359 in the online reference Voyages, a database of 36,000 slave voyages used in classrooms and museums. The video of the 3D model is now part of that website.

News coverage of this software creation describes “the cramped, dirty and stifling conditions experienced by enslaved Africans.” But the online video is almost antiseptically smooth and unpopulated. It takes us from surviving period images to the topmost of the digital ship and then down into its hold—still empty. The actual conditions are still up to our sympathetic imaginations.

The Voyages website has recently been redesigned and augmented with data on the intra-American slave trade, opening up new areas for research. The next planned expansion is a database called “People of the Atlantic Slave Trade,“ recording information about the individuals known to have been involved in the transatlantic trade, both enslaver and enslaved.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

“The officer swearing and cursing to us”

At the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Beehive blog, Nicole Breault has shared a sample of her research into the town watch of eighteenth-century Boston.

This snapshot is from the fall of 1768, just after units of the British army started to arrive from Canada and Ireland. The Boston government had responded by strengthening the nightly watch, the small squads of men patrolling different sections of town, each under the command of a constable of the watch.

Breault writes:

In November 1768, three constables of the watch filed monthly reports and formal complaints with the town selectmen charging that officers of the regiments used strong language and threats of violence to challenge watch authority.

John Martin of the South End watch reported that one of his watchmen was “asolted,” struck by an officer of one the regiments for inquiring who was walking at night. Benjamin Burdick of the Townhouse watch filed a complaint regarding the threats officers made against their watch unit. Edward Ireland of the Dock Square watch listed five separate incidents, two in his complaint and four in his monthly report.

The complaint written by Ireland is located here in the MHS collection. One of many encounters he reported that month, Ireland described an incident outside of the door of his watch house as such:
the officer swearing and cursing to us we had no business to hail an officer and said do you think to stand four regiments, god dam you? We have four regiments here and we will burn you all to ashes in a moments time, we will send you all to hell and damnation in a minute and drew his bayonet and stabbed it against the door and said god dam you come out here. what do you think to do with us, times is not now as they have been.
The fact that an “officer,” not a regular soldier, was assailing the watch this way fits into my theory that part of the conflict on Boston’s streets in 1768 was class-based. British army officers were from the genteel class. Watchmen were men from the middling and laboring class. This officer felt that such men “had no business to hail an officer.” Meanwhile, the watchmen and the selectmen who employed them wanted all the people in Boston, including gentlemen of the army, to answer to local law.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Considering Jonathan Plummer, Jr.

Last year Alex Cain shared a detailed profile of Jonathan Plummer, Jr., a Revolutionary War veteran celebrated as “poet laureate to Lord Timothy Dexter.”

Alex wrote:

Jonathan Plummer Jr. was born in 1761 Newbury, Massachusetts and was the oldest of eight children. According to historian Roger W. Higgins, Plummer was “sickly through infancy and early childhood was mentally weak and easily imposed upon.” As a teenager, he acquired a “reputation records from for being a strange and wayward boy with a flair for revival meetings.”

Even Plummer himself noted “my reading, traveling, and thirst for knowledge, too … began to operate to my disadvantage . . . to make me what they called an odd fellow — that is, different from the young fellows who were not readers . . . I was already so insufferably unfashionable as to begin to talk in young company of religion, virtue, poets, philosophers, lords, generals, statesmen, kings, battles, sieges, &c. &c. . . . this made the young people think that I thought myself better than them, and made them resolve to make me feel the torturing effects of their vindictive vengeance.”
This description makes me wonder if Plummer would today be diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. He was clearly intelligent, with a particularly good memory, but socially awkward throughout his life. Historians shy away from applying modern psychiatric diagnoses to people of the past, in large part because those diagnoses are themselves often culturally shaped. At the same time, recognizing that some conditions may have been part of being human all along might be helpful.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Miss Lloyd, or the Third Mrs. Wilson?

Yesterday I noted the London Stage Database’s reference to an actress called “Mrs. Lloyd” (formerly “Mrs. C——we”), who had performed in Boston’s “military theatre” a few years before 1779.

Another multi-volume resource from the 1970s, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, provides more information about this actress’s career in the British Isles.

In 1779 “Mrs. Lloyd” made her debut in The Citizen at the Haymarket Theatre in London. That was when the Morning Post said she had formerly been at Boston under another name. Another newspaper said “her laugh (which is of material consequence in this part) [is] uncommonly clear and natural.”

After that, Lloyd performed at the Haymarket every year through 1785 in such plays as The Irish Widow, Love for Love, The Young Quaker, Who’s the Dupe?, and The Beggar’s Opera.

In April 1786, Lloyd had become a couple with the British comedian Richard Wilson. He had left his second wife, Sarah Maria Wilson (shown above), who had left her first husband for him.

After 1787 Lloyd appeared as “Mrs. Wilson” in several plays in Edinburgh. The reference book notes a report that Elizabeth Lloyd and Richard Wilson married in Dublin but deemed that “doubtful.” Elizabeth (C——we) (Lloyd) Wilson disappears from the theatrical records in 1788. Richard Wilson married yet again in 1791.

Unfortunately, the press on this actress’s British career offers no clue on when and where she was born, when she died, and how she came to be in Boston during the siege of 1775-76.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Taking in the London Stage Database

The London Stage Database is an online resource that went live this summer. The website explains its origins:
The London Stage Database is the latest in a long line of projects that aim to capture and present the rich array of information available on the theatrical culture of London, from the reopening of the public playhouses following the English civil wars in 1660 to the end of the eighteenth century. . . .

In the middle of the twentieth century, a team of theater historians created a calendar of performances based on playbills and newspaper notices used to advertise performances, as well as theater reviews, published gossip, playhouse records, and the diaries of people who lived at the time. The result was The London Stage, 1660-1800: A Calendar of Plays, Entertainments & Afterpieces, Together with Casts, Box-Receipts and Contemporary Comment. Compiled from the Playbills, Newspapers and Theatrical Diaries of the Period (Southern Illinois University Press, 1960-1968). This 8,000-page, eleven-book reference work was understood immediately as essential to scholarly research and teaching about the period. It was also frustratingly difficult to use for any kind of systematic inquiry.

In the 1970s, the editors of The London Stage commissioned a computerized database of the information in their reference book. The London Stage Information Bank, as it was then known, was created over the course of a decade. . . . Regrettably, it fell into technological obsolescence after only a few years, and it was long thought irretrievably lost. The only surviving artifact of the project that remained in circulation was the Index to the London Stage, which was shelved alongside the original reference books in many research libraries.
Mattie Burkert began to investigate the history of the Information Bank in 2013 and published “Recovering the London Stage Information Bank: Lessons from an Early Humanities Computing Project” in the Digital Humanities Quarterly in 2017. Over the next two years, she led a team to “salvage the damaged data and code from the Information Bank and to transform it into a modern relational database.”

