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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Friday, July 31, 2020

“Massachusetts Revolts!” at HistoryAuthorTalks, 4 Aug.

On Tuesday, 4 August, I’ll participate in an online conversation on the theme “Massachusetts Revolts!: How the Feisty New England Protests Changed the World.”

This event is the latest digital discussion among historians to be organized by Roger Williams at HistoryAuthorTalks. The participants will be:
Also beaming in for a few remarks will be Catherine Allgor, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and author of Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government, as this session’s Partner in History.

The conversation is scheduled to start promptly at 7:00 P.M. and go on for an hour. There will be a way to ask questions through the moderator. To register for this free event, go to HistoryAuthorTalks.com, where you can also see recordings of past events. Books will be available through a link to Bookshop.org. You might be able to tell that the goal of this conversation will be to sell books.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

“America’s Summer Road Trip,” 1 Aug.

When History Camp Boston and then other History Camps had to be canceled this year because of the pandemic, the organizers of The Pursuit of History looked for another way to share historical information with the public.

Lee Wright and Carrie Lund have been conducting online interviews with authors every Thursday. I was the first interviewee as we all figured out what we were doing. (As a board member of The Pursuit of History, as well as a friend of Lee and Carrie, it felt fair for me to be a test pilot.)

Another new enterprise from The Pursuit of History is “America’s Summer Road Trip,” the first excursion scheduled for this Saturday, 1 August. You can watch preview videos and sign up for this streaming event here. It’s free.

For Saturday, twelve historic sites across the country have prepared longer video visits. Personnel at each site will speak live and answer questions. This should be a fun way for history fans not only to mentally get out of the house, but also to check out places and topics that you’ve never visited (yet).

Once again I’m involved, this time working with Ranger Jim Hollister at Minute Man National Historical Park to talk about the James Barrett farm in Concord. We talk about what the fighting on 19 Apr 1775 looked like from there. This property is a crucial part of that history, but it wasn’t part of the park until a few years ago and not many tours cover it. So even if you’ve been to Minute Man, this corner of the park might be new to you.

“America’s Summer Road Trip 2020” streams from 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. Eastern Time on Saturday at AmericasSummerRoadtrip.org and the Facebook page. The recorded content will also be archived on that Facebook page. Here’s the whole schedule.

9:00 A.M.: Historic New Bridge Landing, River Edge, New Jersey – The Bergen County Historical Society introduces this battleground, encampment, and intelligence outpost, with a building that served as Gen. George Washington’s headquarters in 1780.

10:00: Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers, Massachusetts — The only home of a victim of the 1692 Salem Witch Hunt preserved and open to the public.

11:00: National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio — Opened in 2002, its mission is to “reveal stories of freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times.”

12:00 noon: Minute Man National Historical Park, Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord, Massachusetts — Site of the first fatal battle of the Revolutionary War in April 1775.

1:00 P.M.: Faneuil Hall and the Printing Office of Edes & Gill, Boston, Massachusetts — Faneuil Hall has been the site of historic meetings, speeches, and debates for 275 years. At Edes and Gill, the documents that led to the origin of the nation are recreated on a colonial-era printing press.

2:00: Molly Brown House, Denver, Colorado — Margaret “Molly” Brown was a labor activist, suffragist, and advocate for social justice who survived the tragedy of the Titanic; her ornate Victorian-era mansion interprets her story.

3:00: Thomas Edison National Historical Park, West Orange, New Jersey — Thomas Edison’s Laboratory Complex shows the development of such innovations as the phonograph, incandescent lamps, and motion picture cameras while his home, Glenmont, is a 29-room estate with verdant grounds.

4:00: Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Nageezi, New Mexico — The ruins at Chaco Culture National Historical Park are more than 1,000 years old and offer insight into the largest and most advanced ancient Pueblo villages in the Southwest.

5:00: American Heritage Museum at the Collings Foundation, Stow, Massachusetts — This museum focuses on America’s military engagements from the Revolutionary Way to today, with an extensive collection of vehicles from the World Wars.

6:00: Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, Powell, Wyoming — More than 14,000 Japanese-Americans were confined here during World War II; this site both preserves the remains of the camp and tells the stories of the people forced to move there.

7:00: Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina — The museum and grounds at this National Park Service site describe the Wrights’ methodical experimentation to achieve the first successful, sustained, powered flights.

8:00: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma, California — This California State Historic Park marks where James Marshall discovered gold in 1848, prompting the Gold Rush to California.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Getting Out of Marlborough in 1775

When we left Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere, they were in a back room of Henry Barnes’s house in Marlborough, listening as he tried to send away a member of the local committee of correspondence.

Dr. Samuel Curtis had shown up that evening of 1 Mar 1775, uninvited and asking to stay to supper. Barnes told him the doctor that he couldn’t stay because the family already had company.

Dr. Curtis then turned to a child—DeBerniere wrongly understood the girl to be Barnes’s daughter—and asked “who her father had got with him.”

According to the ensign, “the child innocently answered that she had asked her pappa, but he told her it was not her business.”

Still suspicious but unable to learn more, the doctor left. Brown and DeBerniere decided he was probably going to gather his political allies, so they should stay only a couple of hours to rest. They would leave at midnight, regardless of the snowy weather.

But even that was too leisurely, DeBerniere later wrote:
we got some supper on the table and were just beginning to eat, when Barnes (who had been making enquiry of his servants) found they [local Patriots] intended to attack us, and then he told us plainly he was very uneasy for us, that we could be no longer in safety in that town: upon which we resolved to set off immediately
The two officers had been inside for only twenty minutes, they estimated. Barnes took them “out of his house by the stables, and directed us a bye road which was to lead us a quarter of a mile from the town.”

Brown and DeBerniere hiked through the blowing snow until they reached “the hills that command the causeway at Sudbury, and went into a little wood where we eat a bit of bread that we took from Mr. Barnes’s, and eat a little snow to wash it down.”

At the next house, a man came out and asked Brown, “What do you think will become of you now?” By this time the officers were totally on edge, unable to tell whether the people they met recognized who they were and were helping to plan an assault or just thought it strange for two strangers to be out walking in the night during a snowstorm.

In Sudbury the officers encountered “three or four horsemen.” Those riders moved to either side of the road, letting the strangers pass between them while they watched silently.

Brown and DeBerniere reached the safety of Isaac Jones’s Golden Ball Tavern in Weston about 10:30 P.M., having walked 32 miles that day. The next day, the officers got into Boston, where they were safe. They wrote out a detailed report for Gen. Thomas Gage, which is our source for all this information. They turned over sketches and maps of the route out of Worcester in case the general planned a march that way.

Meanwhile, back in Marlborough, soon after the British scouts left, there was yet another knock on Henry Barnes’s door. This time the whole Marlborough committee of correspondence showed up and “demanded” to see the visitors. Barnes insisted those two men were not army officers “but relations of his wife’s, from Penobscot, and were gone to Lancaster.” According to DeBerniere’s report:
they then searched his house from top to bottom, looked under the beds and in their cellars and when they found we were gone, they told him if they had caught us in his house they would have pulled it about his ears.
Among the Marlborough committee-men was Alpheus Woods. Five years earlier, Woods had also been on the town committee to make Barnes follow the non-importation agreement. Barnes’s supporters had accused Woods of sending the merchant a letter threatening to burn down his potash works and house. Now Woods had nearly caught Barnes harboring British army spies.

