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.

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Friday, July 23, 2021

“Manly and McNeal do not agree”

As documented yesterday, there were a lot of people that Capt. John Manley of the Continental Navy didn’t get along with.

One of the most prominent was the navy’s next most senior captain, Hector MacNeill. Their animosity was actually a matter of public concern in the spring of 1777, when they were both in Boston preparing frigates for cruises.

On 23 March, state official James Warren wrote to his friend John Adams, who had been on the Continental Congress’s marine committee but was now on the board of war:
The Hancock, Boston, Alfred and Cabot are all yet in port. It is said the Hancock [Manley’s ship] is ready to sail and was to have gone yesterday but remains here yet. I fear the Consequences of their going out single, but McNeil and Manly it is said like the Jews and Samaritans will have no Connections or Intercourse. They will not sail together.
The Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper sent a similar warning on 3 April:
Manly and McNeal do not agree. It is not I believe, the Fault of the first. They ought to sail together with all the Force they can obtain here to join them—a large Privateer would have readily done it. McNeal is inclin’d, and has obtain’d Liberty from Congress it is said, to sail alone. All may be lost in this Way. Jointly they might take single Frigates of the Enemy, or oblige them to sail in Fleets, which would greatly open the Ports for the Supplies from France and evry Quarter. Pray let some Orders be taken in this Matter as early as may be.
Later in the same letter Cooper returned to that theme:
Manly and McNeal are now, like Matthews and Lestac [two feuding British captains in the 1740s]. If they are not better united, infinite Damage may acrue. The latter hardly brooks the Superiority of the former—tho no Man has merited more, in the marine than Manly, or promises better.
It’s not clear how Warren and Cooper knew about the captains’ animosity. Were there open arguments? Grousing behind each other’s backs? However the rift opened, a lot of people knew about it.

For his part, MacNeill later insisted that in this period he’d been on his best behavior:
The General opinion which had prevail’d, that I was dissatisfied with being under Manley’s Command, made me sett up a resolution to obey implicitly every one of his Commands, (as for Signals, I never could get any from him) to the utmost of my power. I did however endeavour to advise him now and then when in a good mood, and he often appear’d to attend to what I said; but the unstableness of his Temper led him rather to do as he pleas’d. Nevertheless I follow’d him as the Jackall does the Lyon, without Grumbling except in my Gizard.
I find it striking that each of those writers reached for a metaphor as the best way to convey the depths of the two men’s relationship.

After the Hancock and Boston left port in May, the two captains managed to work together well enough to make some captures and avoid being captured themselves. But people back in Boston remembered the bad blood between Manley and MacNeill.

TOMORROW: Back into battle.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Captain Manley’s Temper

One of the striking details of Cdr. Sir George Collier’s account of the sea battle on 6-8 July 1777, recounted yesterday, is how his ship had almost no coordination with the other Royal Navy frigate in the fight.

Capt. John Brisbane had sailed the Flora up from New York on orders of Adm. Lord Howe. He happened to intersect the three Continental ships that Collier’s Rainbow was chasing down from Nova Scotia.

Brisbane and Collier didn’t expect to see each other. At first Collier thought Brisbane’s ship was an enemy vessel only pretending to be British. At one point in the maneuvers, Brisbane’s sailing master warned him that they might be so far north as to be out of their station.

I also wonder if the two Royal Navy officers were wary of giving up authority to the other. Collier was in home territory and (at least when the chase began) overseeing two ships, but as a captain Brisbane outranked him.

But the British captains weren’t the only ones who had trouble coordinating their attack.

Capt. John Manley on the Hancock was the star of the young Continental naval forces. Starting with command of one of Gen. George Washington’s schooners out of Beverly, Manley had racked up more and richer captures than any other captain. There was even a broadside ballad about him, illustrated with the engraving above.

But Capt. Manley also had a temper, and he was in continual conflict with other Continental naval officers. In October 1776 he complained about being ranked as second most senior captain in the navy, thus being “under the Command of one man, whose Ability I had reason to doubt.”

In April 1777, as I recounted back here, Manley insisted on a court-martial for his lieutenant, Joseph Dobel, for disobedience.

Then in early May, Manley summoned other captains onto his ship for a court-martial of eight men, including his pilot, ”for Mutiny.” 

One measure of Manley’s anger about those eight men is that the captains he summoned included Hector MacNeill and John Paul Jones, and they hated him.

TOMORROW: Divided command.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Commander Collier and “Part of the Rebel Fleet”

On the morning of 6 July 1777, H.M.S. Rainbow sailed out of Halifax harbor. It was a fifth-rate frigate equipped with 44 guns. Behind the Rainbow came H.M.S. Victor, a brig carrying 10 guns.

In command of that little Royal Navy fleet was Commander Sir George Collier (1738-1795, shown here).

