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, September 30, 2020

“This political theater stokes culture wars”

Today I’m sharing statements from the country’s two largest groups of professional historians on the misuse of American history in the current Presidential campaign.

From the American Historical Association:
This hastily assembled “White House Conference on American History” took place in the Rotunda of the National Archives, although the National Archives and Records Administration had no role in organizing the program. The organizers of the event neither informed nor consulted associations of professional historians.

The American Historical Association addresses this “conference” and the president’s ill-informed observations about American history and history education reluctantly and with dismay. The event was clearly a campaign stunt, deploying the legitimating backdrop of the Rotunda, home of the nation’s founding documents, to draw distinctions between the two political parties on education policy, tie one party to civil disorder, and enable the president to explicitly attack his opponent.

Like the president’s claim at Mount Rushmore two months ago that “our children are taught in school to hate their own country,” this political theater stokes culture wars that are meant to distract Americans from other, more pressing current issues. The AHA only reluctantly gives air to such distraction; we are not interested in inflating a brouhaha that is a mere sideshow to the many perils facing our nation at this moment.

Past generations of historians participated in promoting a mythical view of the United States. Missing from this conventional narrative were essential themes that we now recognize as central to a complete understanding of our nation’s past. As scholars, we locate and evaluate evidence, which we use to craft stories about the past that are inclusive and able to withstand critical scrutiny. In the process, we engage in lively and at times heated conversations with each other about the meaning of evidence and ways to interpret it. As teachers, we encourage our students to question conventional wisdom as well as their own assumptions, but always with an emphasis on evidence.

It is not appropriate for us to censor ourselves or our students when it comes to discussing past events and developments. To purge history of its unsavory elements and full complexity would be a disservice to history as a discipline and the nation, and in the process would render a rich, fascinating story dull and uninspiring.

The AHA deplores the use of history and history education at all grade levels and other contexts to divide the American people, rather than use our discipline to heal the divisions that are central to our heritage. Healing those divisions requires an understanding of history and an appreciation for the persistent struggles of Americans to hold the nation accountable for falling short of its lofty ideals. To learn from our history we must confront it, understand it in all its messy complexity, and take responsibility as much for our failures as our accomplishments.
That statement was co-signed by a long list of other historical organizations.

From the Organization of American Historians:
In his September 17, 2020, speech at the National Archives on history education, President Trump railed against “Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history,” which he characterized as “toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country.” Coming at the end of the White House Conference on American History—a hastily-arranged gathering, organized without input or participation from historical associations and including panelists who are not experts in the field—the remarks are only the most recent example of the Trump administration’s misguided and dangerous attempts to politicize the teaching and writing of United States history.

As the largest professional organization in the country representing historians of U.S. history, the Organization of American Historians opposes the biased views and mischaracterizations of historical inquiry and education expressed in these statements. Further, the OAH rejects the narrow and celebratory “1776 Project” put forward in this speech as a partisan ploy meant to restrict historical pedagogy, stifle deliberative discussion, and take us back to an earlier era characterized by a limited vision of the U.S. past.

History is not and cannot be simply celebratory. Vibrant democratic societies are not built upon a foundation of selective depictions of the past, but rather demand critical examination of and grappling with the historical record. The best historical inquiry acknowledges and interrogates systems of oppression—racial, ethnic, gender, class—and openly addresses the myriad injustices that these systems have perpetuated through the past and into the present. We ignore such history at our peril.

The history we teach must investigate the core conflict between a nation founded on radical notions of liberty, freedom, and equality, and a nation built on slavery, exploitation, and exclusion. The 1619 Project’s approach to understanding the American past and connecting it to newly urgent movements for racial justice and systemic reform point to this conflict, and to the ways in which slavery and racial injustice have and continue to profoundly shape our nation. Critical race theory provides a lens through which we can examine and understand systemic racism and its many consequences. It does not introduce the “twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms” of the President’s telling, but rather illustrates the wide gap between the ideal and reality of opportunity in our shared past, as well as long-unfulfilled promises and possibilities.

The Organization of American Historians remains dedicated to promoting excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history, and to encouraging informed public discussion of and engagement with historical questions that are critical to understanding both the triumphs and tragedies of our nation’s past. It is only through purposeful interrogations of our national story that we can appreciate the history of the United States in its full complexity and utilize our knowledge of it to inform our present and build a better future.
As Donald Trump’s lack of previous public service, suspicious tax schemes, exploitation of charities, comments on fellow citizens, and depraved indifference in face of an epidemic show, he’s not actually patriotic. Likewise, his invention of a Civil War battle and his error-riddled descriptions of the past show that he’s not actually interested in American history.

Trump wants only what benefits himself and his ego (not necessarily in that order). He tried to gin up this controversy over teaching U.S. history merely for his political advantage, in hopes of once again eking out a majority in the Electoral College.

(Shown above: The portion of Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence that states, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”)

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Daniel R. Mandell on Economic Equality at the A.A.S., 30 Sept.

On Wednesday, 30 September, the American Antiquarian Society will host an online talk by Daniel R. Mandell on “Finding the Lost Tradition of Economic Equality in America.”

The event announcement:
Although Americans today are concerned about the ever-increasing levels of wealth and income inequality, many continue to believe that their country was founded on a person’s right to acquire and control property. But in his latest book, The Lost Tradition of Economic Equality in America, 1600–1880, Daniel Mandell argues that the United States was originally deeply influenced by the belief that maintaining a “rough” equality of wealth was essential for a successful republican government. That belief continued to influence American culture and politics even as wage labor became increasingly common and the chasm widened between rich and poor.
Dan Mandell was a research fellow at the A.A.S., and his talk will highlight some of the library’s holdings significant to this research.

Mandell is a professor of history at Truman State University in Missouri. Much of his work has examined the Native communities of New England, including the books King Philip’s War: Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty; Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts; and Tribe, Race, History: Native Americans in Southern New England, 1780-1880.

Here’s a Conversation essay by Mandell sharing ideas from his new book. In this Rogue Historian podcast episode, he discusses the history with Keith Harris.

The A.A.S.’s live event is scheduled to start at 8:00 P.M. Eastern time. Registration is free.

Monday, September 28, 2020

“Onesimus and Rev. Cotton Mather” Program, 1 Oct.

On Thursday, 1 October, I’ll be part of an online discussion through the Freedom Forum on “Onesimus and Rev. Cotton Mather: Race, Religion, and the Press in Colonial America.”

The Freedom Forum’s description says:
The third program in the Freedom Forum’s series, Religious Resolve: Stories from Our Past, for Our Future, explores a story that received cursory attention when the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged in the United States. That is the story of the enslaved man, Onesimus, who was inoculated for smallpox in Africa and who taught the Rev. Cotton Mather the technique just as a deadly smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721.