Henry Barnes departed Marlborough a few days after his busy evening. His wife Christian Barnes went to stay with her friend Elizabeth Inman until past the actual outbreak of fighting in April. Taking refuge in Boston, hey left the Marlborough estate in the hands of Henry’s adult niece, Catharine Goldthwait.

Under Massachusetts committee of safety guidelines, local committees weren’t supposed to confiscate property from Loyalists as long as some family members were still living peacefully on it. But the Marlborough committee including Alpheus Woods did take property from the Barnes estate, including furniture they loaned to Col. Henry Knox. Catharine Goldthwait complained about that to the General Court, to no avail.

In February 1776, Henry Barnes learned that a bequest worth almost £2,000 was awaiting him in London. He and Christian sailed that month, ahead of the end of the siege. Catharine Goldthwait followed a few years later, and Massachusetts confiscated her uncle’s property. Henry and Christian Barnes received a small Loyalist pension until he died in 1808.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

“Safe no where but in his house”

On the evening of Wednesday, 1 Mar 1775, Henry Barnes opened the door of his large house in Marlborough (shown above, even larger after nineteenth-century expansion).

Two strangers from England stepped inside. They apologized to Barnes “for taking the liberty to make use of his house” and revealed that they were British army officers in disguise–Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere.

Barnes wasn’t surprised. His Patriot neighbors had actually expected these spies to arrive in Marlborough the previous day. Alerted by Timothy Bigelow of Worcester, “a party of liberty people” had gone to [Abraham] Williams‘s tavern to meet them. Marlborough “was very violent,” Barnes warned the officers, and they “could be safe no where but in his house.”

The merchant asked Brown and DeBerniere if they had spoken to anyone on their way into town. The officers mentioned telling a baker where they were headed. “A little startled,” Barnes explained that the baker “was a very mischievous fellow, and that there was a deserter at his house.”

Indeed, the three men soon determined that that deserter, Drummer John Swain, was from Capt. Brown’s own company in the 52nd Regiment. Swain had certainly recognized his officer and confirmed everyone’s suspicions that these visitors were military spies.

There was another knock at the door. Leaving the officers in an interior room, Barnes went to see who it was. A doctor—local historian Charles Hudson later guessed that this was Dr. Samuel Curtis (1747-1822)—had come for supper. Barnes knew that Dr. Curtis:
  • hadn’t been invited for supper that evening.
  • hadn’t visited the house for two years.
  • was a member of Marlborough’s committee of correspondence.
The merchant told the physician that because there was company he “could not have the pleasure of attending him that night.”

Dr. Curtis then turned to a child in the room. (Ens. DeBerniere believed this girl was Barnes’s daughter, but other sources say Henry and Christian Barnes had no surviving children but raised a couple of nieces.) The doctor asked the girl who Barnes “had got with him.” Presumably all the other adults in the house held their breath.

TOMORROW: Leaving Marlborough behind.

Monday, July 27, 2020

“As we intended to go to Mr. Barns’s”

On Sunday, 26 Feb 1775, Capt. William Brown, Ens. Henry DeBerniere, and their bodyservant were in Worcester. They were all soldiers in the British army, but undercover in civilian dress.

Because New England colonies had laws against traveling from town to town on the Sabbath except for emergencies, the two officers stayed in their inn all day. DeBerniere later reported that “we wrote and corrected our sketches” of the roads out from Boston to Worcester. When the sun set, they went out to the hill around town and sketched some more.

Worcester was one of the places that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had started to gather cannon for its army. The officers had seen some of those guns in town. Their mission was to spot such weapons and collect information that Gen. Thomas Gage would need in planning a march to seize them.

That same day in Essex County, Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie led just such an expedition to capture other cannon being prepared for the congress in the north part of Salem. He couldn’t move fast enough and withdrew empty-handed.

News of that confrontation appears to have riled up the Patriots of Worcester. About eight o’clock some men came to the inn to ask about Brown and DeBerniere, eventually telling the landlord they knew his guests were “officers of the army.”

Brown and DeBerniere decided to leave the next day at dawn, buying some roast beef and brandy from their landlord for the journey. Traveling east on foot, they were overtaken by a horseman who looked at them narrowly before riding off along the Marlborough road. Later generations identified this man as Timothy Bigelow, a Marlborough native who had become a successful blacksmith and political activist in Worcester.

The officers chose to turn off to Framingham, where they got to see a militia company drill outside their tavern. The next day they moved on to Isaac Jones’s Golden Ball Tavern in Weston, where they had also stayed on their hike west (shown above). Brown and DeBerniere sent their sketches back to Boston with their servant. Then they decided that, since no one had bothered them for a couple of days, it was safe to keep scouting the roads.

A snowstorm kept the officers indoors until two in the afternoon, but finally they set out for Marlborough. It was snowing again as they arrived about three miles from the center of town. DeBerniere wrote:
a horseman overtook us and asked us from whence we came, we said from Weston, he asked if we lived there, we said no; he then asked us where we resided, and as we found there was no evading his questions, we told him we lived at Boston; he then asked us where we were going, we told him to Marlborough, to see a friend, (as we intended to go to Mr. Barns’s, a gentleman to whom we were recommended, and a friend to government;)
Henry Barnes may have made peace with his Marlborough neighbors in 1770, but he was still a Loyalist. The British command in Boston expected he would provide a safe house for these scouts. So, however, did his suspicious Patriot neighbors.

The rider eventually came out and asked Brown and DeBerniere if they “were in the army.” They said they weren’t, but “were a good deal alarmed at his asking.” After some more “rather impertinent questions,” the man rode on into town.

The officers guessed that horseman intended “to give them intelligence there of our coming.” Indeed, as the two men reached the more thickly settled village, “the people came out of their houses (tho’ it snowed and blew very hard) to look at us.”

A baker asked Brown were they were going (addressing the captain as “master” to butter him up). Brown dropped Barnes’s name. That doesn’t seem like very good spycraft, but the captain probably figured everyone was watching where they would go anyway.

TOMORROW: Inside Henry Barnes’s house.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

More Mild Mayhem in Marlborough

All right, now that I’ve calmed down from spotting William Benson staying out of the political dispute/gang brawl in Marlborough on 17 July 1770, I can move on to the people who were actually involved.

The “Honest Ploughjogger” letter published in the 6 August Boston Gazette continued its finger-pointing at Henry Barnes’s political enemies:
…the said mob alias sons of liberty knowing their cause to be bad, and their best man not coming, they dare not move forward in a body, but sent out a scout of about five in number well arm’d to reconnoitre the street, among which was Waldo Woods, the young fellow said to be wounded, as ill-bred a fellow as ever existed, who came foremost armed with a tomhawk [sic] and his mouth full of oaths, imprecations and curses, and assaulted John Gott Brigham, and swore he would split out his brains, and would bring 200 people in half an hour, upon which said Brigham told him he had better go home and be peaceable or he would flog him.
As we recall, in the previous month the Boston Evening-Post had published a letter characterizing the wounded person as a “young lad.” John Waldo Woods, son of Alpheus Woods, was actually eighteen years old. Eighteenth-century society still classified him as a boy, but that’s certainly older than the first newspaper account led me to believe.

