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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Thursday, August 08, 2019

“The ladies of Massachusetts begin to give their cheese”

On 8 Aug 1801, the Impartial Observer of Providence, said to be a “short-lived Jeffersonian paper," ran this exclusive news item:

The Cheshire Ladies’ respect to President Jefferson.

In the town of Cheshire, state of Massachusetts, the ladies of the Rev. Mr. Leland’s church and society agreed to make a cheese to present to his Excellency Thomas Jefferson as a mark of the exalted esteem they had of him as a man of virtue, benevolence, and a real sincere friend to all Christian denominations, and their full coincidence in his being placed in the Executive chair of the American nation, and their full assurance of his wielding the government at much less expence than his predecessor, and as well, and it is hoped much better.

Accordingly, they requested Mr. Leland to procure a cheese vat at their expense six feet diameter, and twenty one inches thick, to press the cheese in; and on a certain day they were to assemble at Mr. Daniel Brown’s with the curd to make the cheese. They all punctually attended and placed the vat in a cyder press and then filled it with curd. The vat held fourteen hundred weight of curd, and they had three hundred weight left. This cheese was made from the milk of 900 cows at one milking. When our informant left Cheshire, the cheese had not been turned, but would be in a few days, as the machinery for that purpose was nearly completed.

If the ladies of Massachusetts begin to give their cheese out of respect to Mr. Jefferson, and if some of the high toned Adams men do not soon turn and become friendly to Jefferson and the ladies, it is thought they will lose their esteem and have to eat their bread without cheese. This cheese is to be sent on in the spring of 1802, to the seat of government, under the care of Mr. Lealand, who was formerly a neighbour to Mr. Jefferson fifteen years in the State of Virginia. The motto on this cheese is “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

I discussed the origin of that motto back in May, and how it became a particular favorite of Jefferson. The plans for this cheese show how Americans associated the line with Jefferson. A week earlier, the Impartial Observer also listed it among the Fourth of July toasts at a celebration in New York.

Later in August, the Federalist Hampshire Gazette picked up the story of Cheshire’s cheese for the President, adding some sarcastic commentary. The printer headed that item “THE MAMMOTH CHEESE,” which was both a reference to Jefferson’s interest in natural history and the first use of “mammoth” as an adjective.

Was the ”J.” who sent this report to the Impartial Observer the Rev. John Leland himself? Possible but unproven. He was an itinerant Baptist evangelist who had been born in Grafton in 1754. The American Antiquarian Society published L. H. Butterfield’s biographical article about Leland, available as a P.D.F. here. Pictured above is the town of Cheshire’s monument to Leland and the cheese.

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