The result is an open-access resource hosted by Utah State University. It has definite limits, as its creators explain. Some of those limits involve the surviving information, some how it was catalogued in the preceding databases, and some the quirks of computers:
Large sections of the data are missing from the recovered files, including most or all of the performances thought to have taken place between September 1733 and September 1736; between June and September 1770; between September 1781 and September 1786; and between October 1793 and September 1794. . . . Furthermore, in the damaged files recovered from the Information Bank project, all the performance dates are misrepresented as a series of special characters, like unprintable words in a comic book (e.g. "?!*&%"). Advisory Board member Derek Miller discovered that this problem resulted from a systematic shift in the underlying hexadecimal code.
I decided to do a very simple test of the database by asking for appearances of the word “Boston.” After all, theater here was extremely limited until after independence. The results reflected the depth of the Boston Public Library’s collection of early British plays. They also brought up this intriguing reference to an actress:
Mrs Lloyd is identified in playbill of 18 Aug. She has “the name of Lloyd, but [is] better known by the name of Mrs C——we (who played several parts at the military theatre of Boston in America about two years ago)” (Morning Post, 16 July [1779]).
That was during the unusual season of 1775-76, when the British military holding Boston made Faneuil Hall into a theater.

TOMORROW: Who was Mrs. Lloyd?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

“The Shool Book of David Kingsley of Rehoboth”

Last month the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton highlighted the work of a boy from Massachusetts by showing pages from a school copybook in its collection.

The library’s blog said:
It was made by a David Kingsley of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts between 1797 and 1799. Much of the contents consist of proverbs, precepts, and sets of words copied out doggedly line after line after line after line. David signed every single page, one, two, three, or four times, usually in different places, perhaps at his teacher’s bidding.
Indeed, copying out maxims was the way children learned handwriting that would be useful in business. Signing one’s name was also a good skill, but I think schoolboys did that so often because they had so little property they could claim.

David Kingsley’s name doesn’t appear in the published vital records of Rehoboth. I suspect the reason is because his family were Baptists. His father, also named David (1737-1830), was clerk and deacon of the meeting over in Swansea, as was his father before him.

The David Kingsley who’s the right generation for this copybook died on 31 Dec 1866, and his gravestone says he was aged 83. That would mean he was born in 1783 and thus between fourteen and sixteen when he wrote in that copybook. (Some online sources say he was born in 1782, but I don’t see the authority for that.)

Like his father, that David Kingsley became a long-lived deacon at the Baptist church. He also married three times, in 1804, 1823, and 1833. One of his sons was also a deacon. I can’t find out what profession Kingsley followed.

The library thought the page spread above is the only one in the book that reflects David’s own interests as opposed to his school assignments:
Snaking down the left-hand margin is “David Kingsley made this house.” David’s source of inspiration came from somewhere other than the facing text on the comparisons of measures and a practice word problem. Nor does the copy below it have anything about houses: “Wonce more the year is now begun David Kingsley This Second day of January 1799 the Shool Book of David Kinglsey of Rehoboth February 11 day 1799.” . Perhaps it was supposed to be the home of the “gallant female sailor” the subject of the ballad written on the back of the leaf…
No, it’s definitely David’s own house. He put the start of his name on each door, one letter per triangular section.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

“Declaring Independence” Deemed Excellent

I’ve periodically mentioned the “Declaring Independence—Then & Now” programs organized by Freedom’s Way National Historic Area, the American Antiquarian Society, and local hosting organizations.

This spring, the American Association for State and Local History announced that it would give Freedom’s Way an Award of Excellence for “Declaring Independence.” The announcement called the program
a thought-provoking public performance piece incorporating historical research, conducted by citizen-historians, into a narrated reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Performed in historic venues throughout the 45 communities of the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area, each performance is followed by community conversation with a goal to deepen civic engagement with the enduring meanings of that declaration and its relevance for today.
The A.A.S.L.H. has conferred its Leadership in History Awards since 1945, recognizing significant achievements in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history. At a banquet in Philadelphia on 30 August, the organization will confer this year’s awards on fifty notable people, projects, exhibits, and publications. So congratulations to everyone involved in developing and performing the “Declaring Independence” program!

Now I was particularly pleased to hear about this award because I was on a small committee of historians who attended several programs and analyzed them for the association. I got to see how different communities came together to explore the Declaration, adding local stories and reflecting on ongoing issues. There are no more presentations of “Declaring Independence” scheduled for this summer, but I recommend that local historical organizations and libraries look into hosting the program for their communities.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Update on the Slave Auction Memorial at Faneuil Hall

Earlier this month I wrote about the Slave Auction Block memorial that artist Steve Locke had proposed for installation outside Faneuil Hall.

Locke’s Kickstarter campaign was successful in surpassing its goal for initial fundraising with a couple of days still left to go. However, last week Locke announced, “I am afraid that I am not going to be able to go on as proposed with the Auction Block Memorial being placed at Faneuil Hall.” The Boston branch of the N.A.A.C.P. had come out against the project, prompting Mayor Marty Walsh’s office to pull back support until all constituencies support it.

Early in the month Kevin C. Peterson of the New Democracy Coalition of Massachusetts editorialized against the memorial, declaring (without evidence) that it was a project of Mayor Walsh, not Locke. In 2017 that organization advocated for changing the name of Faneuil Hall because it still bears the name of donor Peter Faneuil, a slave owner and trader. Last year it reenacted an auction of enslaved people outside the building to call attention to that history.

That protest action left me confused about Peterson’s first objection this year to Locke’s memorial:
Walsh’s memorial to the enslaved has been proposed for the grounds at Faneuil Hall, but no historical record of “slaves for sale” exist on the site. This raises critical questions about the relevance of the memorial on the ground of the internationally known ediface.
If reenacting a slave auction at Faneuil Hall helps to raise awareness of its link to the slave trade, then a permanent memorial should logically do the same.

Furthermore, there’s solid documentation for slave sales in that part of Boston. On 27 Nov 1727 the Boston Gazette ran an advertisement stating:
ON Thursday the 30 Currant will be Sold by Publick Vendue, at the Sun Tavern on Dock Square at Five a Clock P. M. For likely Negros, and Sundry sort of Merchandize, all to be seen at the Place of Sale from two of the Clock till the Sale begins.
Seven years later the town opened a “market-house at Dock Square.” Many citizens feared that centralized marketplaces like this would allow sellers to manipulate prices, and in 1737 a mob disguised as clergymen tore down the structure. The map of the area above dates from 1738.