While this historical fact is known, the program will explore less familiar but interesting aspects of the story. How did other Boston religious and medical leaders react to Rev. Mather’s promotion of African medical techniques? How did Benjamin Franklin get involved? How did the ensuing confusion lead to the development of Boston’s first independent newspaper? And what happened to Onesimus after Rev. Mather finally gave up on converting him to Christianity?
Besides myself, the panelists will be Tom Meenan, citizen researcher and educator for the Freedom Forum, and Debra L. Mason, Ph.D., Fellow at Harvard’s Religion Literacy Project and Professor Emerita at the Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri.

This free event will start at 1:00 P.M. Eastern time. Register through this link.

Among the other discussions in this Freedom Forum series is one covering the African-American ministers Richard Allen and Absalom Jones during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, as well as conversations about more recent American history.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Exploring Benjamin Lincoln’s Life in Hingham

This afternoon the Hingham Historical Society launches its new season of lectures with the theme “Benjamin Lincoln’s World: Stories from Colonial Hingham to the Early Republic.”

The society is in the process of acquiring Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s house, a National Historic Landmark that has been owned by one family for eleven generations (shown here).

These online talks are designed to explore Lincoln’s life and work in the Revolution, and to raise interest and funds for turning the house into a house museum. There are seven lectures scheduled through May 2021 and a self-guided walking tour.

Here are the first two events:

Sunday, 27 September, 3:00 P.M.
“Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution: A Conversation with David Mattern”
Andy Hoey, Head of Social Studies for the Hingham Public Schools, will interview David Mattern, Gen. Lincoln’s biographer and the recently retired editor of the Papers of James Madison.

Sunday, 25 October, 3:00 P.M.
“The Evolution of Benjamin Lincoln’s Lifelong Home”
J. Ritchie Garrison, Ph.D., former Director of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at the University of Delaware, will lead an architectural examination of the Benjamin Lincoln House.

Further lectures will discuss Hingham and the slave trade, colonial schooling, beer-making, women’s lives in early New England, and eighteenth-century lighthouses.

The self-guided walking tour “Getting to Know Benjamin Lincoln’s Neighborhood” will debut on the web in October. It will describe downtown Hingham structures that would have been standing in the general’s lifetime and the families who lived there.

Access to the full series of seven online lectures costs $200, or $175 for Hingham Historical Society members. One can order gift subscriptions, memberships, or copies of David Mattern’s book from the same webpage. Unlike some other online talks, I don’t expect these to be available on the web for free soon, so don’t sleep on this subscription! (That’s a little narcolepsy joke in Gen. Lincoln’s honor.)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

“No such order as Mr Gridley alludes to”

Scarborough Gridley didn’t just write to Elbridge Gerry seeking back pay in February 1784, as I quoted yesterday.

Gridley first went to the president of the Massachusetts Senate to ask for his help. That man was Samuel Adams (shown here). This is why Gridley’s letter to Gerry is in the Samuel Adams Papers at the New York Public Library, of all places.

Adams’s political estrangement from John Hancock was at its height, so he was probably quite open to Gridley’s complaint that the governor had failed to carry out his duty to send an inquiry to Gen. George Washington about Gridley’s military role. (In 1789 Hancock and Adams reconciled and ran as a ticket, so Adams was Hancock’s lieutenant governor and successor.)

Adams had been in Philadelphia in 1775, when Gridley was cashiered out of his father’s artillery regiment, and 1776, when Gridley claimed his father brought him back on as an assistant while fortifying Boston harbor. So the senate president wasn’t up on the details of the younger man’s career.

On 25 February, Adams wrote from Boston to Gerry, then representing Massachusetts in the Congress, which was convened at Annapolis.
Inclosd is a Letter to your Self from Colo. Scar Gridley. It seems he applied to this G[eneral] C[ourt] some time ago for Depretion of his pay while in the Service, upon which the Govr. was requested to write to G W to make known to him the Rank held by Mr. Gridley & [missing text] but the Letter has never been written.

I advisd him to write you on the Subject, & hope you will excuse my giving you the Trouble. As you are now near the Place of Residence of General Washington, perhaps it may not be inconvenient to you to write to him, in doing which you will gratify & oblige Mr. Gridley.
On 18 March, Gerry wrote to Washington, then retired:
By the last Post I received from the president of the Senate of Massachusetts a Letter, inclosing the papers herewith transmitted, & requesting me to write to your Excellency on the Subject. As I have no other Knowledge of the Matter, than what is derived from Colo Gridley’s Letter & the Resolve accompanying it, I can only say, that when your Excellency is at Leisure, if You think it expedient to make any Observations on the Subject or Answer to the Resolve, & should inclose them to me, I will direct them to Colo Gridley.

I flatter myself with the Hopes, that since your Retirement from publick Life, You have not only enjoyed, Health, peace & Competence, but likewise the pleasure of seeing all your Friends in the same happy Circumstances.
On 31 March, Washington wrote back from Mount Vernon:
I have examined my Letter and orderly Books but find no such order as Mr Gridley alludes to, in his letter of the 21st of Feby, to you.

If his Father, or himself ever received such orders they are no doubt to be produced, and will speak for themselves. Mr Gridley never reported himself to the Chief Engineer (Genl [Louis Lebègue] Duportail) nor has he ever been returned to me by him, or any Senior Officer in that department that I remember as one of the Corps—in the Service of the United States—It is not in my power therefore, from any recollection I have of the circumstance he speaks of—or of his Services—to certifie anything on which his claim can be founded.
According to Gridley, his father had told Washington about his appointment in 1776 and the commander-in-chief had approved it. But there’s no mention of that in the published correspondence of the two men.

The nearest hint of a new army job for Scar Gridley was his court-martial panel’s statement that “they do not consider him incapable of a Continental Commission, should the General Officers recommend him to his Excellency”—which the general officers never did.

Gerry returned Gridley’s letter with Washington’s response in a note to Adams dated 2 April. Adams replied simply: “Your Letter of the 2d relating to Colo. Gridleys Affair came to hand. I am obligd to you for the Care you have taken.” And that was the end of that.

One detail that stood out to me in this exchange is that Adams, and then Gerry, referred to Scarborough Gridley with the title “Colonel.” Gridley was a major when he was removed from the Continental Army in 1775. Some paperwork hints that in the summer of 1775 he and his father tried to get him the rank of lieutenant colonel, but that didn’t go through.

So when and how did Scar Gridley start introducing himself to people as a colonel? Then again, if he really had managed to collect a few years of pay and rations as an assistant engineer in the Continental Army without any commander knowing it, he had a lot of audacity to call on.

