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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Monday, November 30, 2020

Van Horn on “The Power of Objects,” Plus a Panel on “Caribbean Connections”

Tonight, on Monday, 30 November, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host an online talk by Jennifer Van Horn on “The Power of Objects in 18th-Century British America.”

The event description says:
Over the course of the eighteenth century, Anglo-Americans purchased an unprecedented number and array of goods. Prof. Jennifer Van Horn investigates these diverse artifacts—from portraits and city views to gravestones, dressing furniture, and prosthetic devices—to explore how elite American consumers assembled objects to form a new civil society on the margins of the British Empire. In this interdisciplinary transatlantic study, artifacts emerge as key players in the formation of Anglo-American communities and eventually of American citizenship.

This presentation is the second annual lecture in honor of President Emeritus Dennis Fiori in recognition of his leadership.
Jennifer Van Horn is a professor of art history and history at the University of Delaware. She has had fellowships at the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Winterthur. Van Horn has published articles on early American prostheses (wooden legs and dentures) and women’s embroidery in the new American republic.

This online event is scheduled to start at 5:30 P.M. It is free to all, but audience members must register in advance here.

In addition, on Tuesday evening the M.H.S. will host a panel discussion on “Caribbean Connections” as part of its Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar. The participants will be:
  • Casey Schmitt, Cornell University, exploring the intersection of warfare and human trafficking in the seventeenth century, as unmet demand for enslaved labor in smaller markets coupled with near-constant warfare among major European powers reinforced practices of raiding and captivity.
  • Charlotte Carrington-Farmer, Roger Williams University, discussing how eighteenth-century New Englanders diversified their thriving business in horse breeding to supply mules to the West Indies.
  • Ryan Quintana, Wellesley College, commenter.
This discussion is scheduled to run from 5:15 to 6:30 P.M. Again, people should register in advance to receive all the necessary information.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Why Was Samuel Emmons Called to Testify?

On 28 Nov 1770, the attorneys prosecuting eight soldiers for the Boston Massacre called Samuel Emmons to the witness stand.

According to defense counsel John Adams’s notes on the trial, Emmons’s testimony consisted entirely of:
I dont know any of the Prisoners. Nor anything.
Prosecutor Robert Treat Paine wrote Emmons’s name in his notes and then crossed it out. The published record of the trial, prepared from John Hodgson’s shorthand notes, didn’t mention Emmons at all.

Hiller B. Zobel’s The Boston Massacre quotes Emmons as adding, “I was not in King Street. My brother was.” However, those words don’t appear in the many documents transcribed in The Legal Papers of John Adams, co-edited by Zobel. I don’t see an Emmons brother among the other witnesses.

So why was Samuel Emmons on the witness list?

I think the answer appears in the 1 Jan 1764 Boston News-Letter, where Emmons advertised:
TAR-WATER,
MADE of Genuine Tar, to be sold by Samuel Emmons, Ropemaker, in Milk-Street, nigh the Foot of the Rope-Walks.
Bishop George Berkeley and other authorities promoted water infused with tar as a medicine. Tar was also used in preparing ropes for use on ships, so a ropemaker might well have a supply around. Emmons’s advertisement put him in the part of central Boston where John Gray’s ropewalk stood.

Thus, Emmons was almost certainly a witness to the big brawls between ropemakers and soldiers on 1 and 2 March, one of the events that raised tensions before the Massacre. Three of the soldiers on trial—Mathew Kilroy, William Warren, and John Carroll—were involved in those fights, as was victim Samuel Gray.

It looks like the prosecutors put Samuel Emmons on their list of possible witnesses as part of a plan to make the ropewalk fight a significant part of their case, just as it played a big role in the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. Later on 28 November they called ropemaker Nicholas Feriter to the stand; he described being involved in the fight and seeing Kilroy and Warren on the other side.

In a modern trial, those prosecutors would have learned more about what Samuel Emmons did and didn’t have to say before calling him to the stand. But Samuel Quincy and Paine didn’t have the time and personnel that modern prosecutors command. Who knows what the jury made of his remark?

More about Samuel Emmons appears in Robert Love’s Warnings, by Cornelia H. Dayton and Sharon V. Salinger. In 1753 he married Rachel Love, daughter of town employee Robert Love. They had their children baptized in the West Meetinghouse. In the 1780s Samuel became disabled because of “several touches of the Palsey,” and Rachel supported the family by keeping a small shop with a liquor license.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The First Day of Testimony Against the Soldiers

The first witness in the trial of Capt. Thomas Preston for the Boston Massacre was a barber’s apprentice named Edward Garrick.

He testified about how Pvt. Hugh White conked him on the head for speaking rudely about a passing army captain.

Edward’s testimony might have been more useful in prosecuting White, showing he had was aggressive and violent toward locals before anyone threatened him. But the prosecutors at the soldiers’ trial never called the boy, and we have no indication why.

Instead, the Crown’s opening witness on 27 Nov 1770 was “Jonathan Williams Austin, clerk to John Adams, Esq.” Which is to say, an assistant and trainee of the senior defense counsel.

By modern standards, this is a clear conflict of interest. But Austin had already testified for the Crown at the Preston trial. Even though the captain was acquitted, prosecuting attorneys Robert Treat Paine and Samuel Quincy must have felt the law clerk was a solid witness because they brought him back.

“Do you know either of the prisoners at the bar?” Quincy asked as his first recorded question.

Austin replied that he recognized Pvt. William Macauley: “I was about four feet off: McCauley said ‘Damn you, stand off,’ and pushed his bayonet at me: I did so.” After the shots, Austin recalled, he saw Macauley reload.

The prosecutors asked the next two witnesses, merchant Ebenezer Bridgham and James Dodge, the same first question, and similar questions of town watchman Edward G. Langford and clerk Francis Archbald. The attorneys’ goal was to establish that the defendants were definitely among the soldiers on King Street, and hopefully among those who fired at the crowd. Thus:
  • Bridgham said he saw a tall soldier he thought was Pvt. William Warren fire his gun, but didn’t see Cpl. William Wemms do so.
  • Dodge named Warren and White as present, and said the first shot came from the left side of the squad.
  • Langford identified White and Pvt. Mathew Kilroy, also said the first shot came from the left side, and testified that “immediately after Kilroy’s firing” ropemaker Samuel Gray fell dead, and “there was no other gun discharged at that time.”
  • Archbald also testified to Kilroy’s presence.
Determining which soldiers were present and fired was crucial because on the morning after the shooting people had examined the eight muskets and found that one hadn’t been discharged. One of the soldiers therefore hadn’t killed or wounded anybody. But which one? The prosecution had to prove each shooter’s guilt.

Here are some vivid details from the exchanges.
Q. Was you looking at the person who fired the last gun?
A [from Bridgham]. Yes, I saw him aim at a lad that was running down the middle of the street, and kept the motion of his gun after him a considerable time, and then fired.
Q. Did the lad fall?
A. He did not, I kept my eye on him a considerable time.

Q. Was the snow trodden down, or melted away by the Custom-House?
A [from Dodge]. No, the street was all covered like a cake.

A [from Langford]. Samuel Gray…came and struck me on the shoulder, and said, Langford, what’s here to pay.
Q. What said you to Gray then?
A. I said I did not know what was to pay, but I believed something would come of it by and bye. He made no reply. Immediately a gun went off. . . . I looked this man (pointing to Killroy) in the face, and bid him not fire; but he immediately fired, and Samuel Gray fell at my feet.

A [from Archbald]: I saw a soldier, and a mean looking fellow with him, with a cutlass in his hand: they came up to me: somebody said, put up your cutlass, it is not right to carry it at this time of night. He said, damn you ye Yankee bougers, what’s your business:
At five o’clock, the judges adjourned until the next morning. Since most trials of the time were over in a day, that was unusual, but—after Capt. Preston’s trial—not unprecedented.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Finding Jurors for the Boston Massacre Trial

On 27 Nov 1770, 250 years ago today, the second trial for the Boston Massacre got under way.