Peter Faneuil offered to pay for a replacement market building, sweetening the offer with a large upper-story hall for town meetings. The new building was finished in 1742 and named after Faneuil the next year when he died. Even now, the north side of Faneuil Hall is called Dock Square.

The Faneuil Hall neighborhood continued to see occasional sales of people, as shown in the 7 Aug 1758 Boston Gazette:
To Be Sold
By AUCTION, by
JOHN GERRISH,
On WEDNESDAY next,
At Major Deshon’s Vendue-Room in Dock-Square.
Sundry very likely, healthy, young NEGROES,
some of the likeliest of the late imported Cargo,
and all that remains unsold: The Sale to begin at Eleven o’Clock in the Forenoon.
A different sort of marketplace was announced nearby in the 5 Aug 1771 Boston Gazette:
The Intelligence-Office is removed from the Store opposite to the Golden Ball to a Store on the South Side of the Town-Dock, just above the Swing-Bridge, where it is now kept by
Grant Webster,
Who has for Sale, West-India and New-England Rum, Madeira and other Wines, Flour, Rice, Indigo, &c. Vessels of several Sorts, several good Farms, Male and Female Negroes, new and second hand Chaises, two convenient Houses near the Center of the Town, and sundry other Articles cheap for Cash. …
As an “intelligence office,” Webster was functioning like Craig’s List or the want ads. He didn’t actually have all that property in his office, but he could connect buyers and sellers.

Peterson’s second objection was that Locke had developed the memorial “with little public involvement from the greater Boston community.” That surprised me. Locke was Boston’s artist-in-residence when he conceived of the design. I read about his proposed design last year. He assembled an advisory board that included prominent officials from local universities, museums, and government. Kickstarter itself is a form of public involvement.

The New Democracy Coalition editorial treats the memorial as “an apparent political response to protesters pushing for the Faneuil Hall name change” which “does little to adding to the deep conversation on race that the city needs to undertake.” For Locke, of course, the purpose of the public artwork was to prompt just that sort of conversation and reflection. I think for that purpose it would be more effective, and was closer to actually happening, than the name change Peterson has advocated.

As for the Boston N.A.A.C.P., it has taken no position on the name of Faneuil Hall. On the slave auction memorial, it appears the local leadership wanted to be consulted earlier in the process. Chapter president Tanisha Sullivan stated, “Our primary concern at this point is the lack of inclusion, especially inclusion of the Black American community whose ancestors any memorial of this type seeks to honor.”

Locke has considered himself part of that community. He’s African-American, graduated from Boston University and the Massachusetts College of Art, and has been working in greater Boston at least since 1998. He has stated that he reached out to the N.A.A.C.P. office at the start of his tenure as artist-in-residence, before conceiving of the memorial, and never heard back.

At the first news of objections, Mayor Walsh said he “hoped Locke would have the chance to explain his vision during upcoming public meetings.” But a scheduled Boston City Council hearing was canceled after the artist announced that he had to give up on the project in Boston.

Locke is taking a position at the Pratt Institute in New York this fall and looking at adapting the slave auction memorial design for another northeastern port city.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

“The unsubstantial fabric of visionary politicians”

Given that John Quincy Adams’s first comment on the idea of a hollow Earth was decidedly skeptical and negative, how did modern writers come to believe he supported the theory as President?

I think one key may lie in how Adams referred to the theory as “so visionary” when he wrote about supporting an Antarctic expedition advocated by a man who had once believed in that theory. The full paragraph reveals that Adams favored the expedition only because the hollow-Earth theory was no longer involved.

For us today, the word “visionary” has positive connotations. Merriam-Webster’s primary definition is “having or marked by foresight and imagination.”

But Adams used the word differently. For example, in an essay in the 20 July 1791 Columbian Centinel he wrote:
But if the principles of Mr. [Thomas] Paine, or those of the French National Assembly, would lead us by a vain and delusive pretence of an impracticable union, between the right of declaring, and the expense of supporting a war, to the sacrifice of principles founded in immutable truth, if they could persuade us, by establishing in the legislative body all negotiations with foreign nations relative to war and peace, to open a thousand avenues for base intrigue, for furious faction, for foreign bribery, and domestic treason, let us remain immoveably fixed at the banners of our constitutional freedom, and not desert the impregnable fortress of our liberties, for the unsubstantial fabric of visionary politicians.
On 30 Nov 1837, after his Presidency, Adams wrote in his diary:
Mr. G. W. Cherry was here again this morning, and I had a long conversation with him upon his project of colonization. He is one of the most benevolent visionaries of that fraudulent charitable institution, the Colonization Society. His plan is, to raise a fund for purchasing a number of slaves and locating them in small villages, where they may in a given time purchase their freedom by their own labor. I freely gave my opinion to Mr. Cherry: that the whole colonization project was an abortion; that as a system of eventual emancipation of the slaves of this country it was not only impracticable, but demonstrated to be so; that as a scheme for relieving the slave States of free negroes its moral aspect was not comely, and it was equally impracticable.
Especially in his later years, J. Q. Adams was not afraid to let you know how he felt.

Thus, Adams was using “visionary” in accord with Merriam-Webster’s other definitions: “incapable of being realized or achieved,” “existing only in imagination,” “disposed to reverie or imagining.” Back in 1757, Dr. Samuel Johnson defined a visionary as “One whose imagination is disturbed.” In sum, the word had negative connotations.

Without knowing about that shift in meaning, we might well assume that Adams’s description of the hollow-Earth theory as “so visionary” meant he thought it was a good thing. He didn’t.

And likewise, I don’t think he’d like the title of Fred Kaplan’s 2014 biography, John Quincy Adams: American Visionary.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

“Travelling within the nutshell of the earth”?

Yesterday I described how John Cleves Symmes, Jr., a retired army captain and failed trader, was struck with the theory that the Earth was hollow, with holes at the poles.

Symmes started promulgating that idea in April 1818. The growing American press gave it a lot more attention than its lack of evidence deserved. So much so that Secretary of State John Quincy Adams referred to Symmes in his diary on 28 Apr 1819, in a meditation on the idea of sending African-American citizens to Africa:
Mr. [George] Hay’s opinions upon the Colonization Society and its projects were unexpected to me. There are so many considerations of difficulty and of delicacy mingling with this subject that I would gladly keep aloof from it altogether. But I apprehend the Society, which, like all fanatical associations, is intolerant, will push and intrigue and worry till I shall be obliged to take a stand and appear publicly among their opponents. Their project of expurgating the United States from the free people of color at the public expense, by colonizing them in Africa, is, so far as it is sincere and honest, upon a par with John Cleves Symmes’s project of going to the North Pole, and travelling within the nutshell of the earth.
From the start, obviously, Adams thought Symmes’s idea of exploring the hollow Earth was ridiculous.