Scarborough Gridley died in 1787 at the age of forty-eight at his parents’ home in Stoughton.

Friday, September 25, 2020

“Less fortunate in my Military reputation than some others”

As I recounted yesterday, Gen. George Washington dismissed Maj. Scarborough Gridley from the Continental Army on 24 Sept 1775.

Dealing with the major’s father, Col. Richard Gridley, was harder. It took a lot of maneuvering by the commander-in-chief, Continental Congress delegates, and the young man Washington wanted in Gridley’s place, Henry Knox.

In November, Col. Gridley was kicked upstairs to the post of Chief Engineer of the Continental Army. When Washington moved south to New York in April 1776, he left the colonel behind in the “Eastern Department,” fortifying Boston harbor.

What happened to Scarborough Gridley? In 1781, he petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for back pay, evidently for service in Gen. John Sullivan’s push against the British in Newport in 1778. That April, the state legislature resolved to pay Gridley “forty five Pounds New England” and asked Gov. John Hancock to write to Gen. Washington asking what rank Gridley had held in the Continental Army and “from whence he is to receive his pay.”

Nothing happened. On 21 Feb 1784 Gridley penned a letter to Elbridge Gerry, one of Massachusetts’s delegates to the Confederation Congress. In it he stated:
At the evacuation of the Town of Boston by the British troops my Father was stationed here by his Excellency General Washington for the purpose of Fortifying the Town and Harbour; the Extension of the Works made it necessary that he should have an Assistant; he appointed me and reported the appointment to His Excellency who confirmed it and order’d me pay accordingly—

I continued in service and received pay as long as any General Officer remained to grant me Warrants—My last warrant for June & July 1779 for 40 dollrs. pay and three rations subsistance was given by General [Horatio] Gates a[t] Providence: since which I have received neither pay nor Subsistance excepting one ration of Provisions to January 1781—

When Military opperations commenced at Rhode Island I repaired to General Sullivans Camp, and on my return to the works in Boston, received the Public thanks of the General for my services on that Expedition. . . .

Notwithstanding my repeated and assiduous application Governor Hancock has not written on the subject. At some times he informed me that he had written at others that it had escaped his memory. . . . that I should be kept from the reward given in common to others by the Neglect of an individual (however high in Office) is humiliating—

If in the early days of the War I have been less fortunate in my Military reputation than some others, I hope it will not be esteemed presumption in me to believe that my subsequent services and the Assiduity with which I have executed every order I have received have entirely effaced every disadvantageous impression on my Character.
That last paragraph was clearly a reference to how Gridley had been cashiered from the army for his behavior during Bunker Hill.

Scar Gridley closed by asking Gerry to request a certificate of his service from Gen. Washington so he could “settle my accounts with the publick and the State.”

TOMORROW: Oh, this will go well.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

“Major Scarborough Gridley guilty of a breach of orders”

On 24 Sept 1775, Maj. Scarborough Gridley’s career in the Continental Army came to an end.

Gridley was the fourth-ranking officer in the artillery regiment. More important, he was the son of the regimental commander, Col. Richard Gridley.

When the Massachusetts Provincial Congress summoned Richard Gridley in April 1775 and asked him to come out of retirement to lead its artillery and engineering force, one of his conditions was a high rank for his youngest son.

On 17 June, Maj. Gridley was ordered to take his artillery company onto the Charlestown peninsula and help defend the provincials’ new redoubt on Breed’s Hill. He found something else to do.

Three months later, that led to a court-martial. And on 24 September Gen. George Washington’s orders stated:
Major Scarborough Gridley, try’d at a late Genl Court Martial, whereof Brigd. Genl [Nathanael] Green was president, for “being deficient in his duty upon the 17th June last, the day of the Action upon Bunkers-hill”—

The Court find Major Scarborough Gridley guilty of a breach of orders; They do therefore dismiss him from the Massachusetts service; But on Account of his inexperience and Youth, and the great confusion which attended that days transaction in general, they do not consider him incapable of a Continental Commission, should the General Officers recommend him to his Excellency—

The General confirms the dismission of Major Scarborough Gridley, and orders it to take place accordingly.
Scar Gridley was born on 9 Oct 1739, so “inexperience and Youth” referred to his age of…thirty-five. Clearly that line was a sop to his father, as was the idea that he might become an officer in the army Washington was organizing for the new year. The commander pointedly took no notice of anything but this “young” man being dismissed.

Other Americans noticed the dismissal as well. The artist Bernard Romans produced a print titled “An Exact View of the late Battle at Charlestown, June 17, 1775.” The Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken copied that to make “A Correct View of The Late Battle at Charlestown: June 17th, 1775.”

Romans’s image included a detail, shown above, of Maj. Scar Gridley staying in the foreground, out of the battle, trading cannon shot with a Royal Navy ship in the Charles River. He helpfully labeled that figure “Broken Officer.” (Aitken appears to have left out Romans’s labels, which would have been of most interest to New Englanders.)

Thus, Maj. Gridley’s contemporaries viewed his deficiency as crucial to the American defeat at Bunker Hill and were willing to pay to see why he was thrown out of the army. His five months of military service were not a success.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Maj. Gridley?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Online Schoolwork from the Gilder Lehrman Institute

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has announced a series of free online courses for elementary, middle, and high school students.

The institute has a teacher-training program and a big collection of documents, and these classes draw on both those resources. The website explains:
Master Teachers will present lessons anchored in primary source documents, many from the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s collection of more than 70,000 American history artifacts. The goal is to engage students and excite them about history so that they leave each lesson more knowledgeable about a new idea, theme, document, or pivotal moment in history.
The institute also has a close connection with the Broadway musical Hamilton and its educational outreach program. Which explains the heavy Hamilton theme in the course titles.

For instance, there’s “Spotlight on Hamilton’s World: Documents from the Founding Era.” It proposes to look each week at ”an important document from the Founding Era that has influenced our government, culture, and economy,” starting Tuesday, 6 October. The events in the spotlight are:
Alexander Hamilton himself was involved in only one of those events, of course. Near as I can tell, he spent only a few days in Massachusetts in his lifetime.

The course “Spotlight on Hamilton’s World: People from the Founding Era,” starting Tuesday, 3 November, gets a little more into Hamilton’s world by looking at:
Hamilton did know the Adamses and the Knoxes, and got along with at least one of them.

As you see, there’s a heavy Massachusetts tilt to these particular courses, Hamilton or not, so families that follow Boston 1775 might find them interesting.