It was supposed to start a week earlier, but the court had trouble finding twelve jurors who were ready to sit on what promised to be an unusually long, unusually charged trial.

The defense team was giving the jurors extra scrutiny. Acting governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote to Gen. Thomas Gage in New York:
My great concern is to obtain an unbiased Jury and for that purpose, principally, I advised Captain [Thomas] Preston to engage one of the Bar, over and above the Council to conduct the Cause in Court, in the character of an Attorney who should make a very diligent inquiry into the characters and principles of all who are returned which he has done and it may be to good purpose, but after all it will be extremely difficult to keep a Jury to the Rules of Law.
That appears to be the reason that the young solicitor Sampson Salter Blowers joined John Adams and Josiah Quincy, Jr., on the defense team. (Blowers appears above later in life, when he was a judge in Nova Scotia.) Robert Auchmuty, senior counsel for the defense in Preston’s trial, saw his job as done.

The defense lawyers challenged every potential juror from Boston as too close to the case. After all, the town was paying Robert Treat Paine to be a special prosecutor. And the judges accepted those challenges. As a result, the jurors all had to come from other towns in Suffolk County (which at that time included all of present-day Norfolk County as well as Hingham). 

The trial record, which is unusually thick for the eighteenth century and published in volume 3 of The Legal Papers of John Adams and thus on Founders Online, shows the difficulty in seating a jury of twelve. The men called were: 
  • Samuel Williams, Roxbury, challenged for cause.
  • Joseph Curtis, Roxbury, challenged for cause.
  • Nathaniel Davis, Roxbury, sworn.
  • Joseph Mayo, Roxbury, sworn.
  • Abraham Wheeler, Dorchester, sworn.
  • Edward Pierce, Dorchester, sworn.
  • William Glover, Dorchester, challenged peremptorily.
  • Isaiah Thayer, Braintree, sworn.
  • Samuel Bass, Jr., Braintree, challenged peremptorily.
  • James Faxen, Braintree, challenged peremptorily.
  • Benjamin Fisher, Dedham, sworn.
  • John Morse, Dedham, challenged peremptorily.
  • James White, Medway, challenged peremptorily.
  • Nehemiah Davis, Brookline, challenged peremptorily.
  • Samuel Davenport, Milton, sworn.
  • Joseph Houghton, Milton, sworn.
  • James Richardson, Medfield, challenged peremptorily.
  • John Billings, Stoughton, challenged peremptorily.
  • Joseph Richards, Stoughton, challenged for cause.
  • Consider Atherton, Stoughton, sworn.
  • Abner Turner, Walpole, challenged peremptorily.
The clerk then called the Boston men whose names were at the bottom of that list, and the defendants challenged them all.
  • John Brown, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Joseph Barrell, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Silas Aitkins, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Harbottle Dorr, Boston, challenged for cause.
The judges had Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf bring in more men, and the process resumed.
  • Samuel Sheppard, Boston, challenged peremptorily.
  • John Goldsbury, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Samuel Peck, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • William Gouge, challenged for cause.
  • Joseph Turrell, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Jacob Cushing, Jr., Hingham, sworn.
  • Josiah Lane, Hingham, sworn.
  • Jonathan Burr, Hingham, sworn.
Finally, the court officers did a little legal maneuvering to ensure the last three men from Hingham were indeed eligible, and the opening arguments began.

Joseph Mayo (1721-1776) of Roxbury was named foreman of the jury. He owned a large farm a little past the intersection of modern Washington Street and South Street in Roslindale. A veteran of the Louisbourg expedition of 1745, he was a captain of his town’s militia company. Mayo had also served on town committees to promote non-importation and to instruct the Massachusetts General Court representatives to stand up for the province’s charter rights. But the defense team felt, based on their inquiry, that he could assess the case fairly.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Abigail Adams’s Quiet Thanksgiving in 1798

On 29 Nov 1798, Abigail Adams sat down to an unusually small Thanksgiving dinner.

An autumn Thanksgiving feast was an important tradition in New England, and in October Massachusetts’s governor, Increase Sumner, issued a proclamation naming the date for that year.

But that holiday applied only within the state, not nationally. John Adams had gone back to work as President in Philadelphia.

Furthermore, all of Abigail and John’s children were also away from Quincy. Nabby Smith was with her husband and children in New York, as was Charles Adams with his wife and children. (Those spouses were also siblings, by the way.) John Quincy Adams was serving his father and country as minister to Russia, and he had taken baby brother Thomas Boylston Adams along as his secretary.

Abigail was thus facing an empty nest. She wrote to John:
This is our Thanksgiving day. when I look Back upon the year past, I perceive many, very many causes for thanksgiving, both of a publick and Private nature. I hope my Heart is not ungratefull, tho sad; it is usually a day of festivity when the social Family circle meet together tho seperated the rest of the year.

No Husband dignifies my Board, no Children add gladness to it, no Smiling Grandchildren Eyes to sparkle for the plumb pudding, or feast upon the mincd Pye. Solitary & alone I behold the day after a sleepless night, without a joyous feeling. am I ungratefull? I hope not.

Brother [Richard] Cranchs illness prevented Him and my sister [Mary] from joining me, & [Peter] Boylston Adams’s sickness confineing him to his House debared me from inviting your Brother & Family. I had but one resource, & that was to invite mr & mrs [David and Lydia] Porter to dine with me; and the two Families to unite in the Kitchin with Pheby the only surviving Parent I have, and thus we shared in the [“]Bounties of providence”
The Porters worked on the Adams estate. Phoebe Abdee had been enslaved to Abigail Adams’s father, the Rev. William Smith of Weymouth. After she became free, Adams hired her to help run the farm as well, but the phrase “the only surviving Parent I have” indicates how much more the woman meant to her. 

A New England Thanksgiving of this time always included a sermon. In the Quincy meetinghouse that was delivered by the Rev. Kilborn Whitman (1765-1835), who had left his pulpit in Pembroke in a disagreement over salary. But Abigail Adams didn’t attend:
I was not well enough to venture to meeting and by that means lost an excellent discourse deliverd by mr Whitman, upon the numerous causes of thankfullness and gratitude which we all have to the Great Giver of every perfect Gift; nor was the late Glorious Victory gained by Admiral Nelson over the French omitted by him, as in its concequences of Great importance in checking the mad arrogance of that devouring Nation.
By this point in her life Adams was quite comfortable talking about politics. Indeed, one senses she missed the oportunity to discuss foreign policy with her family over Thanksgiving dinner.

As for Whitman, the congregation invited him to become the partner and ultimate replacement for the Rev. Anthony Wibird, but the vote wasn’t unanimous and he wisely decided not to stay. Whitman was already studying the law and soon went into that profession instead, back in Pembroke.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Samuel Plummer and His Father’s Sword

Here’s one more story from my foray up the coast from Boston to Gloucester.

Dr. Samuel Plumer, the man who was keeping George Penn enslaved in 1770, had a son, also named Samuel. The younger man tended to spell his surname Plummer.

Young Samuel Plummer attended Dummer Academy and then Harvard College, graduating in 1771 with a nearly spotless record. He was awarded his master’s degree from Harvard in July 1774. Plummer set out to train in medicine with his father.

Here’s the legend he left behind, as told by John J. Babson in his 1860 History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann:
A female negro slave, belonging to his father, had been discovered to be in a state of pregnancy; and not returning one night from the Poles pasture, to which she had gone for the cows, a diligent search for her revealed the horrible fact that she had been murdered. A sword, with which the deed was done, was found in a crevice in a large rock. It was known to belong to Dr. Plummer; and the name of his son was immediately associated with this act of double wickedness.