How then have we been flooded with articles saying that Adams loved Symmes’s theory and as President supported a federal expedition to find “mole people” inside the planet?

The link is a man named Jeremiah N. Reynolds (1799-1858), a young newspaper editor. He met Symmes in 1823 and joined him on the lecture circuit, promoting the idea of a hollow Earth. But what really intrigued Reynolds was polar exploration. After a couple of years he stopped talking about Symmes’s theory of holes at the poles and people possibly living inside the planet, but he continued to advocate for an expedition to the South Pole.

In 1824 John Quincy Adams became President. He mentioned Reynolds in his diary entry for 4 Nov 1826:
Mr. Reynolds is a man who has been lecturing about the country in support of Captain John Cleves Symmes’s theory, that the earth is a hollow sphere, open at the Poles. His lectures are said to have been well attended, and much approved as exhibitions of genius and of science. But the theory itself has been so much ridiculed, and is in truth so visionary, that Reynolds has now varied his purpose to the proposition of fitting out a voyage of circumnavigation to the Southern Ocean. He has obtained numerous signatures in Baltimore to a memorial to Congress for this object, which, he says, will otherwise be very powerfully supported. It will, however, have no support in Congress. That day will come, but not yet, nor in my time. May it be my fortune and my praise to accelerate its approach!
Adams thus was ready to champion Reynolds’s proposal for polar exploring, but only after the man had dropped all that talk about Symmes’s “hollow sphere.”

President Adams and Jeremiah Reynolds finally met on 22 Feb 1828. Adams recorded: “I met at the ball, besides other strangers, Mr. Reynolds, the projector of an expedition to the South Pole, and Mr. [Francis] Lieber, the teacher of the swimming-school at Boston.” [Ah, the glamorous life of the nation’s chief executive.]

The Adams administration supported funding the expedition Reynolds advocated for. The American electorate didn’t support the Adams administration, however. In December 1828, after the election, the lame-duck House of Representatives voted to outfit the U.S.S. Peacock to explore Antarctica. But the Senate didn’t approve, and then Andrew Jackson became President in March 1829. The launch of the U.S. Exploring Expedition would have to wait for the Van Buren administration.

Jeremiah Reynolds’s writing about exploring Antarctica inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. A later book was a basis for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. He certainly left a mark on American fiction, therefore. To that list we can add the recent fictional narrative that President J. Q. Adams wanted fund a federal expedition to enter the Earth and find “mole people.”

TOMORROW: But didn’t Adams call Symmes’s hollow-Earth idea “visionary”?

Friday, July 19, 2019

“I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within”

This episode of the Timesuck podcast, this History Daily article, this Cracked article, this 13th Floor article, and this History Extra roundup of Presidential trivia all tell the same story.

That story says President John Quincy Adams was convinced by a man named John Cleves Symmes, Jr., that Earth is hollow, that one can go inside the planet through holes at the poles, and that people are living inside. Allegedly Adams was so taken with this idea that he championed a federal expedition to Antarctica to explore the inner Earth, only to be stymied by losing the election of 1828.

All these web resources also use the term “mole people” for the inhabitants of the hollow Earth, sometimes in quotation marks, even though that phrase isn’t documented before the end of the nineteenth century.

And none points to sources that link President Adams’s statements or actions to Symmes’s vision of a hollow, populated Earth.

You can see where this is going. I’m here to tell you this story is false. Yes, I’m not much fun—but neither, most of the time, was John Quincy Adams.

So far the best online treatment of this story that I’ve found is this Reddit posting by smileyman. So my challenge is to add something interesting to what that says.

First of all, John Cleves Symmes, Jr. (1780-1829, shown above), really did believe in a populated hollow Earth. He was born in New Jersey, named after an uncle who commanded a New Jersey militia regiment in the Revolution and represented the state in the Continental Congress during its low point of the mid-1780s. The elder Symmes was also an early American settler of the Ohio Territory.

The younger Symmes joined the U.S. Army in 1802 and continued to serve through the War of 1812. He then moved to St. Louis as a trader. That business failed in the 1819 Panic, but by then Symmes had a bright new idea to take up his time. In April 1818 he published a circular letter that said:
St. Louis, Missouri Territory, North America,
April 10, A. D. 1818.

To all the World:
I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles twelve or sixteen degrees. I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.

Jno. Cleves Symmes,
Of Ohio, late Captain of Infantry.

N. B. I have ready for the press a treatise on the principles of matter, wherein I show proofs of the above positions, account for various phenomena, and disclose Dr. [Erasmus] Darwin’s “Golden Secret [of wind patterns].” . . .

I ask one hundred, brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia, in the fall season, with reindeer and sleighs, on the ice of the frozen sea; I engage we find a warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men, on reaching one degree northward of latitude 82; we will return in the succeeding spring.
Symmes doesn’t seem to have come to the theory through actual evidence about Earth. He denied having read any previous theories along the same lines. (Edmund Halley had proposed one such theory to the Royal Society, and the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather later mentioned it in passing.) He said instead that he was inspired by seeing the rings of Saturn, though I’m not sure how exactly those were supposed to prove a hollow planet. But Symmes had his idea and insisted it was correct.

Remarkably, the circular letter didn’t attract the hundred companions that Symmes asked for. In 1820 he launched a speaking tour to spread his idea and drum up support. Two years later, Symmes petitioned the U.S. Congress to fund his expedition, but it declined to take up the proposal. The same thing happened the following year. Then the Ohio legislature turned down the opportunity in 1824.

Meanwhile, John Quincy Adams was serving James Monroe as Secretary of State.

TOMORROW: A proposal to the President.

(My thanks to Stephanie McKellop for alerting me to the story of Adams and the “mole people.”)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Why Do We Pronounced “Gerrymander” with a Soft G?

The story of the gerrymander is well known. In 1812, the Massachusetts General Court drew a state senate district that collected the large south Essex County towns of Marblehead and Salem and then snaked up through Andover and along the northern bank of the Merrimack River to Salisbury.

An artist at Russell and Cutler’s Boston Gazette saw that map and said the district shape resembled a salamander. To heighten the resemblance, he drew wings extending west out of Methuen—because salamanders have wings.

The Boston Gazette was a Federalist newspaper. The legislature was then in the hands of the Jeffersonians, and the governor who signed this districting plan, Elbridge Gerry, was also a Jeffersonian. So the newspaper decided to dub that supposedly monstrous district a “gerry-mander.”