Other free Gilder Lehrman courses this fall will cover woman suffrage, voting rights, and preparing for the A.P. United States History exam.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Three Online Events on Revolutionary History Tonight

September usually brings a burst of historical events as the academic calendar restarts while museums and tourist sites keep appealing to visitors. This year the pandemic means that a lot of those events are being organized online, and are thus available to much broader audiences. Plus, they’re often recorded and made available online for later.

All of which exponentially increases the number of historical talks and panels one feels guilty about not attending in some way. Here are three scheduled for tonight alone.

The Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar at the Massachusetts Historical Society gets under way for the year. Prof. Lauren Duval of the University of Oklahoma has shared a paper titled “The Horrid Deeds of our Enemies.” Prof. Carolyn Eastman of Virginia Commonwealth University will be the principal commenter, but this will be a discussion session.
The American Revolution was waged not only on the battlefield, but in the realm of culture. American homes and the wartime violence within them—particularly directed against women—were prominent subjects in novels and historical paintings. Reimagining women’s interactions with British soldiers solely as relationships of violence and deception, not volition, these narratives promoted a gendered vision of wartime domestic invasion and violation that would, in memory, come to define the war’s devastation and contribute to emergent ideas about the meaning of independence.
To subscribe to the papers in this series and other seminars hosted by the M.H.S., use this link; the cost is $25. Register for tonight’s event here. This seminar will run from 5:15 to 6:30 P.M. Unfortunately, there are no sandwiches and conversation afterward except what we provide ourselves.

Monticello is offering a series of “Tom Talks,” and tonight’s is grandly but not inaccurately titled “The Election of 1800: A Battle for the Soul of America.”
Jefferson recalled the Election of 1800 as the “revolution of 1800;” the first peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another in the young United States. Yet it was shaped by a bitter campaign in the press as the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties battled to decide the nation's future course. Join John Ragosta, Historian at the International Center for Jefferson Studies, and Jeff Looney, Editor of the Jefferson Papers: Retirement Series as they discuss the political maneuvering that led to Jefferson’s presidency.
That event begins at 6:00 P.M., and access costs $25. Monticello is also posting many free videos on other aspect of the third President’s life.

Finally, History Author Talks features two experts speaking on “The Ravages of War in New York and New Jersey.” William L. (Larry) Kidder, author of Ten Crucial Days: Washington’s Vision for Victory Unfolds and the upcoming Revolutionary Princeton, 1774-1783: The Biography of an American Town in the Heart of a Civil War, and Todd Braisted, author of Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City and Bergen County Voices from the American Revolution: Soldiers and Residents in Their Own Words, will discuss military maneuvers in the crucial corridor between the two largest cities in North America.

This conversation will start at 7:00 P.M. To register, use this link. The History Author Talks website has links to recordings of many previous conversations between authors this year, including mine with Nina Sankovitch and Paul Lockhart.

Don’t you feel more guilty already?

Monday, September 21, 2020

When Women Lost the Vote in New Jersey, and Other Troublesome History

Yesterday I wrote about what might be the first and only example of women voting in an official forum in colonial America, two property-owning widows expressing their views at a special Sudbury town meeting in 1655.

The next documented example of American women voting in a governmental election came in New Jersey after the Revolution. As I wrote back in 2010, the state constitution allowed widows and single women meeting the property requirement to vote.

Newspapers at the time made clear that some women did exercise that right—it wasn’t just an abstraction. However, most of what we knew about the custom came from each party complaining that the other side was doing too much to woo female support. In 1807, the men in charge of New Jersey took care of that problem by rewriting the constitution to restrict the vote to men only.

This year we’re observing the hundredth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and of the first national election in which American women voted. (Those who weren’t disenfranchised because of race, that is.)

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia decided to use that occasion to dig deeper into the history of female suffrage in New Jersey. As reported earlier this year in the Philadelphia Inquirer and in the New York Times, researchers from the museum went looking for voter rolls that might name women who actually cast ballots.

Jennifer Schuessler reported on the challenge in the New York Times:
A 1920 article in a small historical journal included a transcript of a 1787 poll list from Burlington Township showing two women’s names. But the original list could not be found, and some scholars wondered if the names were transcription errors. (Was “Iona” a woman’s name, or a misreading of “Jona,” a common abbreviation for Jonathan?)

A footnote in a 1992 scholarly article mentioned an 1800 list from Bedminster apparently showing a few women’s names. But that, it seemed, was it.

And so Dr. [Marcela] Micucci began trying to locate surviving poll lists — rarities in themselves — to see if they included women’s names that could be verified against other records.

The first big hit was an 1801 poll list from Montgomery Township, held at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, which had acquired it in 2016 from the descendant of a long-ago county clerk.

Dr. [Philip] Mead recalled being on the phone when Dr. Micucci walked in, waving a photocopy with what turned out to be nearly four dozen women’s names highlighted.
As of February, the research team had found eighteen poll lists from four townships, half of those rolls including women’s names. A detail from one such document appears above.

The pandemic disrupted the M.A.R.’s initial plans for its “When Women Lost the Vote” exhibit, but it’s opening next month. The museum says:
Featuring original objects including textiles, works of art, and newly-discovered poll lists highlighting women voters from the period, the exhibition will bring to life the forgotten stories of the women who first pioneered the vote and became role models for women's suffragists two generations later. “When Women Lost the Vote” is an inspiring story that will encourage visitors to reconsider their understanding of the timeline of women’s history in America, but it is also a cautionary tale about one of America’s first voting rights crises. The exhibition will be integrated within the Museum’s permanent galleries and connected by an audio tour.
This exhibition will run through 25 Apr 2021. There are restrictions for visitors to preserve public health.

Also from the M.A.R., on Thursday, 24 September, Annette Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University, will deliver the Carl M. Buchholz Memorial Lecture on the topic “The Past in the Present: Dealing with Troublesome Histories.”

Gordon-Reed has written extensively about some of the troublesome aspects of Thomas Jefferson, as well as his more admirable sides, in her books Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, The Hemingses of Monticello, and “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” with Peter S. Onuf. She has also written a short biography of—talk about troublesome!—President Andrew Johnson.

Watching this online lecture live requires registering in advance. The log-in period will begin on Thursday at 5:45 P.M., and the lecture at 6:00. There will be a question period afterward.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Women Who Voted in a Colonial Massachusetts Town Meeting

Ten years ago, I noted the legend of Lydia Taft, a widow in Uxbridge who was said to have voted in a town meeting in 1756.

That statement appeared in print in 1881, in the publication of a speech delivered seventeen years before. That book cited no records from 1756 to support the claim.

I opined that it would have been very unlikely for no one to comment on a woman voting, especially when she supposedly broke a tie on a controversial tax. “It would be nice to see the official records,” I wrote.