Furthermore, by this account young Waldo wasn’t just practicing “to learn to drum” before being enticed away by four men from the gathering at Simon Howe’s house. Instead, he went out looking for trouble with a tomahawk and accosted John Gott Brigham.

As for Brigham, he was nineteen years old. So we have two older teen-aged boys, each feeling politically justified, with possible local feuds, drinking, and sharp weapons added to the mix. Oh, this will end well.
Then said Woods drew out a sharp pointed knife, and swore he would stab him to the heart, and made a pass at his belly, upon which Brigham seized him by the arm, and took the knife out of his hand and thereby saved his own life; but it seems in the scuffle of taking away the knife, Woods bro’t the point of it against his own shoulder, and made a scratch equal to the scratch of a pin, not one drop of blood lost, and then he cry’d murder and run home with wet breeches, and no other person than Brigham offered to meddle with him: and neither Brigham nor any other person who was at said Simon How’s that night, had any sort of weapon, either wood or iron with them, nor did any of them attempt to meddle with or molest any Person that pass’d the street that evening.
The previous letter claimed that Brigham and a companion had dragged young Woods back to Howe’s party, where the host said “he tho’t they had carried matters a little too far.” Then there was a discussion of legal liability with more threats and promises. The “Ploughjogger” letter didn’t mention any of that, even to deny it. Which makes me think something like that happened.

Looking at court records from the next term might reveal whether either side did proceed to filing suit for assault. In addition, the “Honest Ploughjogger” closed his letter suggesting that Alpheus Woods would be hauled up for threatening Henry Barnes:
It has been surmiz’d that A——s W—ds was the author of that villainous letter threatning of Mr. Barnes that he would murder him and destroy all his substance by fire. There is now such sufficient proof, that it is thot’ the villain will soon be bro’t to the bar to receive sentence; and if justice does but take place, there is no doubt but it will prevent his further proceeding in his wickedness.
In fact, tensions eased with the collapse of the strict non-importation movement that summer. But eventually this local rivalry came to a head, and one family had to leave town.

TOMORROW: Visitors to Marlborough in 1775.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

“Pitched upon for their leader and herald”

We’re looking at two accounts of what happened in Marlborough on the night of 17 July 1770.

One, published in the Boston Evening-Post and quoted here, said that embattled importer Henry Barnes had promised free alcohol to his supporters, including young men who worked for him. They all gathered at Simon Howe’s house, and then a few went out looking for trouble.

The other was written on 25 July, 250 years ago today, and I started quoting it yesterday. Its writer, “An Honest Ploughjogger,” said the trouble started because the local Sons of Liberty gathered at Alpheus Woods’s house in order to destroy Barnes’s property and possibly him.

Both sides of the political divide therefore felt, or at least told the world that they felt, that the other side was preparing for violence, so they were justified in taking steps to defend themselves. Which is a lot like the larger political conflict in Massachusetts.

The “Ploughjogger” letter stated:
The drum beating very briskly, and the mob alias sons of liberty, collecting together, induced those persons to tarry at Mr. How’s to see the event; and about 40 of the said mob being met at said Woods with their weapons of death, waiting for orders; [but?] it seems one William Benson a negro who was pitched upon for their leader and herald being a fellow of more sense than the rest of them, did not come among them,…
Hold on—there’s a familiar name! Someone I’ve been tracking for years, in fact.

A man of African heritage named William Benson (1732-1790) was the son of Nero Benson (d. 1757) and the father of Abel Benson (1766-1843). Nero was enslaved to the Rev. John Swift of Framingham until that minister died in 1745 and then to his son-in-law in Sudbury, Dr. Ebenezer Roby. Abel grew up free in the Framingham vicinity and served in the Continental Army starting in 1781. Both grandfather and grandson played the trumpet as part of their military duties.

Locals in Framingham and Needham recalled that a black trumpeter helped to rouse local militia early in the morning of 19 Apr 1775. In 1908 a genealogist identified that trumpeter as Nero Benson, but he’d been dead for almost two decades by then. The identification then switched to Abel Benson. But no one had reported that trumpeter was only nine years old, and Abel didn’t mention military service in 1775 when he applied for a Revolutionary War pension.

I’ve posited that William, the biological link between Nero and Abel, was that trumpeter. He could have learned the instrument from his father and passed it on to his son, I suggested. He was in his early forties, of militia age, in 1775.

Now in this letter from Marlborough we have a reference to “one William Benson a negro” whom at least forty young men of the town supposedly saw as a “leader and herald”—and traditionally a herald blows a trumpet.

William Benson was born in the Swift household in Framingham. After the minister died, he probably went west with his mother to the household of another son-in-law, Joseph Collins of Southborough. By 1762 William Benson’s name appeared on the records of multiple towns in that area. He and his wife Sarah Perry, a teenager from Sudbury, were warned out of Shrewsbury. Collins tried to force Benson back into slavery, with their dispute settled in Benson’s favor by a court case in 1764.

William and Sarah Benson had their first child, Kate, in Framingham in 1763. (Kate grew up to marry Peter Salem, then going by the name Salem Middlesex.) Their subsequent children, including Abel, aren’t on the Framingham records; that might have been an oversight, but the family was probably moving around for work.

The “Ploughjogger” letter suggests that in 1770 William Benson was in nearby Marlborough, and was seen as the sort of man who could rouse the youth into patriotic action, most likely with his trumpet. Except that Benson was wise enough to stay out of the fight between the white men at Simon Howe’s and the white men at Alpheus Woods’s.

TOMORROW: When someone pulled out a knife.

Friday, July 24, 2020

“A general aversion to truth, honesty, peace and good order”

Yesterday I quoted a letter published in the Boston Evening-Post and Boston Gazette in July 1770, alleging that supporters of the Marlborough importer Henry Barnes had roughed up a “young lad” with “edged weapons.”

On 25 July someone using the pseudonym “An Honest Ploughjogger” wrote to the printers of the Gazette angrily refuting those charges. Edes and Gill waited until 6 August before running the letter, which didn’t match their usual political line. Maybe it was just to fill their extra page that day, but eventually the printers acceded to the request at the top of that letter:
Please to give the following a Place in your next, and you will oblige several of your constant Readers, as well as Friends to Peace and good Order.

IN the Boston Evening Post of the 23rd of July current, a piece was published, dated at Marlboro’, being an infamous scandalous libel, without any connection, good sense, and scarcely one word of truth in the whole. No notice would have been taken of it, had the true characters of the authors been as well known abroad as they are at home.