A term spread a bit. In the seventh edition of The Olive Branch: or, Faults on Both Sides, Federal and Democratic (1815), Mathew Carey expounded on it and the practice it lampooned:

The senates, in almost every case, are composed of members chosen by districts, formed of two or more counties, which districts elect a number of senators in proportion to their population. . . .

The above arrangement and the adjustment of these districts opens a door to a considerable degree of intrigue and management, and invites to chicane and fraud—in one word, to the political sin, which I have styled Gerrymanderism. . . .

To accomplish this sinister purpose, counties are frequently united to form a senatorial district, which have no territorial connexion, being separated from each other by an intervening county, sometimes by two or three. Of this heinous political sin, both federalists and democrats, as I have said, have been guilty.

The state of Massachusetts was depicted, two or three years since, as a sort of monstrous figure, with the counties forming the senatorial districts, displayed on this unprincipled plan. It was called a Gerrymander, in allusion to the name of the late vice-president of the United States, then governor of that state. Hence I derive the term Gerrymanderism. To those who gave the title of Gerrymander, it might not unaptly be said—“men of glass; throw no stones.”
As that last paragraph makes clear, Elbridge Gerry had become a national figure, not just a regional one. He had been elected Vice President under James Madison and even served a year and a half before dying. So politically savvy people—the type of people who would use the term Gerrymanderism—knew about him. And knew that he pronounced his name with a hard G, as in glass.

Why, then, do we now all pronounce the word gerrymander with a soft G, as in Elbridge?

On a hunch, I ran the term through Google Books Ngram Viewer, and this is what it showed.
Although the term gerrymander was coined in the early republic, it really became popular around 1890, with additional booms after 1910, 1945, and 1960.

By the time the word really took hold, Americans had largely forgotten Elbridge Gerry, despite his career as a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, skeptical member of the Constitutional Convention, diplomat, Congressman, governor, and Vice President. Or at least people knew him only from the printed page, not from political discussions. Nobody was practiced in pronouncing his name.

Following the usual rule, folks assumed a G followed by an E was soft. Hence, gerrymander.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Paging through the Town of Boston’s Tax Records

Yesterday the Boston Public Library announced that it had digitized Boston’s surviving tax records from 1780 to 1821, when the town officially became a city.

The first volume of “takings” or assessments, from 1780, was published a century ago by the Bostonian Society. The digital collection not only offers a look at the handwritten pages of that volume, but also adds the many more volumes created over the following decades.

Here as a sample are snapshots from one page of the 1780 volume. This section covers Ward 1 in the North End.

At the top is the name of Bartholomew Broaders, barber. As an apprentice, he was one of the teenagers involved in the argument with Pvt. Hugh White outside the Customs House that led to the Boston Massacre. The tax list shows that ten years later Broaders running his own shop.

The next name, probably next to Broaders’s shop, was fellow barber Theodore Dehon. He was in his early forties at this time. Back in 1770 Dehon was established on State Street, and he was listed there again in the 1789 town directory. Dehon had another man living on his property in 1780, as well as journeyman Nicholas McMahon—who was “gone” a while later.

I’m convinced that the end of powdered-wig fashion caused a great constriction in the barbering business. Broaders ended up opening a “slop shop” selling clothes to sailors before going mad. Another former barber’s apprentice, Ebenezer Fox, likewise left the profession and opened a shop in Roxbury.

Here’s another person with a Massacre link: David Bradlee, who helped carry away Crispus Attucks’s body. Trained as a tailor, he became a Massachusetts artillery officer during the war and invested in a successful privateering voyage. In 1780 he was running a substantial tavern. That led him into the business of importing wine, thus rising from mechanic to merchant.
The last name above is Col. Isaac Sears, a Massachusetts native who had made his name and fortune in New York City. He was a leader of the Whigs there before the war and basically controlled the city in late 1775. When the British military returned, Sears moved to Boston and engaged in privateering and trading.

The next scrap shows Benjamin Cudworth, one of the town’s tax collectors. It’s notable that he owned considerably less real estate that Gawen Brown, the maker of the Old South Meeting-House clock.
The library’s research guide to the collection explains some of the quirks of these documents.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sir William Howe’s Banner on Display in Penn

Yesterday Dr. Sushma Jansari of the British Museum shared this photograph in a tweet. She and her family had stopped at the Holy Trinity Church in Penn, Buckinghamshire, for tea, and found this banner displayed on a wall inside.

At the right of the banner is the name “Sir William Howe.” The recently made label nearby says that Gen. Sir William Howe had this personal emblem carried at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Naturally, that caught my interest.

However, the label also states that battle took place in New York, so it’s not fully reliable. At least it's more on target than some tourist guides to the church, which say that Sir William Howe won the Glorious First of June in 1794. That was his older brother, Adm. Lord Richard Howe.

The label describes the Howe coat of arms as featuring “Three black dogs’ heads with red tongues.” I’m sure the College of Heralds would prefer those animals to be identified as wolves. But that’s definitely the Howe family arms, and the Howes (a later series of earls) built this church in Penn in 1849 and supported it since.

What piqued my curiosity about this banner was that Gen. Howe wasn’t knighted until late in 1776, a year after the Battle of Bunker Hill. So his troops definitely didn’t carry the banner in this form, with “Sir William Howe” sewn into it, in Charlestown. Did they display it in 1777 and 1778 as Howe served as commander-in-chief in Philadelphia and New York?

I haven’t found any printed mention of Sir William Howe’s banner besides what’s connected with this church. I’m hoping that some people who study flags of the Revolutionary era might know about this emblem or similar ones.

According to that tradition (and again, our sources aren't flawless), Gen. Howe’s banner “hung for many years in Westminster Abbey.” I suspect it was part of the memorial to his older brother George, a beloved army commander killed in the French and Indian War. The statue anchoring that memorial was actually funded in 1759 by the grateful province of Massachusetts.

Up until 1884 there were “military trophies and flags behind” Viscount George Howe’s monument in a “window embrasure,” as shown in a sketch on the abbey’s website. But in that year the statue was moved “so that American visitors could see it more easily.” Sir William’s banner might then have been sent off to the church in Penn.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Life of Sarah Fayerweather

In 1756 Thomas Fayerweather (1724-1805), a wealthy Boston merchant, married Sarah Hubbard. She was a daughter of the treasurer of Harvard College, born in 1730. Her portrait by Robert Feke, now owned by Historic New England, appears here.

According to Boston town records, that wedding took place on 26 June. The Sarah Fayerweather cookbook I described yesterday is dated exactly eight years later. That date provides a link between it and this particular Sarah Fayerweather, and suggests that the book might have been an anniversary gift.