Last month an unknown commenter stated: “Uxbridge records for the period are extant both as physical documents in the possession of the Town Clerk and as part of the Holbrook group's microfiche collection. There is no mention of Lydia having voted.”

Just now I came across this Mental Floss article by Jocelyn Sears, also based on a look at actual town records:
But according to records from Uxbridge’s town meetings, there wasn’t any meeting on October 30, 1756, and the town did not appropriate any funds that year for the war or for unspecified colonial purposes. (They did vote to raise money for the local schools, to repair the roads, and to pay the town minister’s salary.) Further, even if Lydia Taft had voted, we’d have no way of knowing, since the official minutes for the town meetings do not list the names of people voting or their votes. The minutes simply state when a vote happened and that a given measure passed or failed.
So we can file the story of Lydia Taft voting under myths.

Sears’s article also discusses a documented case of women’s votes being recorded in Sudbury in 1655. At issue was whether the selectmen had apportioned new land fairly in 1649, and whether common grazing rights should depend on the amount of (unfairly?) apportioned land. Sears writes:
Jane Goodenow and Mary Loker were both widows of men who received land in the original division of the meadow. As their husbands’ heirs, each had a stake in this question of sizing the commons. Jane Goodenow owned 25 acres of meadow land, and thus benefited from any policies that favored those with a large acreage. Mary Loker, on the other hand, only owned 5 acres of meadow, and she recognized that tying grazing rights to meadow acreage would disadvantage her. As landowners, both women were theoretically eligible to vote in Sudbury, where the access to the franchise depended on property, though according to custom, women did not vote. But on January 22, 1655, Goodenow and Loker packed into the Sudbury meeting house with over 50 other people to determine how the town commons would be sized.

Acting for herself and as a proxy for a (male) neighbor, Goodenow issued two votes in favor of tying grazing rights to meadow ownership, while Loker issued two votes against the measure (it’s unclear if she was also acting as a proxy).
The good news is that Sears’s article included links to images of Sudbury town records. The bad news is that those links have broken.

But—good news again—I found a new link through Digital Commonwealth. This is actually a handwritten transcription of the seventeenth-century original, mandated by a vote in 1857. Which is why we can, you know, read it.

The preceding page records an official town meeting on 22 Jan 1655 (1654 as British colonies dated years then) and concludes with this call for a vote:
You that judge the act of the select men, for sizing the commons to be a righteous act, and do consent with them in their act, discover it by drawing yourselves together, in the one end of the meeting house, to this vote there appeared, those that follow. (see the other side of this leaf.)
On the left side of the next page spread are the lists of people for and against the measure. Halfway down the first column is “Jane Goodenow widow for herself and Andrew Belcher.” In the right column at the same line is “Mary Luker widow two votes.”

Following the division, there were disputes about whether all the people listed were eligible to vote. As Sears points out, no one objected to the widows Goodenow and Luker participating.

In 1656, the year after this protest, three of the men who had voted against the Sudbury selectmen’s action led some families a few miles west and organized a petition to the Massachusetts General Court to start a new town. That soon became Marlborough.

I tried to find more information about Jane Goodenow and Mary Luker in the Sudbury town records. Unfortunately, because it was a young town, formed in 1638, an older couple that moved there with their children already born wouldn’t show up in the local records of marriages and births.

I believe that Jane Goodenow was the widow who died on 15 July 1666. Her will identified her late husband as named John. John Goodenow, Sr., died on 28 Mar 1654, in the crucial window between the granting of the land and the vote on the common. His will was abstracted here. The Goodenows had a daughter Jane, who married Henry Wait or Wight by 1654, and they had a son named John by the time widow Goodenow died. (This genealogy webpage contains entries for the Goodenows, but I think some of the identifications are mistaken and can’t verify others.)

Mary Luker’s husband was also named John. They had a daughter named Mary on 28 Sept 1653. Sometime in that year, John died. I can’t find any further information about Mary Luker in either Sudbury or Marlborough.

But we can remember the names of Jane Goodenow and Mary Luker as women who, by virtue of being unmarried widows with property, participated in a protest vote in the Sudbury meetinghouse in January 1655.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Dr. Dexter’s Boys

When Lydia (Woods Dexter) Curtis died at the end of 1772, her three surviving sons were all in their late teens, of age to be apprentices. They may therefore have left the household of their stepfather, Dr. Samuel Curtis.

Lydia was from a large and established family in Marlborough. The boys’ paternal relatives in Dedham were also rich enough to take them in if that seemed like the best course. (In 1771 their grandmother there offered to pay “the Charge of Rideing” for one boy so that he could recover from an illness through “moderate exercise.”)

Two of those Dexter boys went into medical professions, and it’s possible that Dr. Curtis helped to train them. But it’s also possible those sons were inspired entirely by their father, Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, and wanted little to do with Curtis. Here’s what we know about the next generation of Dexters.

William (1755-1785) went out to Shrewsbury, perhaps to train under Dr. Edward Flynt, who had treated his father in his last illness. In February 1775, at the age of nineteen, William married a local woman named Betsy Bowker, age twenty-one. Their first child, named Ebenezer after William’s father, arrived eight and a half months later.

By then, Edward Flynt and William Dexter had enlisted as surgeon and surgeon’s mate for Gen. Artemas Ward’s regiment of the Massachusetts army. The young man’s handwritten commission signed by James Warren for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appears above. Dexter served in the Continental Army through the siege of Boston and accompanied the regiment down to New York under Col. Jonathan Ward.

Betsy Dexter, according to her 1843 application for a pension, was living at her father’s house in Shrewsbury all this time. William “returned after warm weather in 1776,” she recalled. He had reached the age of majority that April, and I wonder if he inherited his father’s estate in Marlborough. (It’s worth recalling that Dr. Curtis decided to leave town and go to sea the next spring.)

According to his wife, William brought his little family home to Marlborough in December 1776 and set up his own practice as a physician. William and Betsy had children in 1777, 1778, and 1779, all of them living to adulthood. But like his father, William Dexter died young, at age thirty. His widow Betsy remarried ten years later to a man named Edward Low and settled in Leominster, living until 1846.

Samuel Dexter (1756-1825) became an apothecary, married Elizabeth Province in Northampton in 1790, and settled in Albany, New York. She was a daughter of John and Sarah Province of Boston, and thus a sister of the David Province whom George Gailer sued for helping to tar and feather him in 1769, when she was six. How she got to Northampton is a mystery. Samuel and Elizabeth had five children, three living to adulthood. Samuel was the longest-lived of the brothers, and Elizabeth died in 1846.