Every man of honesty looks upon himself even degraded, when either of them speak well of him; one of them is an old man, very enthusiastical both in religion and politics, and sometimes delirious at times, ever since he lay with a g—l at Rutland; the other, the father of the young man (said to be wounded) is a low liv’d dirty worthless fellow as ever existed, meddling with every bodies business, and much neglecting his own; deals out often scraps of latin and law; pretends to have all sorts of sense, but never yet discovered the least degree of common sense, and seems to have a general aversion to truth, honesty, peace and good order.
Later the letter stated the name of the second man: Alpheus Woods (1727-1794), a farmer who had just been named to Marlborough’s five-man committee to enforce the non-importation boycott. He would continue to be politically active into the 1780s. His gravestone appears above, courtesy of Find a Grave.

The letter never named the first man. People in Marlborough and neighboring towns presumably recognized the references to and “old man,” “enthusiastical…in religion” and in a relationship with a young woman in Rutland. But there were lots of “New Light” worshippers in Massachusetts, and Marlborough had lots of links to Rutland, where many younger sons had moved for fresher farmland. I looked in the records of the Marlborough meeting and the Marlborough Association of nearby ministers digitized at New England’s Hidden Histories, and didn’t spot clues to this man’s identity.

So the most I can pull out of those references is another example of how small-town feuds could intersect with imperial politics. This dispute wasn’t just about non-importation and how to protest the Townshend duties. It was also about this letter writer’s dislike of Alpheus Woods’s “scraps of latin and law” and the other neighbor’s enthusiasms.

As this passage makes clear in addressing the effigies of Henry Barnes:
As to the first part of their piece, relating to the old horse and the hay bags, &c. we shall take no further notice of it than only as one of those hay bags or men of straw was hang’d up and then burnt, it seems to be an emblem of the last describ’d author; who for his immorality is now hang’d up by the church, and whether he will be made better, or finally burnt, is at present very uncertain.
That boils down to, “Yes, people burned Barnes in effigy, but you’re even more disgraced.”

Then the letter offered a completely different narrative of the evening when the “young lad” was accosted, starting:
As to what they published relating to the affair of the 17th current, there is not one word of truth in the whole account, but quite the reverse; the truth of the case is, that divers of the persons mentioned in the aforesaid piece, accidentally came into Marlboro’ street that evening, and they being credibly informed that a mob who call’d themselves sons of liberty, were to meet that night at Alpheus Woods, in order to destroy Esq; Barnes’s buildings and substance, and had given it out freely, that if Mr. Barnes should oppose them, that they would cut the throats of all his family that night.
In sum, both sides claimed the others were looking for trouble.

TOMORROW: How the night turned violent.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Assault on a “young lad” in Marlborough

Now to get back to events in Marlborough in July 1770.

Back here I quoted a letter published in the Boston Gazette on 30 July 1770, describing an effigy of local merchant Henry Barnes on horseback. And here I quoted the part of that article discussing the threatening letter Barnes received in the middle of the month.

I now know that letter was first published in the Fleet brothers’ 23 July Boston Evening-Post, 250 years ago today.

That anonymous correspondent didn’t end with comparing Barnes to Don Quixote. He (or she) went on to this alarming tale, naming names all the way:
proclamation is made of liquor to be given away to all that were for Barns, whereupon there assembled on the 17th of july current a great number———Capt. Nathan Brigham jun’r, Solomon Newton and Joshua Newton all of Southboro’, Joseph Parker, John Richards, Alexander Boyd, Luke How, Thomas Swann, (all Barn’s workmen) John Gat Brigham, Joshua Lamb, Simon How, Peter Wood, Joel Barnard, Joseph Lewis, Solomon Brigham and Moses Barns, and others.

In the evening they would some of them sally out with clubs &c. and collar those that passed by in the street. A young lad in the neighbourhood had beat a drum that evening, as he had sundry evenings before, in order to learn to drum, and there came to him John Richards, and inticed him to go with him, promising no harm should befall him, & after he had got him some way from home he was assaulted by Alex. Boyd, Joseph Hale and John Gat Brigham.—

One struck him with his fist,——but two others made several passes at his throat with edged weapons, and stab’d him in his shoulder thro’ his shirt; he then cried out murder and said they had stab’d him; whereupon others came running to his relief from being murdered outright on the spot; he pleaded with them to let him go home: but Hale and Brigham would not let him and hall’d him along by Barn’s to Simon How’s, the man that had kept open doors & dealt out the liquor that evening.

Mr. How expressed himself very sorry and said he tho’t they had carried matters a little too far.—Two of them said they would detain him and lick him to death if he would not promise not to prosecute them, and Thomas Swann said he would pay the fine. Some of their company not being much liquor’d procured his liberty to go home.

The young lad is like to recover, though his life has been in imminent danger. And his father is prosecuting the affair, and it is hoped that the civil authority will prevent the repetition of such a horrid Tragedy as that of the 5th of March in Boston.
The Boston Gazette typesetters wrote of the Massacre as a “Tradegy.”

By the time Edes and Gill had published that letter, there was another, contradictory report on its way to them.

TOMORROW: “an infamous, scandalous libel.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

“In drinking of outlandish TEA”

On 22 July 1774, more than half a year after the Boston Tea Party, this item appeared in Daniel Fowle’s New-Hampshire Gazette:
If you think the following Lines upon the Use of Tea worthy a Place in your valuable Collection, by inserting them in your next, you will oblige a Customer.

ROUSE ev’ry generous thoughtful Mind,
The rising Danger flee;
If you would lasting Freedom find,
Now then abandon TEA.
Scorn to be bound with golden Chains,
Though they allure the Sight;
Bid them Defiance if they claim
Our Freedom and Birth-Right.
Shall we our Freedom give away,
And all our Comfort Place,
In drinking of outlandish TEA,
Only to please our Taste.
Forbid it Heaven, let us be wise,
And seek our Country’s Good;
Nor ever let a Thought arise,
That Tea should be our Food.
Since we so great a Plenty have,
Of all that’s for our Health;
Shall we that blasted Herb receive,
Impoverishing our Wealth,
When we survey the breathless Corpse,
With putrid Matter fill’d;
For crawling Worms a sweet Resort,
By us reputed ill.
Noxious Effluvia sending out,
From it’s pernicious Store,
Not only from the foaming Mouth,
But ev’ry lifeless Pore.
To view the same enrol’d in TEA,
Besmeared with such Perfumes,
And then the Herb sent o’er the Sea,
To us it tainted comes.
Some of it tinctur’d with a Filth
Of Carcases embalm’d;
Taste of this Herb then if thou wilt,
Sure me it cannot charm.
Adieu, away O TEA be gone,
Salute our Taste no more;
Though thou art coveted by some,
Who’re destin’d to be poor.
This newspaper contributor urged readers not to drink any tea, harnessing various rumors about how it was tainted with “Perfumes” and “a Filth of Carcases embalm’d,” not to mention politically and economically unhealthy. These particular verses seem designed to be sung to familiar New England hymn tunes, making the reminder of “the breathless Corpse” fit right in.

Ezekiel Russell reprinted these lines in his Salem Gazette a week later under the title “On the Use of Tea,” but I don’t see a lot of other newspapers picking up the item.