That afternoon, the Rainbow “discovered Three Sail,” Collier reported. He “could form no Judgement of their Force, or what they were,” so he “immediately gave Chace.” After all, he was the navy.

The Victor was lagging three or four miles behind, so Cdr. Collier sent a signal to its captain to make more sail and speed up. As the day ended, the Rainbow’s crew could see they were chasing “large Ships” which looked “bound to some of the Ports of New England”—enemy territory.

Collier wrote, “I followed them with all the Sail I could croud.” At dawn his crew made out three ships plus a sloop “about 5 or 6 Miles distant.” Meanwhile, the Victor had fallen so far behind it was no longer in sight.

At this point Cdr. Collier was convinced he’d spotted the “Part of the Rebel Fleet, which had sailed some Time before from Boston.” Despite being outnumbered, he continued the pursuit. 

The Rainbow had indeed found Capt. John Manley’s growing fleet, consisting of his Continental frigate Hancock, U.S.S. Boston under Capt. Hector MacNeill, a captured British privateer named Fox, and a recently seized sloop carrying coal.

The last vessel didn’t last long. Manley ordered it set on fire and cut loose. Then he gave orders for “setting Top Gallant Royals and every Sail that could be useful.”

Collier wrote:
A little after Six we discovered another Sail standing towards the Rebel Ships; she crossed us on the contrary Tack at about Four Miles Distance, and put about when she could fetch their Wakes; from her not making the private Signal to me, I concluded that she was another of the Rebel Frigates, and therefore paid no Regard as to an English Red Ensign she hoisted, and two Guns she fire to Leeward.
Ships didn’t have to display their true colors until they actually went into battle. Until then, captains could run up any nation’s flag to bluff another ship into thinking they were friendly or neutral or whatever seemed advantageous. Collier therefore suspected there were four enemy vessels ahead of him, but he kept chasing.

About 10:45 A.M., Collier was surprised to see this new ship and one of the original three exchange fire. He ordered his crew to raise the Union Jack. The match had turned out to be three American ships against two British.

The other Royal Navy frigate was H.M.S. Flora, a 32-gun fifth-rate that had started as the French warship Vestale. Its captain was John Brisbane (1735-1807).

One of the American ships split off from the other two. Brisbane on the Flora “exchanged a Broadside with each.” The Rainbow also fired on one that had fallen behind, seemingly “uncertain which to steer,” but “had not the good Fortune to bring down either a Mast or Sail.”

Cdr. Collier watched “the headmost Rebel Frigate put about,…just out of Gunshot to Windward.” He judged it “a very fine Ship of 34 Guns, with Rebel Colours flying.”

An officer on the Rainbow’s quarterdeck recognized that ship from when he had been a prisoner in Boston. It was the Hancock, and its master was Manley, “the Sea Officer in whom the Congress place great Confidence, and who is the Second in Rank in their Navy.”

Cdr. Collier realized he stood at a decision point. Of the enemy ships, he thought, “one of the three must unavoidably escape, if they thus steered different Courses.” The Flora had apparently picked its target, which turned out to be the prize ship Fox.

Collier decided to “put about and follow the Hancock, which appeared the largest Ship,” as well as the most important—and most dangerous.

TOMORROW: Commanders clash.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Six Weeks on the U.S.S. Hancock

Soon after Capt. John Manley guided the Hancock, Boston, American Tartar, and eight other ships out of Boston harbor in May 1777, the privateers sailed off in different directions.

After all, privateer captains didn’t owe Manley any obedience. Capt. John Grimes on the American Tartar, the largest of those ships, headed across the Atlantic and in July captured several British vessels off the Shetland Islands and the coast of Norway. The little ones stuck to the New England coast.

In contrast, Capt. Hector MacNeill on the Boston was in the Continental Navy under orders to stick with Manley. Their target would be British fishing vessels and unaccompanied merchant ships in the north Atlantic.

Within days the Hancock and Boston caught a prize: a small brig carrying cordage and sailcloth.

On 30 May the two frigates spotted some military transports. Unfortunately for Manley, those ships were guarded by H.M.S. Somerset, the same 70-gun warship that had sat in the Charles River in the spring of 1775 (and that wrecked on Cape Cod in the fall of 1778).

The Somerset went after Manley’s Hancock, which had only half as many cannon. MacNeill’s Boston then closed on the more lightly armed transport ships. That forced the Somerset to break off and return to protect the convoy, allowing both Continental ships to sail away intact.

On 7 June, Manley and MacNeill’s frigates chased another promising ship. The Hancock caught up first, and Manley discovered his quarry was the Fox, a British privateer carrying 28 guns. The two ships fought for half an hour. Then the Boston arrived. Between them, Manley and MacNeill forced the Fox’s surrender. Its mainmast and wheel were shot off, four men killed and eight wounded.