As no legal measures were taken to investigate the case, he did not leave home immediately; but the increasing mutterings of the people at length aroused apprehension of arrest, and he was obliged to flee to escape the possible consequences of the awful deed which had been committed. He left the town by the way of Squam Ferry and the Ipswich Road, and never again but once returned to it.

Thirty years afterwards, on a Sunday morning, he made his appearance in his native place once more, and stopped at a tavern at the Harbor. His stay was short, extending only to the next day. No disguise was necessary, of course, after this lapse of time, to make him seem to others, as he must have felt himself, a stranger. It is not known that he avoided recognition, or that he sought to exchange greetings with the friends and acquaintances of his youth whom death had still spared. In company with a cousin, to whom he made himself known, he visited the spot of his birth and the haunts of his early years. Around these scenes he lingered several hours: but no visible emotion disclosed the state of feeling which they awakened; and he took his departure from them and from his companion, without leaving any information of himself by which his previous or subsequent career can be traced.
According to Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, Samuel Plummer was reported as dying in 1815, the year he would have turned sixty-three.

The local tradition Babson recorded didn’t preserve the victim’s name or the date of her death. Dr. Samuel Plumer died in 1778 intestate; his probate file doesn’t mention his son Samuel or any human property, so the killing probably happened in the four years between 1774 and 1778. I’ve found no reference to such a murder in the Gloucester vital records or the Massachusetts newspapers from the late 1700s.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Whatever Happened to Jesse Saville?

On 7 Apr 1770, acting governor Thomas Hutchinson sent the Massachusetts General Court documents from Essex County justices of the peace describing the previous month’s mobbing of Jesse Saville.

Hutchinson said Saville “had been most inhumanly treated for seeking redress in the course of the law for former injuries received.” He complained that Gloucester was becoming a violent town.

In his history of Massachusetts, Hutchinson complained, “The house suffered the message to lie more than a fortnight; but, two or three days before the assembly must, by the charter, be dissolved, they sent a very long answer.”

This was delivered by a committee that included strong Whigs John Hancock, Joseph Hawley, and James Warren. In part, they complained:
…we cannot think it consistent with the justice of this house, to come into measures which may imply a censure upon individuals, much less upon a community hitherto unimpeached in point of good order: or even to form any judgment upon the matter, until more light shall appear than the papers accompanying your message afford. The house cannot easily conceive what should determine your honour so particularly to recommend this instance to the consideration of the assembly, while others of a much more heinous nature and dangerous tendency have passed altogether unnoticed in your message…
The committee then took the opportunity to renew all the complaints about the king’s soldiers sent to Boston in 1768. It was, after all, the year of the Boston Massacre. The exchange was reprinted in British periodicals, making the third mobbing of Jesse Saville an element in the larger imperial conflict.

But Gov. Hutchinson never mentioned Saville’s name. He was, after all, just a tanner. The General Court committee likewise didn’t name this Customs employee. And that conflict was soon lost in the wash of other disputes, surviving only in the Essex County courts.

When I started the research for this series of postings about Jesse Saville, I found a secondary-source reference to yet another mob attack on him in 1771. But studying that reference further showed me it used language from the 1769 attack, so I think that was just an error.

Therefore, I have no sources on Saville’s experiences as Massachusetts’s conflict with the Crown heated up in the early 1770s, and as the war started. In fact, I’m not even sure he continued to work for the Customs service. He certainly didn’t move into Boston and evacuate with other revenue officers.

And that’s the biggest surprise of this story: Jesse Saville, mobbed three times in three years for helping His Majesty’s Customs Office, didn’t become a Loyalist. In fact, his son John, born in 1768, is reported as having gone to sea at 1782, being taken by a British frigate, and never returning.

Jesse Saville stayed in Gloucester. When his first wife, Martha, died in 1785, he remarried the next year to a woman named Hannah Dane and had a couple more children. When he died in 1823, Saville’s property included half of a house, half of a barn, a couple of pastures, and “1/4 part of a Pew in Squam Meeting House.”

Furthermore, he merited a fairly long obituary in the 26 March Columbian Centinel:
Mr. Saville was possessed of an uncommonly strong mind, and a very retentive memory. There was not a man perhaps in Gloucester who possessed such a perfect recollection of ancient transactions, grants, and land marks, as did Mr. Saville; for he seemed to have contained in his head, a successive record of all events; and more especially those of a local nature, for more than 70 years.—

In his political character, he was an undeviating FEDERALIST, adhering strictly to the sentiments of the immortal WASHINGTON, whom he always considered the polar star in the American political hemisphere.

In his religious theory, he was a Universalist, having the most unwavering belief in the great doctrine of reconciliation by JESUS CHRIST, as taught by the late Rev. JOHN MURRAY.
Murray’s meetinghouse, built in 1806, appears above.

Not everyone was as admiring as New England’s Federalist newspaper. In his 1860 local history, John J. Babson noted Saville’s work as a Customs officer and stated:
The strict performance of what he considered his duty made him odious to his townsmen, and for it he suffered severely in his person and property. It also subjected him to annoyance in later days, as the hostile feelings engendered by his official acts long survived the events which called them forth.
Nonetheless, Babson deemed Jesse Saville as having “lived a useful but retired life.” 

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Disappearance of George Penn

After George Penn sat on the Salem gallows for an hour and was whipped twenty times, as described yesterday, the authorities sent him back to the Essex County jail to finish another part of his sentence for rioting: two years’ imprisonment.

At the time, Penn was “(a Mulatto) aged thirty, five Feet nine Inches, and remarkably stout for his Heighth.”

We have that description from the 18 Aug 1772 Essex Gazette. It appeared there because of an event reported in the same paper:
The several Prisoners confined in his Majesty’s Gaol in this Town made their Escape last Saturday Night [15 August].

They were all committed on criminal Actions, viz. Charles Lee, Francis Lewis, Samuel White, William Campbell, and George Mitchell, for Theft, and George Penn, a Mulatto, for being concerned in a Riot at Cape-Ann two or three years ago. For the better Security of them, Mr. Brown, the Prison-Keeper, had them all confined in the two lower Apartments, which were deemed the strongest of any in the Prison.

They however, by Means of a Gimblet and Chizel, made a Hole through the Partition, which divided the two Rooms, and thereby all got together: They then bored off a square Piece of Plank in the Floor, and with the Chizel cut it quite out. Having thus got through the Floor, they applied themselves to work out a Passage through the Stones and Earth, and finally forced their Way through the Underpinning of the Building, quite into the Yard, which is inclosed with a very high Fence; they however, with their united Strength, forced open the Gate, and went off entirely undiscovered.
County sheriff Richard Saltonstall ran an advertisement in that paper describing the six escapees and offering a reward of $10. Those men ranged from “a French Lad, (as will be discovered by his speech) aged twenty” to a man “about forty Years old.”

The same newspaper also reported that a married couple who had arrived in town with the suspected thief Mitchell, “with much pretended Innocence,” had departed town suddenly, leaving behind some scraps of cloth. Also, a Danvers man reported finding a pile of clothing “hid in the Corner of a Wall,…near where Mr. Putnam found the Goods supposed to be stolen by Campbell.” So those thieves were very much on the locals’ minds.

It’s notable that the newspaper referred to the man previously called “a Mulatto Servant [i.e., slave] of Samuel Plummer, Esq; of Gloucester, named George,” with a surname. Did the full name George Penn indicate that Dr. Plumer had freed him? Or simply disowned him?

In the eighteenth century the word “stout” referred to muscle, not fat, so for George Penn to be “remarkably stout for his Heighth” suggests he contributed a lot of the “united Strength” that forced open the prison gate.