In 1855 Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck printed the lyrics, with updated spelling and punctuation, in their Cyclopædia of American Literature. The following year, George Moore included them in his Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, appending the titles “The Blasted Herb” and “India Tea.” That book said the song was also issued as a broadside (though I haven’t found a listing for one).

Moore also wrote of the song that “It has been attributed to Meshech Weare” (1713-1786), a leading New Hampshire Patriot. He shared no evidence for that attribution and didn’t appear fully convinced of it himself. I haven’t found other mentions of Weare writing verse. Nonetheless, later collections have confidently stated that Weare is the author.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Travels of Arthur Bowler, Rhode Island Loyalist

Over on the Small State, Big History blog, Jane Lancaster has published an article titled “Should They Stay or Should They Go?: Rhode Island Black Loyalists after the American Revolution.”

Lancaster draws on “The Book of Negroes,” a listing of people of African ancestry who evacuated from Crown strongholds at the end of the Revolutionary War. Some of those people had come from Newport, Rhode Island, which the British had held until a couple of years earlier.

After general discussion, the article starts to profile individuals, filling out the bare entries in “The Book of Negroes” with other sources. Here, for example, is a profile of a man enslaved by a former Rhode Island judge in the house shown above:
Arthur Bowler, a “stout fellow” of thirty-four, brought from Africa as a boy and enslaved by Metcalf Bowler of Newport, wealthy merchant, colonial official and British spy, stayed in Rhode Island longer than any of his fellows, finally leaving in 1781.

He traveled from New York to Nova Scotia with his…wife and twelve-year-old daughter, both freeborn in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. They were taken initially to Port Mattoun, which almost immediately failed, and then to Birchtown where he was eventually awarded forty acres of land. He had not yet seen it, let alone started clearing it, when he decided to go Sierra Leone where he lived long enough to see his grandchildren go to school.

He was probably a Baptist, (his second wife was the widow of a Baptist elder) and thus a member of a more moderate faction in Sierra Leone. The Methodists were considerably less accommodating. In Newport he had worshiped in the “Negro Section” of the Anglican Trinity Church. In Rhode Island he was acquainted with leading members of the black community such as the entrepreneurial diarist Cesar Lyndon (who elected to stay, while one of his fellow slaves, Pompey Lindon, opted to go).

Soon after Bowler arrived in Sierra Leone he frightened a leopard away from the hut where his wife and daughter were sleeping. He outlived his erstwhile master by at least twelve years; by comparison, Metcalf Bowler died in poverty, though with his reputation intact, as his spying remained undiscovered until the 1920s. Arthur Bowler lived with a modest competence and his freedom.
The fact that Bowler had spent some childhood years in Africa might have prepared him to return to that continent, albeit probably to a different region. It’s reassuring to read an account of a black Loyalist that ends with success after so many trials.

Monday, July 20, 2020

News from France and “the language of patriotism”

Boston’s Civic Festival to honor the new republic of France on 24 Jan 1793 came at an unusual cultural and political moment.

The latest news from Europe relayed the events of late 1792. Bostonians knew about how the French assembly had deposed Louis XVI and proclaimed a republic. The French army was pushing back the combined forces of several European monarchies and keeping Britain at bay. It looked like the American model of political liberty and equality was spreading in the Old World.

To be sure, the news included a hint of French Revolutionaries turning on themselves. After trying and failing to preserve the king and constitutional monarchy, the Marquis de Lafayette (shown here) had fled to Austrian territory. He was under arrest, viewed by both French republicans and Austrian monarchists with suspicion.

The 26 January Columbian Centinel showed how Bostonians still admired Lafayette and were following his story. One of the toasts offered at the festival was “Justice to M. LAFAYETTE.” Did that mean justice from France or from Austria? Quite possibly both.

For the most part, however, the people of Boston saw plenty to celebrate. Though Louis XVI’s government did support the U.S. of A. in its fight for independence, Americans had grown up thinking of the French monarchy as an example of tyranny. Now the former king appeared to be in alliance with his fellow despots against his people, so it was easy to hail his downfall. Likewise, New Englanders with their Puritan heritage and established Calvinism felt little sympathy for the Catholic church in France. The decorations on Faneuil Hall included “a crown, sceptre, mitre, and chains” being broken under the feet of Liberty.

The festival toasts signaled high hopes for republicanism:
  • “The Law—May it always breathe the spirit of liberty and speak the language of patriotism.”
  • “Civic virtues to the military, and a military spirit to the citizens.”
  • “May the light of philosophy irradiate the caverns of superstition and despotism, and reveal their horrors."
  • “In all governments may Liberty be the check, and Equality the balance.”
There were similar but smaller celebrations in other Massachusetts towns.

New Englanders didn’t know that the French government had indicted Louis XVI for treason in December and beheaded him just three days before their festival. Once news of that execution arrived in late March, Americans’ support for the French republic began to fade. Splintering opinion about France was a big part of the development of two semi-organized political parties in the U.S. of A.

In the spring of 1793, some Americans founded what historians later called Democratic-Republican Societies, the basis of what became the Jeffersonian party. On 8 April, Edmond-Charles Genêt arrived in Charleston as the new French minister to America and set about commissioning privateers to attack British ships. President George Washington issued a controversial neutrality proclamation on 22 April.

Those developments changed how Bostonians responded to the French Revolution. In January, as I discussed, Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel not only applauded the Civic Festival but referred to local dignitaries and the editor himself with the title “Citizen.” By June, however, that newspaper was firmly Federalist and using that honorific only for officials from France. In his book Parades and the Politics of the Street, Simon P. Newman wrote that by spring Federalist politicians were conspicuously absent from further celebrations of the French republic.

The Centinel continued to refer to “Liberty Square” instead of Dock Square for several months, but that term faded away. As for “Equality Lane,” the name appeared almost exclusively in advertising for John Bryant’s tavern (no longer called “Liberty Hall”). The last reference that I found came in the 23 Aug 1793 American Apollo, in an advertisement for young acrobats.

After that, “Equality Lane” reverted to being called “Exchange Lane” (no more “Royal”) or “Shrimpton’s Lane” after an early owner of the land. The new name had lasted such a short time that it was never official, never appeared in town directories or on maps. When historians have mentioned “Equality Lane,” it was always in the way William Cobbett used it, as evidence of Boston’s brief infatuation with the French Revolution.

But for a moment in early 1793, Bostonians were calling each other “Citizen” and honoring “Equality” over commercial “Exchange.”

Sunday, July 19, 2020

“The anarchical dinner which was denominated a civic feast”

Let’s get back to Boston’s Civic Festival of 24 Jan 1793. As I described back here, a wide swath of Bostonians appear to have gone gaga over news of France becoming a republic.

Even the Federalist Columbian Centinel newspaper was breathlessly reporting the details of the celebration, referring to all men with the republican title “Citizen,” and warning French exiles to keep quiet about their objections to the new order.

Of course, some locals were skeptical about celebrating the French republic. But they probably kept their mouths shut, at least in public. For people to criticize the general merriment, they’d have to be dubious about crowds, suspicious of enthusiasm, and willing to court unpopularity.