The Fayerweathers had four children baptized at the Old South Meeting-House between 1757 and 1769. Though they never seem to have joined that church, Douglas Winiarski wrote about the prayers they requested here.

Thomas Fayerweather had business ties in other American ports as well as London and the Caribbean, well documented in his surviving correspondence. His investments included some slaving voyages and some genteel smuggling. Fayerweather’s political profile seems invisible, however; after 1769 he apparently spent much of his time in rural Oxford, away from tumultuous Boston.

Sarah Fayerweather oversaw her kitchens, but she almost certainly had servants do the work there. On 2 Apr 1770 Thomas hired out “five black men-servants” named Cato, Charleston, Jack, Prince, and Boston, perhaps because he didn’t need them out in the country. Unfortunately, Thomas Fayerweather doesn’t appear on Massachusetts’s 1771 tax list for either Boston or Oxford, so we don’t have the details of his property then.

In the fall of 1774, as Massachusetts militarized after the “Powder Alarm,” Thomas Fayerweather made a deal with George Ruggles of Cambridge, a Jamaican merchant who had married into the Vassall family. The two men swapped houses.

Ruggles got a new house inside Boston, protected by the British army. The Fayerweathers gained a mansion and farm on the Watertown road in Cambridge, next to the estate of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver. Oliver was gone, along with most of the other Loyalists from that part of town. That’s why that home on the “Tory Row” part of what’s now Brattle Street is known as the Ruggles-Fayerweather House.

When the war started, it appears the Fayerweathers again moved out to Oxford, leaving their Cambridge house empty. Early in June 1775, Gen. Israel Putnam took Lt. Col. Experience Storrs of Connecticut out there and told him to use it as barracks. On 8 June, Storrs wrote in his journal:
Mr. Fairweather came home last night out of humor as they tell me. No wonder, his house filled up with soldiers, and perhaps his interest suffers as it really must. Sent for me, yet appears to act the part of a gentleman.
By the end of the summer, the Fayerweathers’ house was being used as an army hospital. But after the siege the family got their Cambridge property back, and they maintained their wealthy lifestyle. Sarah Fayerweather died in 1804, her husband Thomas a year later, leaving a fortune of $64,000.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Cookbook Started in 1764

One of the items in the Harvard Library’s Colonial North American collection is the cookbook digitized here.

Early in the book Sarah Fayerweather’s name appears over “June 26 MDCCLXIV,” telling us the initial owner and date.

The first pages are beautifully written in at least five different handwriting styles, perhaps even by a professional scribe.

At page 30 another hand takes over, also accomplished but not as showy or as even. The long S disappears about page 35. On pages 36-37 is a remedy “For Consumptive Complaints in the Breast” copied from the 21 Aug 1786 issue of the American Herald newspaper.

At page 40 yet more handwritings appear, with recipes attributed to “Mrs. Smith,” “Mrs. Thompson,” and others. One recipe on that page is for “polka cake,” and the polka craze dates from the mid-1800s. Page 44 (“Apple, Cream Pudding,” “Wine Jelly,” and “Cream Tartar Biscuit”) has been spattered on, so the notebook was obviously still in use.

The number of blank pages shows that this recipe book was designed to grow, just as people used it. It ends with an index which subsequent owners kept up.

Here are two recipes from page 4, the latter broken out from one paragraph:
To make Gingerbread
Take 5 lb. Flour 2 1/2 Sugar, 1 1/2 lb. Butter, 3 oz Ginger, 14 Eggs, 14 Spoons full rose water, 2 or 3 Spoons full Milk

for a
Calfs Head Tortois Fashion

Take a Calfs Head wth. ye. skin on, and parboil it, & take all the bones out & cut in pieces

then season it wth. pepper & put a Gill of Ketchup & also. Calfs feet in it, & salt & sweet herbs a little mace pounded fine, shread an Onion fine, about half a pint of Claret

take eno’ of the Liquor that you parboil it in to cover it, set it a stewing at 11 o’Clock & keep it doing till after one

season the Liver cut in slices & fry

put it in a dish by it self wth. some of ye. Gravy & ye. [heart shape] wth. it,

the tongue must go wth. ye. stew,

take ye. Brains wth. some melted Butter a little Ketchup & put in a bowl, Garnish it wth. yolks of Eggs Boiled hard, and force meat Balls.
“Force meat” is chopped and spiced meat. I’m not sure meatballs and the yolks of hardboiled eggs would make a calf’s brain look more appetizing, but I’ve never tried it.

TOMORROW: Who was Sarah Fayerweather?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Harvard Digital Collections from the Colonial Period

Last month the Harvard Gazette featured some treasures from the university’s Colonial North America collection, “approximately 650,000 digitized pages of handmade materials from the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Most of that material consists of manuscripts, but highlighted in this article are:
As I type, the collection’s front page features documents created by Dr. John Jeffries and the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, two men from Revolutionary Massachusetts I don’t fully trust. But I can’t hold that against the university.

This week the university announced the launch of the larger Harvard Digital Collections, which contains the material from Colonial North America. That “provides free, public access to over 6 million objects digitized from our collections—from ancient art to modern manuscripts and audio visual materials.”

What’s more, this is the policy on copyright governing this material:
In order to foster creative reuse of digitized content, Harvard Library allows free use of openly available digital reproductions of items from its collections that are not under copyright, except where other rights or restrictions apply.

Harvard Library asserts no copyright over digital reproductions of works in its collections which are in the public domain, where those digital reproductions are made openly available on Harvard Library websites.
So if a person wanted an image of a certificate of initiation into the African Lodge of Freemasons, signed by Prince Hall, George Middleton, and other officers, one has merely to click.

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Chance to Build the Auction Block Memorial

Steve Locke, a Boston-based artist, is running a Kickstarter campaign to create and install a memorial just outside Faneuil Hall to the people who suffered from the transatlantic slave trade.

Locke was Boston’s Artist-in-Residence in 2018, and the advisory board for this project includes Mayor Marty Walsh and other officials and leaders of local non-profit organizations. The campaign has attracted enough subscribers to reach its first fundraising level and is now aiming for a “stretch goal.”

This site was chosen because Peter Faneuil, the merchant who gave Boston the initial money for a town meeting-hall, gained some of his wealth from slaving voyages between Africa and the Caribbean. And more for shipping supplies from New England to the Caribbean. In addition, the building stands near what was once the Town Dock, site of occasional auctions of newly arrived Africans during the colonial period.

There is of course great irony in the building long called “the cradle of liberty” having those links to slavery. We Bostonians prefer to remember the abolitionist orators who spoke inside during the mid-1800s. But the mercantile economy of Boston was built largely on supplying the deadly work camps of the West Indies. Acknowledging that history in a moving way tells more of the region’s history.