Once outside, the men presumably scattered. The harbors of Salem and neighboring towns offered plenty of opportunities to move. Sheriff Saltonstall’s advertisement appeared in the newspaper for several more weeks, into September. But so far as I can tell, George Penn was never apprehended to serve out the rest of his sentence.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Jesse Saville?

ADDENDUM: The vital records of Ipswich report an intention of marriage on 16 July 1777 between George Penn and Flora Freewoman. There’s no racial label for either of those people, but this town may have used the appelations Freeman and Freewoman for former slaves. In the 1770s and 1780s listings are Prince, Cesar, and Titus Freeman, the latter marrying Katherine Freewoman. So George Penn may not have completely disappeared after the jailbreak, just laid low in a nearby town until the government changed.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

“Being concerned in a Riot at Cape-Ann”

After his Gloucester neighbors mobbed him a second time, dragging him through town and tarring him in 1770, Jesse Seville stopped suing people for the previous assault, back in 1768.

He didn’t show up in court when his case (previously dismissed) came up for appeal at the end of March.

But that wasn’t the end of the legal process. Because once again some government authorities prosecuted the people who attacked Saville for assault. Or at least one person.

That criminal case came to trial 250 years ago this month. The 13 Nov 1770 Essex Gazette reported:
At the Superior Court held here last Week, a Mulatto Servant of Samuel Plummer, Esq; of Gloucester, named George [Penn], was convicted of aiding and assisting in seizing the Person of one Jesse Saville, in the Month of March last,…
Then came the description of the crime I quoted yesterday. The article concluded:
George would not or could not discover any of the Persons concerned with him: They being all disguised, except himself, prevented their being known.———

On Saturday last the said Servant George was sentenced, by the Court, to receive 39 Stripes, sit upon the Gallows one Hour, suffer two Years Imprisonment, and find Surety for his good Behaviour for the Term of seven Years.
Dr. Samuel Plumer (1725-1778) was the older brother of David Plumer, the merchant who had overseen the first attack on Saville’s home. It’s possible the judges sentenced George Penn to prison, not a common penalty at the time, as a way to punish Dr. Plumer by depriving him of the man’s labor.

It took over a year for the corporal punishment to be carried out. The 21 Jan 1772 Essex Gazette described the hanging of a rapist in Salem the previous Thursday and added:
George, a Mulatto, at the same Time sat on the Gallows, with a Rope round his Neck, for the Space of one Hour, and afterwards received 20 Stripes under the same, but being concerned in a Riot at Cape-Ann, some considerable Time since. He was sentenced to receive 39, but his Excellency the Governor [Thomas Hutchinson] was pleased to remit 19.
Penn resisted all pressure to identify the other men who had mobbed Jesse Saville in 1770.

Through these incidents we see the plight of enslaved blacks in Gloucester. During the first assault, Dr. Samuel Rogers threatened Saville’s “Servant” with his dental tools. In the second assault, the attackers reportedly disguised themselves as men of color—“Indians and negroes”—providing witnesses with plausible deniability. A black man was the only one identified and convicted.

TOMORROW: The disappearance of George Penn.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Third Mobbing of Jesse Saville

After the attack on Jesse Saville’s house on 7 Sept 1768, the Essex County authorities brought charges against eight men for assault, as Joseph E. Garland described in Guns Off Gloucester.

The criminal case came to trial in the summer of 1769. The jury acquitted one defendant, Paul Dudley Sargent, and convicted the seven others. The wealthiest, including merchant Joseph Foster and Dr. Samuel Rogers, were fined £10 to £15 and ordered to post £50 bonds for good behavior. Four working men were fined £5 and ordered to post £20 bonds.

The organizer of the mob, David Plumer, was never criminally charged with assault, but he lost his cargo and ship to the Customs Office for smuggling.

That didn’t completely satisfy Saville, however. He pursued another avenue of redress—personal damages. He sued all seven convicted men plus a neighbor named Thomas Griffin.

That case came to court in Newburyport in September. This jury decided that Saville—now a Customs officer himself—had gotten all the satisfaction he deserved. They found the defendants not liable and ordered him to pay court costs.

Saville appealed that verdict, and the case was scheduled for a higher court at the end of March 1770.

Meanwhile, the Boston Massacre occurred in Boston. It’s not clear whether that had any effect on the mood in Essex County, but it might have made people more angry about the royal authorities or (after the army regiments were withdrawn to Castle William) more bold about confronting those authorities.

The result was the third and most violent attack on Jesse Saville, as described with minimal sympathy in the 26 March Boston Gazette:
We hear from Cape-Ann, that on Friday night last [March 23], a number of People there, who knew that Town had sustained great Damage by the Misdoings of one Jesse Savil an informer, and that he deserved Chastisement therefor, went in a Body to his House for that purpose, about 10 o’Clock, and finding him in Bed, took him from thence, and walk’d him barefoot about 4 Miles to the Harbour, then placed him in a Cart they had provided for that Purpose, and putting a Lanthorn with a lighted Candle in his Hand, that every one might see him, they carted him thro’ all their Streets, and stopping at every House they roused the inhabitants, and obliged him to declare and publish unto them that he was Jesse Savil the Informer; and having gone round in this manner, they then bestowed a handsome Coat of Tar upon him, and placed him upon the Town-Pump, caused him to swear that he would never more inform against any Person in that or any other Town, and then dismissed him, after having received his thanks for the gentle Discipline they had administered to him.
A report in the 13 Nov 1770 Essex Gazette recounted the same event with slightly different details:
…seizing the Person of one Jesse Saville, in the Month of March last, taking him out of his Chamber, in the Night, without Shoes, and almost naked, dragging him over Hills, Dales and Fences, some Times by the Hair of his Head, for about 4 Miles, and then carting him through the Streets of Gloucester. It is said further, that after elevating Saville upon a Pump, and insisting on his swearing not to steal any more Leather, nor to prosecute any Person for thus abusing him, he was tarr’d and dismissed.
Another detail, possibly in the court record but first published in James R. Pringle’s 1892 History of the Town and City of Gloucester, said the mob came for Saville “disguised as Indians and negroes.”

TOMORROW: The legal fallout.

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Second Mobbing of Jesse Saville

After a Gloucester crowd attacked Samuel Fellows and Jesse Saville in September 1768, both men went to work for His Majesty’s Customs Service.

The Customs Commissioners were expanding their force, to collect and to use Townshend Act revenue, and steady incomes were a way to reward or compensate people who had suffered for the Crown.

Fellows became the commander of a ship that patrolled for smugglers off Cape Ann. I suspect that ship was the Earl of Gloucester, which the Customs service had seized from his former employer, David Plumer, based on his tip. The Commissioners of Customs used John Hancock’s ship Liberty the same way (until people in Newport burned it, of course).

As for Saville, the Customs service appointed him as a tide-waiter in Providence, Rhode Island. That work probably took him away from his family. On the other hand, it got him out of reach of his enemies.

But Providence soon brought Saville more enemies. (Or people or rumors might have followed him from Gloucester.) The 10 June 1769 Providence Gazette ran this legal notice:
Custom-House, Boston, June 2, 1769.

WHEREAS on the 18th of May last, in the Evening, a great Number of People riotously assembled in the Town of Providence, in the Colony of Rhode-Island, and violently seized Jesse Saville, a Tidesman belonging to the Custom-House of the said Port, who was then attending his Duty there, and having gagged and put him into a Wheelbarrow, almost strangled, they carried him to a Wharff, where they threatened to drown him if he made the least Noise; tied a Handkerchief round his Face, cut his Clothes to Pieces, stripped him naked, covered him from Head to Foot with Turpentine and Feathers, bound him Hands and Feet, threw Dirt in his Face, and repeatedly beat him with their Fists and Sticks, then threw him down on the Pavements, cut his Face, and bruised his Body, in a most barbarous Manner; during which inhuman Treatment, which lasted an Hour and a Half, he was near expiring, and now lies dangerously ill.