In other words, the Adams family!

On 31 January, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail commenting on the planned festival. (It had already happened a week before, but he hadn’t read about how it went.) He indulged in some mild snark about the new republican honorifics replacing old forms of address:
Cit. H. and Cit. A. I presume will grace the Civic Feast. Cit and Citess is to come instead of Gaffer and Gammer Goody and Gooden, Mr and Mrs, I suppose. . . .

Citizen Brisler and Citizen V. P, are very happy together—Since they are equal and on a Level it is proper that sometimes one should be named first and sometimes the other.
“Cit. H. and Cit. A.” meant Gov. John Hancock and Lt. Gov. Samuel Adams—politicians the Vice President expected to be out courting voters by participating in the general celebration. “Citizen Brisler” was his own manservant in Philadelphia, John Briesler, and “Citizen V. P.” himself.

More seriously, Adams was withholding his judgment about the new republic in Europe:
We Shall See, in a few months, the new French Constitution, which may last Twelve months, but probably not more than Six. Robertspierre and Marat with their Jacobin Supporters I suspect will overthrow the Fabric which Condercet [Thomas] Paine and Brissot will erect. Then We shall see what they in their turn will produce.
The Vice President had the spelling wrong but the political tides right.

John Quincy Adams (shown above) was likewise skeptical about the festival and the politics behind it. On 10 February he wrote to his father:
I persisted in refusing to appear at the anarchical dinner which was denominated a civic feast, though I was urged strongly by several of my friends to become a subscriber, upon principles of expediency

Those friends disliked the whole affair quite as much as I did, but thought it necessary to comply with the folly of the day.—

Upon the whole however, it appears to me that the celebration of that day, has had rather an advantageous than an injurious effect. The specimens of Equality exhibited in the course of it, did not suit the palates of many, who had joined in the huzzaes. The Governor thought proper to be sick, and not attend; and I believe has ventured to express his disapprobation of the proceedings in several particulars.
Contrary to Vice President Adams’s assumption, Gov. Hancock had kept away from the feast. His keen political instincts might have warned him the enthusiasm might fade, or his ego might not have countenanced the level of equality that event demanded. The lieutenant governor was the highest elected official at the festival.

Hancock already had a reputation for pleading illness when it was politically or socially awkward for him to do something, so it was easy for people like J. Q. Adams to read his non-appearance as deliberate. But then the governor showed everyone by dying in October.

Another skeptical voice in January 1793 was the Rev. William Bentley up in Salem. In his diary he wrote:
21 [Jan]. Reports of great preparations making in Boston & the towns adjacent for the celebration of next Thursday. No movements with us even in the barber’s shops yet. . . .

24 [Jan]. No notice was taken of this day in Salem, excepting by a few boys with a paper balloon, who first burst it, & afterwards set fire to it. Some faint struggles by individuals were used, but soon ceased without attaining to the firing of a gun, the hoisting of a flag, the kindling a bonfire, or even the noise of a winter evening. This is not owing to an indifference to the revolution in France, but to the manners of the people, who are easily checked in any expences. . . . Vive la nation is not yet translated among us.

25 [Jan]. A particular account of the celebration at Boston last Thursday. The roasted Ox, exhibited with great pomp, fell a prey to the fury of the rabble. Every other ceremony was performed agreably. The children of the schools formed a delightful appearance with national cockades. The several companies dined in the public rooms, & the whole concluded with a bonfire.
In that last entry Bentley might have showed a little regret at missing a swell party.

TOMORROW: Meanwhile, in France…

Saturday, July 18, 2020

After-Death Revelations from the John Adams Papers

The letters from Abigail and John Adams that I’ve been quoting come of course from the Adams Papers project at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

This week the project received printed copies of the twentieth and latest volume of the Papers of John Adams, covering the period June 1789 to February 1791, when he was adjusting to being Vice President.

Series editor Sara Georgini wrote on the M.H.S. blog about an unusual document being published for the first time in this volume:
But John Adams did pause to reflect on the passing of Benjamin Franklin. Just as his Discourses on Davila began to appear in the American press, Adams’s writing took a more fanciful turn. Following Franklin’s death, Adams memorialized the milestone in a playful skit, titled “Dialogues of the Dead.” We do not see a lot of “creative writing” in John Adams’s papers, so this is a unique treat. Adams’s scene stars a cast of characters in conversation [Charlemagne, James Otis, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Frederick II (the Great)] as they await Franklin’s arrival in the afterlife.

Though it seemed like a quirky choice for the author of serious works like the Defence of the Constitutions, Adams’ sardonic salute showed his Harvard-trained classical roots. In content and style, Adams emulated the Syrian satirist Lucian of Samosata’s Dialogues of the Dead. Adams riffed on Franklin’s science experiments and took a few jabs at his statesmanship. He observed that Franklin “told some very pretty moral Tales from the head—and Some very immoral ones from the heart.” For such a breezy and colorful bit of writing, Adams certainly worked hard to get it right; the manuscript bears plenty of his edits and deletions.
This unpublished essay could make a lively pairing with the wholly unauthorized message from the afterlife of John Quincy Adams, discussed here.

Friday, July 17, 2020

“I have removed H——n out of the house”

As I quoted yesterday, in July 1775 John Adams sent his wife Abigail confirmation in writing that their tenant hand, an “old Man” named Hayden, should move out of the rooms he occupied in one of their Braintree houses.

Hayden had refused Abigail’s request, saying her husband would never have asked that of him. But that was just a delaying tactic.

John was still in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress on 21 October when Abigail updated him on the effect of his letter:
Hayden does not stir. Says he will not go out of the parish [i.e., north Braintree, now Quincy] unless he is carried out—and here nobody will let him come in. I have offerd him part of the House that [a neighbor named] Field is in if he will but go out, but no where suits, and it is not to be wonderd at as he has wood at free cost and has plunderd pretty well from the family they live [with] many articles. I have a great mind to send a sheriff and put him out.
But she didn’t. For one thing, Abigail still needed men to work the farm, and the war made labor even more expensive.

Finally on 9 Apr 1778 Abigail Adams could write to her sons’ tutor, John Thaxter:
There is no reformation with regard to prices here, tho money grows scarcer, Labour is much more exorbitant than it was when you left us. The most indifferent Farmer is not to be procured under 10 and 12 pounds per month.

I know you will give me joy when I tell you that I have wrought almost a miracle. I have removed H——n out of the house, or rather hired him to remove and have put in a couple of Industerous young Fellows, to whom I let the Farm to the Halves.
In a letter to John that month, Abigail went into more detail about the new arrangements:
Many domestick affairs I wish to consult upon. I have studied for a method of defraying the necessary expences of my family. In no one Instance is a hundred pound L M better than thirteen pounds Six and Eight pence used to be, in foreign Articles no ways eaquel, in taxes but a fourth part as good. Day Labour at 24 shillings per day. What then can you think my situation must be?