Locke describes his memorial design this way:
The memorial consists of the footprint of an auction block—the site that transforms humans into property. In order to converse visually with an existing memorial sculpture in the area, the work will be bronze with a brown patina. The bronze plate will be approximately 10x16 feet overall and will contain the raised text and image of the routes and supplies of the Triangular Trade. Ideally, it will outline the shipping route of the [ship] Desire.

The memorial will have two sections, a site of the auctioneer (the smaller rectangular section at right) and a larger area for those being sold into slavery. The larger area will have the map of the Triangular Trade route that created the wealth of the Faneuil family and lead to the creation of the marketplace area. Because it is symbolic (and not an actual auction block), the bronze plate will be set into the existing bricks (or hardscape). It will be at grade, not a platform or a riser, on the same level as the street. It is not meant to intrude vertically in any way on the existing site. Instead, it is meant to be a plan on the ground, a metaphorical basis and model for how wealth traveled through enslavement.

The measurements of the block are taken from analysis of slaving manifests that dictate the amount of space available for "loose-pack" cargo of slaves. Humans were allotted a space of 3x5 feet. The block will be cast in sections this size to reflect this organizational structure. Also, the historic images of "slave packing" will be included on the smaller section of the block.

In order to evoke the presence of those Africans and African-Americans who came into chattel slavery through Boston, the bronze plate will be heated to a constant 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to Horst Hoheisel’s Monument to a Monument in Buchenwald, Germany. This will make touching the work an immediately intimate and reverent experience, as if you are touching a living person. This will also keep the memorial free from snow in the winter. Even in a Boston winter, the auction block will be visible.
The funds will cover additional work on both the details and logistics of the memorial. The Auction Block Memorial fundraising campaign closes on 24 July.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Deborah Sampson’s First Masquerade

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia announced a new acquisition with this article in the New York Times.

The news hook is Deborah Sampson, the young woman from Middleboro who served in the Continental Army under the name of Robert Shurtliff. Alison Leigh Cowan’s article says:
Did she fight in the decisive Battle of Yorktown, as she later insisted on multiple occasions? And how did she keep her secret for the many months she served in Washington’s light infantry?

Now, scholars say the discovery of a long-forgotten diary, recorded more than 200 years ago by a Massachusetts neighbor of Sampson, is addressing some of the questions and sharpening our understanding of one of the few women to take on a combat role during the Revolution. . . .

The diary, written by Abner Weston, suggests Sampson likely did not fight at Yorktown as she claimed. He dates Sampson’s botched enlistment to a period around January 1782, months after the British thrashing at Yorktown. . . .

The…diary that just resurfaced is a hand-stitched, 68-page account of the period between March 28, 1781 and August 16, 1782, which Weston updated while back home in Middleborough, Mass., where Sampson also lived.

In an entry for Jan. 23, 1782, Weston, then 21, wrote with variant spelling about an “uncommon affair” that rocked the town. A woman, posing as a man, had tried to enlist.

“Their hapend a uncommon affair at this time,” he wrote, “for Deborah Samson of this town dress her self in men’s cloths and hired her self to Israel Wood to go into the three years Servis. But being found out returnd the hire and paid the Damages.”
There’s indeed some new information there, but Sampson’s enlistment after Yorktown hasn’t been in doubt. Alfred Young’s biography Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (2004) firmly sets Sampson’s enlistment in the spring of 1782 based on Continental Army records.

Masquerade also discusses Sampson’s earlier abortive enlistment based on a local minister’s account and town lore collected generations later by John Adams Vinton. A young recruit named Timothy Thayer didn’t show up for duty, prompting inquiries which revealed that Thayer was actually Sampson.

Abner Weston’s diary entry provides an additional source for that episode. It suggests Israel Wood was not the local army recruiter, as Al Young guessed, but someone trying to hire a substitute so he wouldn’t have to serve himself.

Sampson hid this moment from her biographer, so we have no record of what she was thinking. Was she just hoping to collect the recruitment money and vanish with it back into women’s clothing? Or was she planning to march off as a young man, but something got in the way? Either way, a few months later Sampson once again put on male clothing, went to another town where they didn’t know her, and began her documented army service as Robert Shurtliff.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Three Revolutionary War Symposia in Three Weekends

Three Revolutionary War symposia are happening on successive weekends this fall, so it’s time to pick and prepare.

On 20-22 September, Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York will host its sixteenth Annual Seminar on the American Revolution. The speakers are:
  • John Buchanan, “Nathanael Greene and the Road to Charleston
  • Mark R. Anderson, “Our Kahnawake Friends: America’s Essential Indian Allies in the Canadian Campaign”
  • Phillip Hamilton, “Loyalty and Loyalism: Henry Knox and the American Revolution as a Transatlantic Family Struggle”
  • Patrick Lacroix, “Promises to Keep: French-Canadian Soldiers of the Revolution, 1775-1783”
  • Bryan C. Rindfleisch, “‘’Twas a Duty Incumbent on Me’: The Indigenous & Transatlantic Intimacies of George Galphin, the American Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the South”
  • John Ruddiman, “German Auxiliaries’ Reactions to American Slavery and Relationships with Enslaved Americans”
  • Jessica J. Sheets, “‘I Hope…We Shall Ever Be on Terms of Friendship’: The Politically Divided Tilghman Family”
  • Alisa Wade, “‘To Live a Widow’: Personal Sacrifice and Self-Sufficiency in the American Revolution”

On Saturday, 28 September, the first Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium will take place at the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. This year’s theme is “Before They Were Americans,” and the speakers will discuss what led to the idea of breaking from Britain:
  • Peter Henriques, “George Washington: From British Subject to American Rebel”
  • Phillip Greenwalt, “I wish this cursed place was burned: Boston and the Road to Revolution”
  • Katherine Gruber, “A Tailor-Made Revolution: Clothing William Carlin’s Alexandria”
  • William Griffith, “A proud, indolent, ignorant self sufficient set: The Colonists’ Emergence as a Fighting Force in the French and Indian War”
  • Stephanie Seal Walters, “Smallpox to Revolution”
Register through this link.


Lastly, on 3-5 October, the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, in partnership with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, will host the first International Conference on the American Revolution, bringing scholars from Britain, Ireland, and the U.S. of A. together.