For the better bringing to Justice and condign Punishment the Authors of this daring and attrocious Outrage, the Commissioners of His Majesty’s Customs do hereby promise a Reward of Fifty Pounds Sterling for the Discovery of any of them, to be paid upon his or their Conviction.

By Order of the Commissioners,
Richard Reeve.
This ad was reprinted in the 19 June Boston Evening-Post and the 20 June Essex Gazette, but as a news item, not a paid advertisement.

The 24 June Providence Gazette offered a different response as a letter to printer John Carter:
I Observe in one of your late Papers as Advertisement inserted by Order of the Commissioners of the Customs, offering a Reward of Fifty Pounds Sterling for discovering the Persons who ill treated one Jesse Saville, a Tidesman, on the Evening of the 18th of May, then doing Duty in the Town of Providence, &c.

How the Board came by their Information I know not, but of this I am certain, that their Informant paid little Regard to Truth, the greatest Part of the Narrative being false and groundless. He was neither struck with a Fist or Stick, nor thrown on the Pavements, as the Advertisement sets forth, neither was he on Duty as an Officer when taken. The Affair was not intended to obstruct him in his Duty, or deter other Officers in the Execution of their Trust, so long as they keep within proper Bounds.

The Truth is, he was daubed with Turpentine, and had a few Feathers strewed on him; in but every near Respect was treated with more Tenderness and Lenity than is perhaps due to an Informer.

As the above mentioned Advertisement seems evidently calculated to call an Odium on the Town, by inserting his public Testimony against it you’ll oblige
A SPECTATOR.
Now even if we assume the truth of what happened lay somewhere between these two descriptions, it’s clear that a second crowd had tried violently to make a public example of Jesse Saville.

TOMORROW: Back home in Gloucester.

[The picture above is a detail from a drop curtain in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society that shows Providence in 1808.]

Thursday, November 19, 2020

“My mother Cry’d out Jesse is dead”

map of Gloucester
As I described yesterday, on 7 Sept 1768 the Gloucester merchant David Plumer directed a mob to a house in the Annisquam village, seeking the Customs informant who had cost him a shipload of undeclared molasses.

When those men couldn’t find that man, Samuel Fellows, they attacked the family he was staying with, the Savilles. The head of that family, Jesse Saville, was out. Though officially a tanner, he, like a lot of Cape Ann men, probably also worked at fishing.

Here’s the rest of Jesse Saville’s description of that day:
I was not at home but was about two miles of by water, neither could i git home by reason of the tide. I came home about ten a Clock at night, very Darck and Raney. Had ocation to go out of Doors so tock my gun for I was affraid without her.
Meanwhile, two men in the mob, Joseph York and Thomas Griffin, woke up a neighbor and friend of the Savilles called George Dennison. According to Saville, they “told him they were coming to tare Down our house.” Dennison said he would be right with them. Then “After giting them out of Doors, [Dennison] fastened his Doors, went to Bed.”

But there were still dozens of men ready to confront Jesse Saville:
A few minuets after I was gone out a Doors they Sorounded our house attemting to Come in. My father was then in bed. He told them They Should not Come in Such a maner but they might three or fore of them come in and Sarch the house. A grate number flocked in headed by Dudley Sargent, marchant. Daniel Warner they Chose as Clark. Thomas Griffin above menteioned & Joseph York: were preasious in this mob.
I love the detail that this crowd mobbing a house chose a clerk, as if they were a town meeting or a charitable society. That reflects how they thought they were doing important community work.
I Stod a Little way of them, heard them Sware they would Tare Down the house, but what they would have him. I made a pass to go into the Door. They Sorounded me. I asked them who was there, was ansered by Dudley Sargent, half a Dozen of us. I asked what half a Dozen of such black gard Did there. They ansered me, Dam you we will tell you. They said where is Sam Fellows. I ansered none of your bysness.

They Imeadatily Seased me. About Eight or thereaway told me to Let go the gun I posessed. Desierd a pass into the house. My mother Cryd. out Jesse is dead. My wife fainting away. They nocked me Down, Toock away my gun, fired it of, broak it in peaces over a Rock. My father halled me into the house by the feet as I Lay on the ground.

It was Terable to See the wimans Countanences and the Cryes of the Children for part of the Children was at School in the Day time. So they Left the house after I threating them in the Law. Job Gallaway of the sd. town Told my wife he new the Person Struck me Down and broak my gun.

We were affraid to go to Sleep Ever Since Safly for word has been threatned to tare Down the house Several times and if Ever they Cached me in the harbor they would Serve me as bad as they would Capt Felows or if they Ever Could find out I Conseald him or by any means aided him or gave him any Sustanance they would tare Down the house and mob me which Since I Daresnot appear to profacute my Bysness but Shall be obliged to Leave the Town. If I want to go out of Town I am obiliged to go and Come in the night or on the Sabbath Day.
Three days after the attack on the Saville home, locals “rescued” or grabbed back another shipload of molasses that the Customs office had seized.

But then the tide turned. At the end of September, Royal Navy ships carrying two regiments of the British army arrived in Boston harbor. Some of those ships started to patrol around Cape Ann. Royal officials became more bold. By the end of the October, the Salem Customs office had seized David Plumer’s whole Earl of Gloucester ship for smuggling.

Around 1 October, Jesse Saville went into Plumer’s shop. In his characteristic spelling, Saville stated, “I told him he must mack good the Dammage I had sustained.” Plumer replied that if the tanner wanted satisfaction he’d have to sue; also, “he said they wanted another frolick, they Did not Desier no beter Sport.”

On 14 October, Saville wrote out a long complaint about what had happened to his family for the Customs Commissioners in Boston. He named names, including prominent men like Plumer, fellow merchants Paul Dudley Sargent and Joseph Foster, physician Samuel Rogers, and as many more as he could identify and remember:
  • “Elichander Smith, Block macher”
  • “Lebeday Day, mason”
  • “William Lowder, tinman”
  • “David Day, shoemaker”
  • “Philemon Haskel, Black Smith
  • “Daniel Warner, Black Smith”
Saville also filed suit in the local courts against Plumer and other neighbors. In early November a grand jury sitting in Ipswich indicted eight Gloucester men “and others unknown” for attacking Saville’s house. The defendants included Rogers, Sargent, Foster, four other men Saville had singled out as violent, and two additional names: cordwainer Parker Knights and yeoman William Tarbox.

David Plumer wasn’t charged with assault, probably because he’d refrained from going into the Saville house or physically attacking anyone himself. But the Customs Office hauled him into Admiralty Court for smuggling. Plummer hired John Adams as his lawyer but lost the case in December. The Customs office put his schooner Earl of Gloucester up for auction in April 1769.

Since all those developments were bound to make him unpopular locally, Jesse Saville threw his lot in with the royal government. By the spring of 1769, he was working for the Customs service.

TOMORROW: And how did that go?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The First Mobbing of Jesse Saville

Another event of 1770 that I neglected on its 250th anniversary this year was the mobbing of Jesse Saville.

Or rather, the mobbing of Jesse Saville in March 1770, because we have to distinguish that mobbing from several others.

To start at the beginning, in the summer of 1768 a Gloucester sea captain named Samuel Fellows told the Customs Office in Salem that the schooner Earl of Gloucester was about to arrive with undeclared molasses. Fellows used to command that ship for the merchant David Plumer, and evidently he was peeved at being replaced.