John Dexter (1758-1807) worked as a quartermaster sergeant for the Continental Army for several years under Col. Timothy Bigelow of Worcester. On 3 Mar 1783 he married a woman from Marlborough named Mary Woods, likely a cousin on his mother’s side, with a justice of the peace from Stow rather than a local minister presiding. John and Mary Dexter’s first daughter arrived in late December, and three more children followed by 1794.

John was a tanner. He gained the militia rank of ensign under Gov. John Hancock. In the 1790s the Dexters moved to Berlin. Then John “went into Trade,” and in 1802 he moved the family into Boston. John died five years later, Mary in 1823. The children all lived well into the latter half of the nineteenth century, but none had children.

John Dexter’s third child was John Haven Dexter (1791-1867), who apprenticed at Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel but then went to work in the mercantile firm of Amos and Abbott Lawrence. J. H. Dexter wrote two books (Mercantile Honor, and Moral Honesty and A Plea for the Horse) and also left several manuscripts of genealogical information and gossip about his family and fellow Bostonians, some helpfully transcribed and published in 1997.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Short Marriage of Dr. Samuel and Lydia Curtis

In March 1769, as I recounted yesterday, Dr. Ebenezer Dexter of Marlborough died. He left a wife, Lydia, and four young sons.

By July a young physician named Samuel Curtis was boarding in the Dexter house, treating the late doctor’s patients.

On 30 June 1771, the widow Lydia Dexter married Dr. Samuel Curtis. The bride was almost eleven years older than the groom.

The new couple’s neighbors wouldn’t have needed medical training to understand their reason for marrying. Their first child, Anna, arrived on 5 October, or three months and one week later.

Those necessary nuptials didn’t stop Dr. Curtis from gaining his neighbors’ respect, however. In 1772 the Marlborough town meeting put him on its committee of correspondence.

Unfortunately, the Curtis marriage didn’t last long. Not because of incompatibility but because of illnesses.

In August 1772 the Dexters’ youngest son, Jason Haven Dexter, died at the age of ten.

In March 1774, Lydia Curtis gave birth to her second child by Samuel, a daughter named Christian. (Was she named after Loyalist neighbor Christian Barnes?) But within one week in December, the Curtises’ first daughter, Anna; their new baby, Christian; and Lydia all died.

Dr. Samuel Curtis was now the widowed stepfather of three teen-aged boys from Lydia’s first marriage. I don’t know how much the doctor was involved in raising them after that, though. He was putting a lot of his energy into Patriot politics, serving on the town’s committee of correspondence and as a representative to the Middlesex County convention in August 1774.

On 1 Mar 1775, when Henry Barnes tried to shelter two British officers on a clandestine scouting mission, Curtis politely pushed himself into the house and quizzed Barnes’s young niece about those family guests. That September, the Massachusetts government appointed the doctor as a justice of the peace.

In March 1777, Dr. Curtis’s Patriotism took a new turn. He enlisted as a surgeon on the Continental Navy ship Hancock under Capt. John Manley. Joseph Ross has provided a long discussion of Dr. Curtis’s adventures in the navy. It doesn’t agree in all details with the profile of Curtis in Sibley’s Harvard Biographies, so I need more time to sort those out.

But I definitely plan to come back to Dr. Samuel Curtis. He seems to have found drama wherever he went, often by making it himself.

TOMORROW: The Dexter boys.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Young Doctors in Marlborough

Yesterday I introduced the figure of Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, Marlborough’s leading doctor in the 1760s.

On 3 May 1769, however, the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman of nearby Westborough wrote in his diary: “Dr. [Edward] Flynt came from Dr. Dexter, and says the latter will hardly live through the Night.”

Indeed, Dr. Dexter died the next day. On 6 May Parkman reported: “Dr. Dexter was buryed at Marlborough.”

The doctor’s gravestone, shown here courtesy of Find a Grave, says, “He was an Eminent Physician but was Subject unto Death even as other men.”

The doctor’s death left an opening in his town. Two young physicians soon moved into Marlborough, hoping to establish their own practices.

One was Amos Cotting, born in Waltham in 1749 (under the name Cutting, which would have been apt for a surgeon). He graduated from Harvard College in 1767 and then earned his M.A., presumably while studying medicine. Charles Hudson’s history of Marlborough said Cotting came to that town “On the death of Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, 1769,” but he wasn’t on the list of men paying the poll tax in 1770, so he may have arrived later.

The other young doctor was Samuel Curtis, eldest son of the Rev. Philip Curtis of Stoughton. He graduated from Harvard a year before Cotting and also gained an M.A. Curtis was apparently starting to practice medicine in Roxbury when he learned about the sudden opportunity in Marlborough. Hudson quoted from the town’s warning-out records to reveal what happened next:
Dr. Samuel Curtis came to town, June, 1769; came last from Roxbury. Taken in by widow Dexter.
The following month, the Rev. Mr. Parkman rode to Marlborough to see a sick relative, and he also recorded: “Visit Mrs. Dexter and Dr. Curtis who lodges there.”

Curtis had advantages over Cotting in any competition to become the town’s favorite physician. He was slightly older, and as son of a minister instead of a farmer he was probably more genteel. But the big edge appears to have been that he was now living in Dr. Dexter’s house, thus endorsed by Dr. Dexter’s wife, all ready to see Dr. Dexter’s patients.

The widow Dexter was still only in her early thirties, with four young sons to care for and an estate to maintain. Then, in early 1771, Lydia Dexter became pregnant.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Dr. Ebenezer Dexter Practicing Medicine in Marlborough

Ebenezer Dexter was born in 1729, son of the Rev. Samuel Dexter of Dedham.

Ebenezer chose to go into medicine, and after marrying Lydia Woods, daughter of a selectman in Marlborough, he set up his practice in that town. In 1754, the year of their marriage, Ebenezer was twenty-five and Lydia was eighteen.

We can glimpse Dr. Dexter at work in the diary of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman in nearby Westborough. That minister is shown here, and his diary is fully transcribed and annotated at this website.

Westborough’s northern precinct, which would eventually split off as Northborough [stay with me here], had its own meeting and minister, the Rev. John Martyn. On 13 Aug 1756, Parkman wrote about his colleague’s fifteen-year-old son Nathaniel being ill:
Sarah and Suse undertake to go to Mr. Martyn’s: they return at Eve Well. They tell me Natty Martyn, tis feared, grows bad.
Twelve days later, the father traveled to see Dr. Dexter:
Mr. Martyn has carryed down his Son Natty, to Marlborough to Dr. Dexter’s, who gives great Encouragement concerning the Sore, that he Shall effect the Cure of it.
And indeed, almost a year later Parkman mentioned the son again, apparently healthy: “Natty Martyn brought a Letter from Leominster.” Nathaniel Martyn survived and eventually became a doctor himself.

