J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, December 25, 2020

A “very Cheerfull” Christmas at the Rowes’

The merchant John Rowe was one of Boston’s leading Anglicans, so he celebrated Christmas while his Congregationalist neighbors generally ignored the holiday.

Here’s how Rowe described 25 Dec 1770 in his published diary, 250 years ago today:
Christmas Day — I dined at home with Capt. John Linzee Mr. John Lane, Dr. Miller Joseph Golthwait Mr. Inman, Mrs. Rowe, Miss Lucy Flucker & Sucky Inman — The same Company staid & spent the afternoon & evening & wee were very Cheerfull.
That’s a lot of different surnames, but I can map close relations among many of those people. “Mrs. Rowe” was the diarist’s wife, of course, the former Hannah Speakman.

Before Hannah’s sister Susannah died in 1761, she had married Ralph Inman (1713-1788, shown above courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums). The Inmans’ daughter “Sucky” or Susannah (1754-1792) lived in Boston with her aunt and uncle Rowe, and her father had come in from Cambridge for this holiday.

John Linzee (1743-1798) was a captain in the Royal Navy who would spend increasing time at the Rowes’ house in 1772. Finally that summer he married Susannah Inman, then eighteen years old. Later he participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill and some other naval actions during the siege of Boston.

Lucy Flucker (1756-1824) was probably at this party as a teen-aged friend of Sucky Inman. She spotted Henry Knox in a militia parade in 1773 and married him the next year. She thus got to see the war from the other side.

Joseph Goldthwait (1730-1779) was a former major in the provincial army who became commissary to the royal troops in 1768 and filled other posts in military administration afterward. He died of illness in New York during the war.

John Lane was a London merchant and “Old Friend” of Rowe’s. Depending on what “Old Friend” meant, they may have met as young men when Rowe was still in England or recently when “John Lane, jun.” visited Boston and New York in 1764-65. Lane came back to Boston in August 1769 “in the Nassau very unexpected,” Rowe wrote, and he stayed until July 1771, regularly appearing in Rowe’s diary. In March 1771, for example, Rowe came home to find Lane and another man singing and playing his niece’s spinet.

Lane’s family firm, called Lane, Son & Fraser in this period, did a lot of business with Rowe and other New England merchants. They even owned ships together, including the Eleanor, one of the vessels at risk in the Boston Tea Party. After Capt. Linzee married Sucky Inman, Rowe wrote: “I gave Capt. Linzee a Letter with Orders to draw on me every New Years Day Twenty Pounds Sterling, taking the money of Messrs. Lane Son & Fraser for my acct.”

In 1786 John Lane came back to Boston with his son, apparently planning to settle permanently. In 1790 Lane, “now resident at Boston,” filed a lawsuit to seize a vessel that Lane, Son & Fraser had invested in. But the next mention of the firm in the Boston newspapers, in the 14 June 1793 Argus, said the firm had gone bankrupt in London.

Dan Byrnes has striven to collect and parse information about Lane, Son & Fraser because of an Australian connection, as this webpage shows, but it doesn’t make anything clearer for me. It’s likely there were two or three generations of men named John Lane (Jr.) who have to be sorted out.

That leaves only Dr. Miller to be accounted for. That name doesn’t appear among the local physicians of this period. It’s possible he was a surgeon attached to the Royal Navy or even the 14th Regiment of Foot, stationed at the Castle.

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