Samuel Fellows had been born in Ipswich in 1736, but was described as “of Gloucester” when he married Mercy Treadwell of Ipswich in 1763. Their first two children were sons born in Gloucester in 1764 and 1765. Samuel Fellows had also served as an ensign at Crown Point in 1755.

Acting on Capt. Fellows’s tip, Customs surveyor Joseph Dowse went to Gloucester on 6 September and seized more than thirty-three barrels of molasses from the Earl of Gloucester. At some point the Commissioners of Customs also talked to Fellows about coming to work for them. With more powers and more revenue under the Townshend Act, the department was expanding.

The next day, Plumer and several dozen friends came after Capt. Fellows. Which meant they came to the house of Jesse Saville, up on the Annisquam peninsula, where Fellows was staying.

Saville was a tanner, born in 1740 as the twelfth and youngest child of a cooper. In 1763 he married Martha Babson, and they had sons Thomas (1764), Abiah (1766), and John (April 1768), with more children on the way. The household appears to have included some of Jesse’s adult relatives, and he also spoke of “my Servant,” the usual euphemism for a slave. So I can’t tell if this was a wealthy family with a big house and a staff, or a poor family with boarders and everyone crowded together into one building used for both living and manufacturing.

This is how Saville described the confrontation at his house on 7 Sept 1768, with his own creative spelling, as published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections:
…a number of men came To my House,…the number of about 70, all of Sd. Gloucester, as nigh as could be Judged. They asked Leave to go into the house to Sarch for Capt. Fellows, wich they Did, not then ofering any abuse onely in Talek.

My wife Sent my Servant of an erant [and] David Plumer Seized him by the Coller Refusing to Let him go. His mistress called him Back [but] they would not Let him Come but Sd. If he was Sint he should not go unless they knew hiss bysness but Docter [Samuel] Rogers Tock out his Instrements, the wich he halls Teath with, [and] threatened to Hall all his teath out unless He told where Capt. Fellows was, threatening to Split his head open with a Club, Holding it over his head. Then they left the House.

[In] about an Hour, in wich Time Capt. Fellows Road up to our house, Thomas Griffin, Shore man, Seeing him Ride up that way Ran after the mob, told them he was gone up there. In about one hours time they Returnd wich my wife Seeing them told Capt. Fellows of. He ameadaately Run out of Doors as fast as posable.

No Person was in the house Excapt my wife & my mother, Dorcas Haskel, Mary Savell, with two of my Small Childredn. They Came up to the Doors and Sorounded the house with Clubs & axes. The wimen Seing them Run in Such a maner affrited fastning the Doors & windows.

They Crys with Shouting we got him. They Cryed opin the Doors.

They Refused declaring to the mob ther was no man bodey in the house Except a Child of 5 months old they could give oath.
That child was obviously baby John, but what about his older brothers, aged four and two? And who was the little girl Saville mentioned later? Was “Mary Savell” Jesse’s mother, already mentioned, or his older sister?
Mr. Plumer Told them, Gentlemen why Dont you walek in. Mr Plumer Did not go into the house himself.

My mother Told them they Come in upon the Peril of there Lives if they oferd To break Down the Doors. They immeadately Stove Down one Door and Entered a grate number of the abouve persons & William Stevens, Brick Laior, Like wise and a grate many Strangers wich they Didnot no. They Like wise beat of a Lach & buttons of another Door, struck the pole of the ax into the Door & Caseing very much Dammageing. The Same Broak a Seller window to peaces, a Chain, thro’d over barils, Chests, Tables & tubs, Ransacked the house, all parts of it, Broak a bundle of Dry fish to peaces, Destroyed a good deal of the Same, Tock a Gun and broak it by throghing it out of the garit window.

Benjm. Soams, B[arrel]. Cooper, pinted it, a Loadin Gun, Toward my wife, ordered her out of Doors, A Little gairl of about tow or three of ours so terified, Cryed To my wife fainting a way. They call’d my mother [and] my wife all the hoors and all the Dam’d biches and Every Evil name that they Could think of Stricking Down their Clubs on the flour Each Side of them. My mother beg’d they would Spare her Life for it was not Posable She Could Live one hour. They would not listen to her intreateys.

They Sarched the house over & over Several times Halling all the Beds into the flours. After awile they left the house, then went Down to the meeting house. There Joseph York, shoe macker, gave them vitels & Drink and was back and forward with them while absent from our house wich Generally is Judg’d he was ordered to Do what he Did by his father[-in-law] Deacon Samuel Griffin of sd. Town. Our folcks Sent for Some of the nabors to come for they Expected to be killed if they came again. Some sd. they were glad. Some was affraid to Come So a bitter afternoon they had.
TOMORROW: Where was Jesse Saville?

[The photo above shows the Edward Haraden House, built on Annisquam in the mid-1600s and expanded in the mid-1700s and later.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A New Government in Britain in 1770

As the year draws to a close, I’m looking back on some of the notable events of 1770 that I didn’t discuss on their Sestercentennial anniversaries.

In January 1770, the Duke of Grafton’s government collapsed in London.

The duke had become prime minister in 1768 after William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, retired in a depression and Charles Townshend died unexpectedly. There was a lot of in-fighting among his fellow ministers, and sniping from both the left and right.

On 9 January, the lord chancellor, the Earl of Camden, ticked off all the other ministers but Grafton so much they decided he had to be replaced. Grafton asked an experienced government lawyer long allied with Pitt, Charles Yorke (shown above), to take the lord chancellor’s position. But Yorke had promised another Whig faction, under the Marquess of Rockingham, that he wouldn’t join Grafton’s government, so he declined.

At that point George III got personally involved. He invited Yorke to a private audience on 16 January and urged him to take the chancellorship. The king repeated the advice at a levee the next day, hinting that there would be no second chance. Yorke gave in, agreeing to the post in return for the usual peerage.

Almost immediately Yorke had second thoughts. (Or, given the way he’d wavered over the decision for days, seventh thoughts.) He moved from “the most violent agitation of spirits” to “a fixed state of melancholy.” On 19 January, he vomited blood. On 20 January, he died. Yorke had received the paperwork to elevate himself to be Baron Morden but had refused to put the chancellor’s seal on it.

Soon there were rumors that Yorke had committed suicide, and the debate continues. In the late nineteenth century the Dictionary of National Biography stated:
It was asserted, and came to be widely believed, that, goaded to frenzy by the resentment with which his defection was regarded by his party, the chancellor had committed suicide; and, as there was no post-mortem or other equivalent autopsy of the corpse, the lugubrious surmise remained alike uncorroborated and unrefuted.
As of this week Wikipedia says:
He went to his brother’s house, where he met the leaders of the Opposition, and feeling at once overwhelmed with shame, fled to his own house, where three days later he committed suicide (20 January 1770).
But the History of Parliament website argues:
The extraordinary circumstances of his death made it inevitable that there should be rumours of suicide. Indeed, in his Memoirs of the reign of George III [Horace] Walpole states as a fact that Yorke died ‘by his own hand’, though when he wrote to Mann, 22 Jan. 1770, he had attributed the death to natural causes. It is perhaps suspicious that the letters from Joseph Yorke to Hardwicke which must have referred to these events should have disappeared. But the case for a natural death is strong. Yorke had been in poor health for some time. On 8 Jan. 1770 he had written to Hardwicke that a ‘severe cold’ and ‘feverish heat…disables me from coming to town: I shall hardly be fit to stir before the end of the week’. On the 11th he had received Grafton’s letter asking to meet him. The succeeding days had been extremely taxing. Levett Blackborne passed on to a friend the account he had received from ‘a young lady—a relative of Mrs. Yorke’:
He ate voraciously and beyond his usual manner—which latterly was generally too much. Before the taking away of the cloth he complained of sickness and indigestion ... growing worse, he retired into a back dressing room, where he was heard retching with vehemence. After some time the family in the parlour was alarmed, and he was carried to bed having, as supposed, broke a blood vessel in vomiting.
This agrees in the main with Agneta Yorke’s account of her husband’s last days.
However he died, everyone agrees that the strain of the appointment was too much for Yorke.