I will tell you after much embaresment in endeavouring to procure faithfull hands I concluded to put out the Farm and reduce my family as much as posible. I sit about removeing the Tenants from the House, which with much difficulty I effected, but not till I had paid a Quarters Rent in an other House for them. I then with the kind assistance of Dr. [Cotton] T[uft]s procured two young Men Brothers newly married and placed them as Tenants to the halves retaining in my own Hands only one Horse and two Cows with pasturage for my Horse in summer, and Q[uinc]y medow for fodder in winter
Abigail had paid old Hayden’s rent for his first three months somewhere else—anywhere else.

I’ve quoted at extra length from those 1778 letters to show how Abigail Adams became more explicit about prices and economic trends over the course of the war. Eventually she was managing the Adams family’s finances, reporting to John on investments but no longer asking him for permission in advance.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

“That obstinate Wretch will not remove his few things”

Yesterday I started quoting Abigail Adams’s July 1775 letter to her husband John reporting on her conflict with a tenant and farm hand named Hayden.

Abigail had asked Hayden to move out of the house where John had been born, or to use only some rooms in that house, to make space for the George Trott family from besieged Boston. That request became especially acute when the Adams sister-in-law with whom the Trotts were living went into labor.

Abigail’s letter continued:
I removed my dairy things, and once more requested the old Man to move into the other part of the house, but he positively tells me he will not and all the art of Man shall not stir him, even dares me to put any article out of one room into an other. Says Mr. Trot shall not come in—he has got possession and he will keep it. What not have a place to entertain his children in when they come to see him. I now write you an account of the matter, and desire you to write to him and give me orders what course I shall take.

I must take Mr. Trott in with me and all his family for the present, till he can look out further or have that house. It would make your heart ake to see what difficulties and distresses the poor Boston people are driven to…and yet that obstinate Wretch will not remove his few things into the other part of that house, but live there paying no rent upon the distresses of others.

It would be needless to enumerate all his impudence. Let it suffice to say it moved me so much that I had hard Work to suppress my temper. I want to know whether his things may be removed into the other part of the house, whether he consents or not? Mr. Trott would rejoice to take the whole, but would put up with any thing rather than be a burden to his Friends.

I told the old Man I believed I was doing nothing but what I should be justified in. He says well tis a time of war get him out if I can, but cannon Ball shall not move him.
She closed by writing, “I shall be much mortified if you do not support me. . . . I feel too angry to make this any thing further than a Letter of Buisness.”

On 16 July, while awaiting a reply, Abigail sent John an update:
Mr. Trot I have accommodated by removeing the office into my own chamber [in the John Quincy Adams Birthplace, shown above], and after being very angry and sometimes persuaideding I obtaind the mighty concession of the Bed room, but I am now so crouded as not to have a Lodging for a Friend that calls to see me. I must beg you would give them warning to seek a place before Winter. Had that house been empty I could have had an 100 a year for it. Many person[s] had applied before Mr. Trot, but I wanted some part of it my self, and the other part it seems I have no command of.
This was the first time Abigail mentioned the financial dimension of the dispute. 

On 28 July, John responded with appropriate supportiveness:
…the ill Usage you have received from Hayden gave me great Pain and the utmost Indignation.

Your generous Solicitude for our unfortunate Friends from Boston, is very amiable and commendable, and you may depend upon my Justification of all that you have done or said to Hayden. His sawcy, insolent Tongue is well known to me, but I had rather he should indulge it to me than to you. I will not endure the least disrespectfull Expression to you. In my Absence and in your Situation, it is brutal.

I send you a Warning to him to go out of the House immediately. You may send it to him, if you see fit. If you do, let two or three Witnesses see it, before you send it, and let it be sent by a good Hand.
John Adams giving legal advice there. His “Warning” doesn’t survive. We know, however, that it had only a limited effect.

TOMORROW: The “old Man” still around.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

“Turning him out of Door to oblige Boston folks”?

Biographies of Abigail Adams emphasize how she managed the family farm and finances in Braintree while her husband John was away for long periods as a politician and diplomat.

She had to go through a learning process, though. The couple was usually together for their first decade. Although John traveled to Massachusetts’s county courts, to a healing spring in Connecticut in 1771, and to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774, those were relatively short trips.

It wasn’t until John went to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress in the spring of 1775 that he was gone for an extended period with no scheduled return. Meanwhile, Abigail was charged with the farm, which included two houses and outbuildings. She was watching children aged eleven to three, managing servants and hired farmhands, and—with the siege lines hardening—facing the effect of a refugee crisis.

On 12 July, Abigail wrote to John for help:
Dearest Friend

I have met with some abuse and very Ill treatment. I want you for my protector and justifier.

In this Day of distress for our Boston Friends when every one does what in them lyes to serve them, your Friend Gorge Trott and family moved up to Braintree, went in with her two Brothers and families with her Father, but they not thinking themselves so secure as further in the Country moved away.
George Trott was a jeweler in Boston, a member of the Loyall Nine protest organizers and third-in-command of the militia artillery company. In early 1766 Trott had married Ann Boylston (Nancy) Cunningham, one of John Adams’s cousins. Now the Trott family needed a place to live in Braintree.

There were a couple of complicating factors. As Abigail wrote, people didn’t want to live on the coast for fear that the Royal Navy would raid or shell those areas, so “the more remote from the sea coast you go the thicker you find the Boston people.” On the other hand, Trott didn’t want to be off in a remote location “upon account of his Buisness which is in considerable demand.”

For a while, John Adams’s brother Peter Boylston Adams had taken in the Trotts, but only on a temporary basis given his own imminently growing family. As Abigail wrote:
You know, from the situation of my Brothers [brother-in-law’s] family it was impossible for them to tarry there, Mrs. Trots circumstances requiring more rooms than one. In this extremity he applied to me to see if I would not accommodate him with the next house, every other spot in Town being full.

I sent for Mr. Hayden and handsomely asked him, he said he would try, but he took no pains to procure himself a place. There were several in the other parish which were to be let, but my Gentleman did not chuse to go there.
It looks like the Adamses had agreed to let Hayden and his sons live in their smaller house (shown above) in exchange for farm labor. The “other parish” meant the part of town that’s still Braintree, as opposed to Quincy.

The Adams Papers editors wrote: “Braintree literally teemed with Haydens, old and young, and the particular Hayden or Haydens who were at this time apparently tenants in the John Adams Birthplace cannot be identified.” I gave it a shot with digital resources and guesses, learned a lot more about Haydens, and didn’t enjoy any breakthroughs.

Back to Abigail:
Mr. Trott, finding there was no hopes of his [Hayden’s] going out said he would go in with him, provided I would let him have the chamber I improved [i.e., used] for a Dairy room and the lower room and chamber over it which Hayden has.

I then sent and asked Mr. Hayden to be so kind as to remove his things into the other part of the house and told him he might improve the kitchen and back chamber, the bed room and the Dairy room in which he already had a bed.

He would not tell me whether he would or not, but said I was turning him out of Door to oblige Boston folks, and he could not be stired up, and if you was at home you would not once ask him to go out, but was more of a Gentleman. (You must know that both his Sons are in the army, not but one Days Work has been done by any of them this Spring.)