(The trouble in Leominster was that the Rev. John Rogers had turned into an Arminian, or what a later generation would call a Unitarian. This required a council of other ministers and eventually an approval to allow the Leominster congregation to split. But I digress.)

Dr. Ebenezer and Lydia Dexter had four sons between 1755 and 1762: William, Samuel, John, and Jason Haven, the last named after the minister who had succeeded the doctor’s father in Dedham. Dexter also served Marlborough as the town clerk starting in 1768.

But in May 1769, Dr. Dexter, still only thirty-nine years old, fell seriously ill.

TOMORROW: Opening for a young doctor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

An Acquittal and a Conviction

On 29 Aug 1775, Gen. George Washington told Richard Henry Lee, “I have at this time one Colo., one Major, one Captn, & two Subalterns under arrest for tryal.”

The colonel was John Mansfield of Lynn, originally scheduled to be tried in early August. The major was Scarborough Gridley of Stoughton, in the artillery regiment. As I described yesterday, Gridley had stayed out of the main fighting at Bunker Hill and ordered Mansfield (who had a higher rank) to keep his infantry regiment nearby.

The captain was another artillery officer, Capt. Edward Crafts (1746-1806). He was a younger brother of Thomas Crafts, one of the Loyall Nine who organized the first public protest against the Stamp Act and then remained active in Whig politics. Thomas was an officer in Boston’s militia artillery company, and Edward trained in that unit as a young man.

Edward Crafts was a tinner by profession. He was still in Boston in 1770, when he supplied a deposition for the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. But back in 1768 he had married a country girl, Eliot Winship of Lexington. In 1771 the growing family moved to Worcester. At the end of 1773 Edward became a founding member of the American Political Society, his new town’s new club for Whig politics.

As the province moved toward military conflict in 1774, Worcester put Crafts on a committee to acquire and mount four cannon. He started to train a militia regiment to use those guns. Both Massachusetts Provincial Congress records and spy reports to Gen. Thomas Gage describe a large number of artillery pieces in the town by the spring of 1775.

When war broke out, however, Edward Crafts marched as a private in the town’s minuteman company. Then he returned home and recruited an artillery company to serve through the rest of the year. According to most listings of the Massachusetts artillery regiment under Col. Richard Gridley, Crafts was the senior captain.

That might have given him the stature, and the boldness, to challenge Maj. Scar Gridley. The colonel’s son was nominally fourth in command of the regiment, but in practice he was the colonel’s main aide and protégé. Sometime in the summer of 1775, after Maj. Gridley had behaved so ineffectually at Bunker Hill, he and Capt. Crafts exchanged words and accusations.

That led to the first of a series of court-martial proceedings, starting 1 September. The next day’s general orders announced the verdict:
Capt. Edward Crafts of Col. Gridley’s regiment of Artillery, tried yesterday by a General Court Martial, is acquitted of that part of the Charge against him, which relates to [“]defrauding of his men,” and the Court are also of opinion, that no part of the Charge against the prisoner is proved, except that of using abusive expressions to Major Gridley; which being a breach of the 49th Article of the Rules and Regulations for the Massachusetts Army; sentence the Prisoner to receive a severe reprimand from the Lt Col. of the Artillery in the presence of all the Officers of the regiment and that he at the said time, ask pardon of Major Gridley for the said abusive language.
The lieutenant colonel of the regiment was William Burbeck. I have no idea if he made Capt. Crafts perform this ritual before the end of the month because there was still more legal business to get through.

According to the diary of Lt. Benjamin Crafts (an Essex County cousin of the Crafts brothers from Boston), Col. Mansfield’s court-martial started on 8 September. A week later, on 15 September, the commander’s general orders declared the outcome:
Col. John Mansfield of the 19th Regt of foot, tried at a General Court Martial, whereof Brigdr Genl [Nathanael] Green was president, for “remissness and backwardness in the execution of his duty, at the late engagement on Bunkers-hill”; The Court found the Prisoner guilty of the Charge and of a breach of the 49th Article of the rules and regulations of the Massachusetts Army and therefore sentence him to be cashiered and render’d unfit to serve in the Continental Army.

The General [Washington] approves the sentence and directs it to take place immediately.
Notably, although the Continental Army kicked Mansfield out, the voters of Lynn chose him for their town committee of correspondence, inspection, and safety almost every year until the end of the war, and also voted to have him moderate town meetings.

Likewise, the voters of Newbury sent Samuel Gerrish to the Massachusetts General Court in 1776, the year after the army cashiered him the same way. Those gentlemen’s neighbors felt they still deserved leadership responsibilities.

COMING UP: The trial of Scarborough Gridley.

[The photo above shows the modern marker on Edward Crafts’s grave in Potter, New York, where the family moved in 1792, courtesy of Find a Grave. The original stone also survives there.]

Monday, September 14, 2020

“Remissness and backwardness” at Bunker Hill

On 13 Aug 1775, Gen. George Washington issued orders for a court-martial to take place the following day with Gen. Nathanael Greene presiding.

The defendant was Col. John Mansfield (1721-1809) of Lynn. Three junior officers in his regiment had accused him “of high Crimes and Misdemeanors”—namely “remissness and backwardness in the execution of his duty, at the late engagement on Bunkers-hill.”

But there was a delay. On 17 August, Washington told Greene and the other officers to try Col. Samuel Gerrish instead. There were also hearings on officers of lesser rank in that month. As I discussed last month, Gen. Washington was happy to remove a bunch of officers from the Continental ranks.

On 20 August the commander-in-chief told his cousin and overseer Lund Washington, “there is two more Colos. now under arrest, & to be tried for the same Offences.” One was Mansfield.

Why the delay? The charge against Mansfield also involved Maj. Scarborough Gridley of the artillery regiment, who was a protégé of his father, Col. Richard Gridley. The colonel was highly respected in Massachusetts because of his service in the last two wars, particularly the 1745 siege of Louisbourg. With a half-pay pension from the Crown, he was seen as the equivalent of a British army artillerist. The Massachusetts government had even moved to promote Col. Gridley to major general on 23 June.

Gen. Washington and particularly Gen. Charles Lee were not at all impressed with Col. Gridley’s fortifications and other work when they arrived in Cambridge in July. Washington informed the Continental Congress of Gridley’s new Massachusetts rank but pointedly didn’t endorse it. The Congress commissioned him as a Continental colonel instead. But people still didn’t want to totally alienate Col. Gridley.