Soon the Duke of Grafton resigned. The king pressed the chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons to form a new government, which he managed to do by the end of January. That man was Lord North.

The Duke of Grafton’s government had been widely criticized for not preventing France from taking over Corsica in 1769. In contrast, Lord North’s government faced down Spain over the Falklands later in 1770. That foreign policy victory gave him standing to remain prime minister even as the crisis in the North American colonies got worse and worse.

Monday, November 16, 2020

A Critical Review in The Critical Review

In 1764 James Otis, Jr., published The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, which based the campaign against Parliament’s new colonial revenue laws on the ideas of natural rights and (though this term wouldn’t be formulated for another four years) “no taxation without representation.”

The Critical Review was a British political magazine founded in 1756. It was firmly conservative or Tory. The founding editor was the doctor and writer Tobias Smollett, but he left in 1763 and I’m not sure who helmed the magazine the following year.

In November 1764 The Critical Review ran a critique of Otis’s argument. Typical for the magazine, much of the space devoted to that book consisted of long extracts from it. At the end the reviewer wrote:
The author then…affirms, that government is founded on the necessity of our nature; and that the supreme absolute power existing in, and presiding over, every society, is originally and ultimately in the people, who cannot freely nor rightfully renounce that divine right. These are maxims far from being new; but as the author endeavours to prove that ancestry cannot renounce the rights of posterity, we wish he had thrown in an argument to demonstrate, by a parity of reasoning, that posterity ought to renounce all benefits from ancestry.

Perhaps our reader may be curious to know the definition Mr. Otis gives of a plantation, or colony; which, he says, ‘is a settlement of subjects in a territory disjoined or remote from the mother country, and may be made by private adventurers, or the public; but in both cases the colonists are entitled to as ample rights, liberties, and priviledges, as the subjects of the mother country are, and, in some respects, to more.

We are next entertained with a dissertation on the natural rights of colonists, where the author gives us some quotations from Grotius, Puffendorff, Domat, Strahan, and others; who, it is plain, knew nothing of the British constitution, or of the relation which our colonies have with the mother country. The sum total of what our author contends for, seems to be that our ‘northern colonies, who are without one representative in the house of commons, should not be taxed by the British parliament.' Good Mr. Otis, give Great-Britain fair play, and do not put into the heads of Leeds, Hallifax, Birmingham, Sheffield, that part of the duchy of Lancaster which lies at the very gates of the Royal Palace, and many other places of great opulence, that they are not bound to pay any taxes imposed by a British parliament, because they have no representative in that body.

We applaud Mr. Otis’s zeal, and should, be glad that he had published a scheme of reciprocal independence between our colonies and Great Britain, which may be done in the way of debtor and creditor, and which very possibly might awaken him and his vigorous friends from their visionary dreams of independency upon their mother country. There is nothing like fair counter-reckoning, good Mr. Otis.
I don’t find “Our system is unfair to lots of people, not just you” to be a convincing argument not to change. The reviewer rests his dismissal mostly on the idea that the North American colonists had inherited a great many advantages from the British system, political and economic, and should be grateful rather than seeking equality based on philosophical principles.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Atlas of Boston History Wins Historic New England Book Prize

Historic New England (formerly the Society for the Protection of New England Antiquities) has awarded its 2020 Book Prize to The Atlas of Boston History, edited by Nancy S. Seasholes and written by her and a bevy of contributors, including me.

The society honors “a book that advances the understanding of life in New England from the past to today by examining its architecture, landscape, and material culture.”

About this year’s winner it says:
The book traces the city’s history and geography from the last ice age to the present with fifty-seven beautifully rendered maps. Thirty-five experts in a variety of fields contributed to the publication. From ancient glaciers to landmaking schemes and modern infrastructure projects, the city has been transformed almost constantly over the centuries. The Atlas of Boston History explores the history of the city through its physical, economic, and demographic changes, and social and cultural developments.
Historic New England also named two titles as Honor Books for the year: All three could of course make good holiday gifts for the right people.

In other present-day news, last week I spoke to Bradley Jay and Prof. Robert Allison for the Revolution 250 podcast. I was prepared to speak about the Boston Massacre trials and other Sestercentennial events. But Bob and Bradley wanted to talk mostly about my projects, so you’ll learn more about the background to this blog. Find the episode here or wherever you download podcasts.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Hagist on Britain’s “Noble Volunteers,” 15 Nov.

On Sunday, 15 November, Fort Ticonderoga will host an online presentation by Don N. Hagist about his new book, Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution.

Don has been researching the enlisted men of the British army for decades, collecting their rare individual accounts and analyzing their collective data. Noble Volunteers promises to be a definitive study of that subject.

Along the way Don has also published other books and helped many researchers, including myself, as well as editing the Journal of the American Revolution.

This online talk through Fort Ticonderoga is part of its Virtual Author Series. Its event description says: “Who were the people who wore red coats and fought to suppress a rebellion in Britain’s American colonies? And why would a book about them be called Noble Volunteers? Author Don N. Hagist will talk about his new book that brings to life the wide array of common soldiers that formed the British army during the American Revolution.”

A longer description from the publisher says:
Redcoats. For Americans, the word brings to mind the occupying army that attempted to crush the Revolutionary War. There was more to these soldiers than their red uniforms, but the individuals who formed the ranks are seldom described in any detail in historical literature, leaving unanswered questions. Who were these men? Why did they join the army? Where did they go when the war was over?

In Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution, Don N. Hagist brings life to these soldiers, describing the training, experiences, and outcomes of British soldiers who fought during the Revolution. Drawing on thousands of military records and other primary sources in British, American, and Canadian archives, and the writings of dozens of officers and soldiers, Noble Volunteers shows how a peacetime army responded to the onset of war, how professional soldiers adapted quickly and effectively to become tactically dominant, and what became of the thousands of career soldiers once the war was over.

In this historical tour de force, introduced by Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson, Hagist dispels long-held myths, revealing how remarkably diverse British soldiers were. They represented a variety of ages, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and many had joined the army as a peacetime career, only to find themselves fighting a war on another continent in often brutal conditions.

Against the sweeping backdrop of the war, Hagist directs his focus on the small picture, illuminating the moments in an individual soldier’s life—those hours spent nursing a fever while standing sentry in the bitter cold, or writing a letter to a wife back home. What emerges from these vignettes is the understanding that while these were “common” soldiers, each soldier was completely unique, for, as Hagist writes, “There was no ‘typical’ British soldier.”
Books on the Square in Providence is the exclusive seller of preordered signed copies of Noble Volunteers, available for the holidays.

The Fort Ticonderoga event starts at 2:00 P.M. The site asks people to register for it by noon. The cost is $10, free to Fort Ticonderoga members.

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Departures of the Rev. Mr. Mosley

On Easter in 1772, as I described yesterday, Trinity Church of Pomfret, Connecticut, formally set up its governing structure.

The minister was the Rev. Richard Mosley, a Cambridge University graduate and former Royal Navy chaplain. The man who had founded the Anglican outpost, Godfrey Malbone, became one of the wardens.

A couple of weeks later, the Rev. David Fogg arrived from North Carolina. Malbone had invited him to be the church’s minister months before, but nothing had been heard from him since.

One day after that, a letter arrived from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) in London, approving of Mosley and granting him £30 per year in salary.

There was only one way to resolve this awkward situation. And that was how everything about Trinity Church was decided—whatever Godfrey Malbone wanted. He had had the idea for a church when few others in the area were Anglican. He had paid for its construction. He had solicited funds from rich acquaintances in Newport and Boston, and he had petitioned the S.P.G. and an old Oxford University friend, the bishop of Durham, for more support.

