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, October 08, 2019

The Revolutionary Roots of the Brighton Cattle Market

Tonight at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the environmental history seminar will discuss Andrew Robichaud’s paper “Brighton Fair: The Life, Death, and Legacy of an Animal Suburb.”

This paper focuses on the great growth of Brighton, originally Cambridge’s “south precinct” or “Little Cambridge,” as a livestock market in the 1800s.

On the genesis of that market, Robichaud cites the work of local historian William P. Marchione, whose Bull in the Garden collects the traditions of butchers establishing the meat market to supply the Continental Army during the siege of Boston. Specifically, sources credit Jonathan Winship (1719-1784) and his son, also named Jonathan (1747-1814).

Documentation is harder to find, though in his article “When Cattle Was King” Marchione wrote of the Winships:
As early as 1777, as the records of the Army of New England indicate, the family’s two warehouses in Little Cambridge contained some 500 barrels of salted beef. So important was this meat supply to the revolutionary cause that the army posted soldiers to protect it against possible sabotage.
That year, Cambridge counted twelve white men and one black man living in the Winship household, the largest on the south side of the Charles River.

The 1882 Memorial History of Boston reported the Winship family was successful enough during the war to build a big house:
The Winship house, a mansion of considerable importance in its day, was erected in 1780 by Jonathan Winship, a farmer who cultivated a large tract of land in its vicinity, and who died Oct. 3, 1784, aged 65. . . . Jonathan Winship, Jr.,…contracted for the supply of beef to the French fleet that visited Boston shortly after the Revolutionary War.
In a 1982 paper in Agricultural History, “The Brighton Market,” David C. Smith and Anne E. Bridges noted that the Winships had arrived in the village a decade before the war. They had to be established to earn the Continental Army business:
Oral tradition has suggested that Brighton was the source of the Boston meat supplies as early as 1765. More probably the use of Brighton as the Boston abattoir dates from 1776 when the problem of feeding the besieging Continental army became difficult. Jonathan Winship, owner of a farm in Cambridge since 1765, took a contract to provide meat to the soldiers.
I can add that one Jonathan Winship had a direct link to Boston’s pre-Revolutionary resistance.

In the Whigs’ “Journal of the Times,” the 25 July 1769 entry described an altercation between “a grenadier of the 14th Regiment,” and “A country butcher who frequents the market.” Further entries identified the grenadier as Pvt. John Riley and the butcher as “Jonathan Winship of Cambridge.” The behavior described sounds more like a 22-year-old than a 50-year-old, but you never can tell.

Someday I’ll discuss the competing descriptions of that fight. For now, I’ll just note how the Brighton cattle market is another New England institution with a Sestercentennial connection.

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