What’s more, for a significant time that summer the colonel was home in Stoughton recovering a wound he’d suffered at Bunker Hill. His son Scar was the only liaison between him and the army. So both politically and practically, Maj. Scar Gridley was almost untouchable for a while.

That’s where the incident with Col. Mansfield came in. Mansfield’s failing at the Battle of Bunker Hill was to listen to Maj. Scar Gridley. As Richard Frothingham explained the situation in his History of the Siege of Boston, both officers had been ordered onto the battlefield on the Charlestown peninsula but stopped before crossing the neck:
Major Gridley, of the artillery, inadequate to his position, with part of the battalion, marched a short distance on Cambridge road, then halted, and resolved to cover the retreat, which he thought to be inevitable. Col. [Joseph] Frye, fresh from the battle, urged him forward; but Gridley, appalled by the horrors of the scene, ordered his men to fire at the [Royal Navy ship] Glasgow, and batteries from Cobble Hill. He also ordered Colonel Mansfield to support him with his regiment, who, violating his orders, obeyed.
To convict Mansfield of disobeying higher orders, cowardice, or incompetence would imply that Scar Gridley was guilty of the same charges. And how would his father respond? That might have been why Mansfield’s court martial took so long to get started.

In early September 1775, however, the court-martial proceedings started again. The logjam might have been broken from below as officers in the artillery regiment fired accusations at each other.

TOMORROW: Two trials in two weeks.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Peter Faneuil’s Disability and What It Might Mean

In my recent discussion of Peter Faneuil and the meeting hall still named after him, I referred to him as disabled. That produced some questions. So here’s more on what Faneuil’s contemporaries wrote about his body.

On 3 Mar 1743, Benjamin Walker put in his journal:
Peter Faneuil Esqr, between 2 & 3 o’clock in ye afternoon dyed of a dropsical complyca[tion], he was a fat, squat, Lame, hip short, went with high heeled shoe (In my opinion a great loss too This Town, aged 42, 8m.) & I think by what I have heard has done more charitable deeds than any man yt, ever liv’d in this Town & for whom I am very sorry.
A week later, William Nadir wrote in his almanac:
Thursday 10 [March], buried Peter Faneuil, Esqr., in 43th. year of age, a fatt, corpulent, brown, squat man, hip short, lame from childhood, a very large funeral went round ye Town house; gave no gloves at ye funeral, but sent ye gloves on ye II day, his Cofin cover with black velvet, & plated with yellow plates.
These quotations appear in Abram English Brown’s Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Market, or, Peter Faneuil and His Gift, published in 1900. [I took it upon myself to edit “gave us gloves” to “gave no gloves” because that makes more sense in context.]

I couldn’t find the term “hip short” anywhere else, but it must be the Boston spelling of the eighteenth-century term “hipshot,” defined in different dictionaries as:
  • “is said of a Horse, when he had a wrung or sprain’d his Haunch or Hip, so as to relax the Ligaments that keep the Bone in its due Place.” 
  • “when the hip bone of a horse is moved out of its right place.” 
  • “Sprained or dislocated in the hip.”
The last definition comes from Samuel Johnson’s dictionary and is the only one not explicitly equine.

Thus, putting together the two diary entries (and assuming those men knew what they were writing about), Peter Faneuil was born with one leg shorter than the other. His family was wealthy enough to have shoes made for him with a higher heel for the shorter leg, and for him to go into an office job rather than one that required physical labor. 

Brown and other nineteenth-century authors suggested that Faneuil remained unmarried into his forties because he was “lame,” as well as squat and swarthy (an interpretation of “brown”). There’s also a story that his uncle Andrew Faneuil insisted that his two nephews and heirs remain unmarried. Peter’s brother Benjamin Faneuil definitely married around 1730, and Uncle Andrew definitely left Benjamin all of five shillings in his will. But that story didn’t appear in print until a century and a half after Peter Faneuil’s death as authors tried to arrange the known facts into a meaningful narrative.

It’s quite possible that Peter Faneuil didn’t marry because he just wasn’t interested in marrying. His uncle died in 1738, and he quickly started spending money on himself (wine, chariot, latest London cookbook) and his community (the market building, unspecified other charitable giving). At that point he was one of the richest men in North America. But he was still a bachelor five years later when he died. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Upcoming Programs from the Marblehead Museum

The Marblehead Museum’s upcoming online events include two about the Revolutionary period.

Thursday, 17 September, 7:00 P.M.
A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes

Marblehead author Eric Jay Dolin discusses his new book, a history of the American hurricane, or, more specifically, the hurricanes that have hit what is today the United States. It follows the intriguing and at times rather nasty history of meteorology, with advances by gifted amateurs and skilled experts alike. It recounts the death, destruction, and despair caused by hurricanes as well as stories of charity, kindness, humor, and resilience. Finally, it considers how hurricanes have influenced the course of empire, the outcomes of war, and the fortunes of individuals.

Access to this event costs $15, or $12 for Marblehead Museum members. Register through this page.

Thursday, 1 October, 7:00 P.M.
Revolutionary Networks

Prof. Joseph Adelman explores the influence of printers on political ideology in the Revolutionary period. Adelman argues that printers—artisans who mingled with the elite but labored in a manual trade—used their connections to shape political thinking and mobilize the masses. Using a database of 756 artisans to peer into the print shops of colonial America, Adelman shows how those businesspeople balanced their political beliefs and interests against their commercial interests, the customs of the trade, and the prevailing mood of their communities. He details how printers developed networks that helped to create first a revolution and then a new nation.

Access to this event costs $15, or $12 for Marblehead Museum members. Register through this page.

Friday, September 11, 2020

“The Struggle for Freedom” Webinar, 15 and 24 Sept.

The National Parks of Boston and two of the city’s historic house museums, the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury and the Gibson House Museum in the Back Bay, have teamed up to offer a free online presentation on “The Struggle for Freedom: Patriots of Color at Bunker Hill.”

Gabriella Hornbeck and Merrill Kohlhofer of the National Parks of Boston will share their archival research exploring the lives of Barzillai Lew, Jude Hall, Cuff Whittemore, and Cuff Blanchard-Chambers—four black men, some enslaved, some free—and their varied reasons for choosing to fight against the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War.

At the time, the presenters note, the rebel governments offered no explicit promise of increased liberty for black men in return for military service. Nevertheless, over one hundred men of color are documented as serving in the New England army in June 1775.

After the presentation there will be a question-and-answer session, and there will be more information on the resources available for others wanting to explore this thread of American history.

This program will be presented twice:
  • Tuesday, 15 September, at 12:00 noon
  • Thursday, 24 September, at 7:00 P.M.
To sign up for either session, visit this site.

This program is sponsored by the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.