Malbone was also hosting the minister(s) at his house, and expected to do so for an undetermined time into the future. In a letter to Fogg’s mentor, the Rev. Henry Caner of King’s Chapel, he wrote:
We have no Glebe. I myself live in a Hutt, in which, however, God be praised! We have hitherto found very comfortable Provision, of which my Parson shall be heartily wellcome to His equal Share and shall be considered as one of my Family, as long as We each of us shall prove good-natured, I, on my Part, continue to live in Pomfret, and He, on His Part, continues to live single, for He cannot find Room wherein to cram a Wife, and if He could, as I have no Brats I am determined to have no Plague from those of other People.
All of which suggests that becoming Malbone’s parson might not have been a great prize.

That could explain why Mosley decided by 6 May to bow out. He wrote to the S.P.G. ten days later:
I had resigned up to Mr. Fogg, this Mr. Malbone’s appointing him, though every one man of the Parish would gladly have had me continued. I have done myself the honour of addressing the Bishop of London, for his further recommendation to Litchfield and Cornwall, vacant by the death of Mr. [Solomon] Palmer. I propose going next week there.
The London missionary society approved that move to a larger parish in Connecticut. However, by then Mosley had run into more trouble. The parishioners had been happy hearing services read by a local young man named Benjamin Farnham, who was planning to go to England to receive holy orders. When Mosley showed up, “many left the church.”

That dispute culminated in the S.P.G. dropping its salary subsidy for the Litchfield parish until their leaders wrote a humble apology endorsed by Anglican clergymen from larger churches in the region.

The Rev. Mr. Mosley had moved on again, settling before the end of the year at Johnstown, New York, a frontier settlement founded by Sir William Johnson in 1758. As minister of St. John’s church, next to Johnson Hall (shown above), Mosley reported fending off more New England Congregationalists and baptizing forty black people into the Church of England in May and October 1773.

In between those dates, in August, the minister made a return trip to Litchfield. While there, a former parishioner begged Mosley to marry his daughter and her fiancé, saying the next nearest Anglican minister was sixteen miles away. Mosley declined until the father of the bride brought a certificate from the town clerk, showing that the banns had been duly published.

That turned out not to be good enough. The local government, following Connecticut law, recognized a minister’s authority only within the town where his church was located. Mosley was hauled into court. According to him, “When the jury went out, the Judges were of the opinion, that they could not bring it against me; but, notwithstanding, (to see how much spite and malice reign there) they did.” He told the S.P.G. that he’d been fined £15 plus court costs, not to mention “the expense of my own travelling.”

The Rev. Samuel Peters wrote about the case with his customary exaggeration:
The Court mildly fined Mr. Mozley 20l. because he could not show any other license to officiate as a clergyman than what he had received from the Bishop of London, whose authority the Court determined did not extend to Connecticut, which was a chartered government. One of the Judges said: “It is high time to put a stop to the usurpations of the Bishop of London, and to let him know that, though his license be lawful, and may empower one of his curates to marry in England, yet it is not so in America; and if fines would not curb them in this point, imprisonment should.”
By May 1774, Mosley had grown ill in some way. (John Rowe recorded in March 1770 that the man suffered from an “Apoplectick fit.”) The minister decided the New York climate was unhealthy and returned to Britain, telling the S.P.G., “The only thing I regrett…is to go from so worthy and good a man as Sir William Johnson.” (Johnson died two months later.)

Thus ended the Rev. Richard Mosley’s American adventures.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Settling the Rev. Mr. Mosley in Pomfret

When the Rev. Richard Mosley arrived in Pomfret, Connecticut, in September 1771, asking about the need for an Anglican minister, Godfrey Malbone was cautious.

He certainly needed a minister for the little church he had designed and built himself. For over a year after forming his Anglican parish in northeast Connecticut, Malbone had presided over most of the services, reading from the Book of Common Prayer. But if he didn’t have a real minister soon, the town would deem his church to be nothing more than a tax dodge.

Malbone had asked the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) in London to send a missionary, but no Englishman was willing to emigrate for such a small salary. Malbone also asked the Anglican clergy in his home town of Newport and in Boston.

The Rev. John Troutbeck, assistant at King’s Chapel, had instead recommended that the former Newport merchant leave Pomfret altogether:
I shou’d certainly advise you not to spend the very best Part of your Days amongst the Savages, for the Rustics in this Part of the World are not much better than Indians. Of all the People that have left off Business in this Town, & retired to a Farm, I cannot recollect one that, has not suffered by it; & I cou’d mention several, who have died extremely poor. To have a thoro knowledge of the Business, & to be able to endure the Fatigue of a country Life, a Man shou’d begin in his Childhood.
As for the rector at King’s Chapel, the Rev. Dr. Henry Caner, he appears to have recommended David Fogg, a young man from New Hampshire who had graduated from Harvard College in 1764 with an unusual interest in the Church of England. After a few years as Caner’s protégé while he earned his master’s degree, Fogg had sailed for England in May 1770 to receive holy orders. That’s definitely not how Fogg’s Harvard professors had hoped things would go.

When Caner wrote back to Pomfret, the Rev. Mr. Fogg was serving at his first assignment at St. Thomas’s in Bath, North Carolina (shown above). Malbone duly sent off an invitation to the young man. But it was a long way from rural Connecticut to rural North Carolina, and there was no response.

Then Mosley arrived from Boston in September 1771, bringing recommendations from two prominent Anglicans. On first acquaintance, Malbone liked Mosley’s “agreeable private Behaviour & Conversation,” which was important because he would host the minister until he got around to building the man a separate home. After hearing Mosley deliver a sermon, Malbone felt sure “he would be a very popular Preacher.”

Still, the colonel wanted to be sure, so he wrote back to Caner and Troutbeck:
the Gentleman is a perfect stranger to me; and I never heard of nor saw him until this visit, and the Business is of too delicate and important a Nature for me to act upon of my own Head. . . . I must beg the Favour of You, provided You have discovered by a Residence of Eleven Months of Mr Mosely at Boston, that his moral Character and Qualifications perfectly correspond with the Rules established by the Society, that You will be pleased to recommend him to me in Form as a proper Person to fill up this Mission.
The Boston rectors declined to recommend Mosley, saying they didn’t know him well enough. Caner added: ”He had met with the Fate of all Strangers that came among us, to be censured for a Freedom and Openess which do not exactly correspond with our Manners or the Taste of the Country.”

But Malbone wasn’t a typical Yankee either, and he came to like this former naval chaplain. So did the people of the region, according to Mosley. Writing in May 1772, he said he had “preached and lectured this winter frequently, both at Plainfield and Canterbury, though the season has been remarkably severe, and had a great audience each time.”

In February 1772, Malbone fended off an inquiry by a Pomfret town committee seeking to inspect Mosley’s credentials, as I described over the past two days. That opportunity to get the better of his neighbors appears to have cemented Mosley in Malbone’s plans. The two men talked about Mosley becoming Trinity Church’s permanent minister. Meanwhile, a 24 January letter from the S.P.G. approving a £30 matching grant for a salary was on its way across the Atlantic.

On 22 April, Easter Sunday, Trinity Church had its first formal organizational meeting. Eighteen members signed bonds to pay the Rev. Mr. Mosley £28 per year, which they thought was close enough to the contribution they expected from London. Malbone and Dr. William Walton became church wardens. The congregation chose to save money by paying its clerk only twenty shillings a year and not hiring a sexton.

And then the Rev. Daniel Fogg arrived in Pomfret, ready to take the pulpit that had been promised to him by letter.

TOMORROW: Two men enter, one man leaves.