I as mildly as I could represented the distress of Mr. Trot and the difficulties to which he had been put—that I looked upon it my Duty to do all in my power to Oblige him—and that he Hayden would be much better accommodated than hundreds who were turnd out of Town—and I finally said that Mr. Trott should go in.

In this State, Sister Adams got to bed and then there was not a Spot in Brothers house for them to lie down in.
“Sister Adams” was Peter Boylston Adams’s wife Mary, and their daughter Susannah arrived in time to be baptized on 16 July.

TOMORROW: Butting heads with Mr. Hayden.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Citizens at Boston’s Civic Festival of 1793

I’m jumping around among multiple series here [whatever happened to the Saga of the Brazen Head?], but there’s no better date than 14 July to return to Boston’s celebration of republican France in 1793.

At the start of the month I quoted a suggestion in the 21 Jan 1793 Boston Gazette that the selectmen find a new name for the short street in central Boston called “Royal Exchange Lane.” The word “royal” was just so pre-Revolutionary.

That proposal appeared in the midst of reports on Bostonians preparing for a big “Civic Feast” celebrating how France had become a republic. The deposition of King Louis XVI meant that Americans could be grateful to the French nation for being a crucial ally in the war for independence without the awkwardness of supporting a despot far less constitutionally fettered than George III.

Boston’s civic holiday took place on Thursday, 24 January. That day’s Independent Chronicle reported one some of the events:
A large number of citizens will dine at Fanuiel [sic] Hall; notwithstanding which tables plentiously provided, will be laid in State Street; and whoever chooses may partake freely.

At the Stump of Liberty-Tree, an entertainment is providing for a large number of citizens, who usually have celebrated propitious events at that spot.

The Citizen Soldiers of the Independent Fusiliers, will dine at BRYANT’s Liberty Hall, Equality-Lane, (late Royal Exchange Lane.)
It looks like innholder John Bryant decided to rename the street his establishment stood on “Equality Lane” to reflect the new political ethos, even in advance of action by the selectmen.

The long, detailed report on the “CIVIC FESTIVAL!” in the 26 January Columbian Centinel showed how people were adopting that new name. That newspaper said the fusilier company “dined together at Citizen BRYANT’s, in Equality-lane.” Likewise, it referred to the nearby Dock Square as “Liberty-Square.”

Innkeeper Bryant wasn’t the only celebrant to receive the republican title “Citizen.” The newspaper reported that “citizen S[amuel]. Adams,” then lieutenant governor, presided over the feast in Faneuil Hall alongside “Citizen Letombe”—French consul Philippe André-Joseph de Létombe, who had started serving under the king and would remain in office through to the emperor. “Citizen [Josiah?] Waters” was marshal of the parade and oversaw the decorations. “Citizen [Samuel] Bradlee” commanded the company of artillery.

“Citizen Joseph Croswell, of Plymouth” provided the words of a hymn “To Liberty” while “Citizen [John] Woart” hosted another gathering at the Green Dragon Tavern where mechanics sang “God Save Great Washington.” Likewise, “Citizen Charles Jarvis,” soon to be one of Boston’s leading Jeffersonians, proposed a toast to President George Washington.

Most striking of all to me, this same page of the Columbian Centinel included a letter to the editor that proudly began “Citizen Russell.” Benjamin Russell (shown above in later life) and his newspaper would soon be pillars of the Federalist Party in New England. Yet in January 1793 they were going gaga over Revolutionary France.

Indeed, another news item on this page of the Centinel warned “24 Frenchmen” in Boston who had signed “A Protest against the French revolution” that they should be “upon their guard, in attempts of this nature,” and maintain “a respectful silence.” Nobody, not even Frenchmen, were supposed to criticize France as it finally became a republic.

COMING UP: Party poopers.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Capt. Preston and the Boston Committee

At 3:00 P.M. on Friday, 13 July 1770—250 years ago today—the white men of Boston resumed their town meeting in Faneuil Hall.

There was only one item of real business: approving a town committee’s response to what was being published in London about the Boston Massacre.

People knew the acting governor, army officers, and other royal officials had sent reports on that March shooting. But they had been surprised by one document in the Public Advertiser. As the town meeting’s committee said:
We have observed in the English papers the most notorious falshoods, published with an apparent design to give the world a prejudice against this town, as the aggressors in the unhappy transaction of the 5th of March, but no account has been more repugnant to the truth, than a paper printed in the Public Advertiser, of the 28th of April, which is called The Case of Captain Preston.
Writing for the committee, Samuel Adams continued: “we thought ourselves bound in faithfulness to wait on Captain [Thomas] Preston, to enquire of him, whether he was the author.” After all, he had sent a letter with a very different tone to Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette.

Receiving the town committee in the town jail, Preston replied “that he had drawn a state of his case, but that it had passed through different hands, and was altered at different times; and, finally, the publication in the Advertiser was varied from that which he sent home as his own.”

The committee asked Preston about parts “to which we took exception,” inviting him to say he hadn’t written them.

Preston declined, “saying, that the alterations were made by persons, who, he supposed, might aim at serving him, though he feared they might have a contrary effect, and that his discriminating to us the parts of it, which were his own, from those which had been altered by others, might displease his friends, at a time when he might stand in need of their essential service.”

In fact, the only big alteration to Preston’s “Case” was that the newspaper left off the last part, where he pleaded for a royal pardon before the colony could hang him. The officials who released the document to the London press might have thought that raising that possibility was premature and could backfire in the worst way.

Resolutely clinging (at least openly) to the idea that Preston was being misrepresented, the committee concluded:
we cannot think that the Paper, called The Case of Captain Thomas Preston, or any other Paper of the like import, can be deemed, in the opinion of the sensible and impartial part of mankind, as sufficient in the least degree to prejudice the character of the Town. It is therefore altogether needless for us to point out the many falsehoods contained in this paper, nor indeed would there be time for it at present…
As for Preston’s fear of being lynched, the committee blamed whoever published his “Case” for stirring up resentment against him.
so glaring a falsehood would raise the indignation of the people to such a pitch as to prompt them to some attempts that would be dangerous to him, and he accordingly applied to Mr. Sheriff [Stephen] Greenleaf for special protection on that account. But the sheriff assuring him there was no such disposition appearing among the people, (which is an undoubted truth) Capt. Preston’s fears at length subsided; and be still remains in safe custody, to be tried by the superior court of judicature, at the next term in August, unless the judges shall think proper further to postpone the trial, as they have done for one whole term, since he was indicted by the Grand Jury.
I wonder if the town put the sheriff’s younger brother, William Greenleaf, on this committee to get inside information or credibility.

Under a regular schedule, Preston and the soldiers of the 29th would already have gone on trial for murder. Judicial maneuvers, illnesses, and injuries had put off the trial, keeping everyone on edge.

Earlier in July, furthermore, the Customs Commissioners had sent some dispatches to London with Capt. Joseph Hood on the Lydia. Since Hood worked for John Hancock, that news quickly got back to the town. Locals rightly assumed the Commissioners were complaining about attacks on their employees and their homes.

Thus, Boston was under a lot of pressure to represent itself well to the people in London.