The M.O.A.R. says:
The conference will coincide with the opening of Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, the Museum’s first international loan exhibition. With more than one hundred works of art, historical objects, manuscripts, and maps from lenders across the globe, Cost of Revolution will explore the Age of Revolutions in America and Ireland through the life story of an Irish-born artist and officer in the British Army, Richard Mansergh St. George (1750s-1798).
Scheduled presentations include:
  • Linda Colley, “Britain, America, and Ireland in an Age of War and Revolution”
  • Andrew Mackillop, “Losing and Winning: Scotland and the American Revolution”
  • Stephen Conway, “Englishness and the American Revolution”
  • Matthew Skic, “Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier”
  • Gregory J. W. Urwin, “From Parade Ground to Battlefield: How the British Army Adapted to War in North America, 1775-1783”
  • Aaron Sullivan, “The Disaffected: Britain’s Occupation of Philadelphia During the American Revolution”
  • Lauren Duval, “The Home Front: Gender, Domestic Space, and Military Occupation in the American Revolution”
  • Padhraig Higgins, “Playing the Soldier: The Art and Material Culture of Soldiering in Eighteenth-Century Ireland”
  • Ruth Kenny, “Insurrection and Identity: The Depiction of Conflict in Late Eighteenth-Century Irish Art”
  • Martin Mansergh, “The Legacy of History for Making Peace in Ireland”
Attendees can also sign up for a one-day guided bus following the path of Richard St. George through the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777, a walking tour of the fight for Fort Mifflin, and of course tours of the museum itself.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

“We shall conduct our Embassy”

Yale professor Mark Peterson recently published The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865, which has a provocative thesis.

For centuries, Peterson posits, Boston tried to operate not only as regional capital of New England but also politically aloof from its national capitals, London and Washington, D.C.

Rather than concentrate on supplying goods to London like a good mercantilist colony, early Bostonians learned to trade with the Caribbean colonies and outside the British Empire entirely. Massachusetts minted its own coins in the mid-1600s and outfitted its own invasion force in the mid-1700s. As late as the Hartford Convention, this “city-state” wanted to go its own way. I look forward to digging more deeply into his thesis.

This Yale News article about Peterson highlights a smaller story that touches on the Revolution and its memory:
While doing research for the book Peterson took note of facts that “struck him as strange,” such as the curious evolution of a letter from John Adams, American statesman and second president of the United States, to his wife Abigail Adams. The letter underwent an almost imperceptible — but critically important — revision in language when published many years later, says Peterson.

In September 1774, John Adams attended the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and wrote to Abigail about his encounters with the delegates from 12 of the other 13 colonies for the first time. Adams wrote: “I flatter myself, however, that we shall conduct our embassy in such a manner as to merit the approbation of our country.”

In this letter, Adams was quite rightly describing himself and the other Massachusetts delegates to the Continental Congress as if they were ambassadors to a foreign power, explains Peterson. “And when Adams says ‘our country,’ he is referring to Massachusetts,” not the United States, notes Peterson, who adds that up until the Civil War, both nationally and internationally Boston and its New England hinterland was thought of as a separate country with its own “national” identity.

However, following the Civil War in 1875, John Adams’ grandson Charles Francis Adams published an edition of his grandfather’s letters. In that volume, the same sentence written by John Adams was changed ever so slightly — but with an enormous impact on how Boston is perceived historically, notes Peterson. In this later edition, the younger Adams changed the phrase “our embassy” to “ourselves.”
Charles Francis Adams’s guess about his grandfather’s letter (detail shown here courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society) didn’t account for a lot of squiggles. But, to be fair, John Adams’s writing wasn’t the clearest. And Peterson is right that the younger Adams clearly didn’t have the mindset to expect that word to be “Embassy.”

Monday, July 08, 2019

A Wilkes Cufflink from Brunswick Town

Just a few hours after I posted about the archeological discovery of a tavern in Brunswick Town, North Carolina, a tweet from Warren Bingham alerted me to a new announcement from that team.

One artifact when cleaned up turned out to be a cufflink ornamented with a pea-sized blue glass bead. And etched on that bead are the words “Wilkes and Liberty 45.”

John Wilkes was the London radical who used his magazine The North-Briton to attack the Earl of Bute, a Scotsman, and his supposed corruption of the royal family. Bute stepped down as chief minister in April 1763 and never returned to politics, but Whigs in Britain and America kept him in the public mind as a scapegoat and focus of conspiracy theories.

In issue number 45 of The North-Briton, published late in April 1763, Wilkes came very close to attacking George III as well as Bute. That would be sedition, and the government brought Wilkes and his printers up on charges. He fled to France for several years, returning in 1768 to be both reelected to Parliament and arrested for obscenity.

American Whigs adopted Wilkes’s cause, making his name and the number 45 emblems for political reform across the British Empire. The Boston Whigs corresponded with Wilkes in the late 1760s, trying to make common cause. His domestic popularity lasted until the Gordon Riots of 1780. Later generations looked askance at Wilkes’s sexual activity and writing, letting them overshadow his political significance.

There are lots of physical manifestations of Wilkes’s popularity in America: prints, china, and ornaments like this one. In 2013 a member of the TreasureNet bulletin board with the handle sscindercoop reported finding a seal with the same slogan and similar design at a “colonial fort site,” possibly in central New York. A London mudlark called Chill Bill found a glass “Wilkes and Liberty 45” cufflink in the Thames, as he shows on this 2017 video.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

A New Tavern Opened in Brunswick Town

Archeologists from East Carolina University announced that they are exploring the site of an eighteenth-century tavern in Brunswick Town, North Carolina, once capital of that colony.

The building was located by a student using ground-penetrating radar. It appeared as “a submerged structure measuring roughly 400 square feet (37 square meters) and buried under 5 feet (1.5 m) of earth.” A dig revealed more details, including the fact that the structure was destroyed by fire. The walls collapsed in a way that protected the crawl space under the floorboards from the flames, thus preserving an unusually large assortment of everyday objects.

LiveScience reports:
The objects hidden in the building’s crawl space include the brass tap from a wine barrel, unused tobacco pipes, broken mugs and goblets, crushed liquor bottles, and other items typically found in a tavern. An Irish halfpenny dated to 1766 helps narrow down the tavern's latest possible date of operation.
The Charlotte Observer also noted “iron tools that historians can’t yet identify.”

The British military burned Brunswick Town in 1776, and most people abandoned that settlement. (Gov. William Tryon had moved away in 1770, which didn’t help the local economy.) The archeologists seem to think, however, that this building had been destroyed in the preceding decade.

Strikingly, the artifacts include “thimbles, straight pins and clothing fasteners associated with the town’s female populace.” The archeologists note those might have been a male tailor’s tools. Nevertheless, those discoveries led to speculation that the tavern was also a brothel.

Another oddity is that there is no paper record of a building having stood on that spot. Researchers studying Brunswick Town have relied on this 1769 map, but it shows no structure there. So perhaps the business burned before 1769, or perhaps the business was lying really low.