On board the Hancock, a black sailor named John Brick “on fortunetly Lost his Left Legg” in this fight, as a second lieutenant attested. Dr. Samuel Curtis thus did his first major operation as a combat surgeon.

Capt. Manley took a few days to make repairs to the Fox. He put a prize crew aboard and divided its crew as prisoners between the Hancock and Boston. This three-vessel Continental fleet then captured a coal sloop off Cape Sable Island at the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia.

By Sunday, 6 July, Manley’s four ships were near Halifax, a major British base. Two large warships came out of the harbor. Capt. Manley turned and headed back toward New England as fast as his fleet could sail.

TOMORROW: Commander over the Rainbow.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Dr. Samuel Curtis Goes to War

When, last September, I left Dr. Samuel Curtis of Marlborough, his wife Lydia and their two babies had all died in December 1774.

Lydia Curtis had been married before, to Dr. Ebenezer Dexter. Three teen-aged sons from that first marriage were still alive. The oldest, William Dexter, married in Shrewsbury in early 1775, so he was probably already in that town, training under another medical doctor.

I suspect the younger two boys were living with Lydia’s parents, who were wealthy and influential in Marlborough.

Dr. Curtis had served on Marlborough’s committee of correspondence since 1772 and represented the town at the 1774 Middlesex County convention. After his wife’s death, he may have thrown himself even more into the Patriot movement. In March 1775, as I recounted here, Curtis took the lead in hunting for British army spies seeking refuge at Henry Barnes’s house.

There are no records of how Curtis responded to the outbreak of war the next month. His name doesn’t appear in militia records. He continued to serve on town committees, and in the fall of 1775 the Massachusetts legislature appointed him a justice of the peace.

(Dr. Curtis was a son of the Rev. Philip Curtis of the second precinct of Stoughton, which in 1775 became the new town of Sharon. Late the following year, Samuel’s younger sister Susanna Curtis married his former trainee, Dr. Daniel Cony [1752-1842, shown above later in life], whose family had moved out to Shutesbury. Dr. Cony spent chunks of the next few years in military service. Eventually the Conys moved up to Maine, where one of his medical colleagues was the midwife Martha Ballard. But I digress.)

William Dexter turned twenty-one in 1776. I believe that meant he came into his mother’s Marlborough property, where Dr. Curtis had been living as a widower. That gave the doctor three reasons to make a life change:
  • psychological, after his wife and children’s deaths.
  • domestic, as his stepson was taking over the family home.
  • political, to help fight the war.
And impulse control might not have been Curtis’s strength.

In March 1777, Dr. Samuel Curtis signed on to be surgeon aboard the Hancock, the first frigate built for the Continental Navy. He would serve under Capt. John Manley, who in the fall of 1775 had proved to be the most stealthy and successful naval officer in the Continental military, winning several important prizes. Manley had been granted the authority of a commodore, meaning that in company with other Continental vessels he could boss their captains.

The Hancock was an excellent product of Newburyport shipwrights. Some British officers would even deem it “the finest and fastest frigate in the world.” It carried 24 twelve-pounder cannon and 10 six-pounders, plus a crew of 290 men. Dr. Curtis spent his first two months in the navy collecting medical supplies for that vessel.

On 21 May the Hancock slipped out of Boston harbor, past the Royal Navy patrols lurking in the ocean. Along with it came the Continental frigate Boston, 30 guns, commanded by Hector MacNeill; the privateer American Tartar, 24 guns, under John Grimes; and eight other, smaller privateers. Manley’s target was British fishing vessels and unaccompanied merchant ships.

TOMORROW: Dr. Curtis’s first fights at sea.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Past and Future of Pioneer Village in Salem

Last month Donna Seger at Streets of Salem provided a long, informed perspective on Salem’s Pioneer Village, a collection of houses and other structures built to represent the town’s earliest British settlement during Massachusetts’s Tercentenary in 1930.

Seger recounted:
Pioneer Village was supposed to be a temporary installation, but it was such a popular regional attraction that it became a more permanent one, at the vanguard of outdoor “living history” museums in the United States: its claim to be the first of such museums is based more on interpretive practice than date, as Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village opened up in 1929 and the Storrowtown Village Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts also dates to 1930. . . .

Judging from the succession of newspaper stories dating from the 1930s into the 1960s, Pioneer Village might have been able to sustain itself on proceeds from the gate: it was quite a busy place. But as the popularity and practice of “living history” interpretation began to decline in the later 1970s, it lost its base, perhaps even its rationale. As it has always been a seasonal attraction, the Village has been vulnerable to deterioration and destruction by neglect, weather, fire and vandalism: I believe only about half of the original structures are still standing.
Notably, Pioneer Village is a municipal property, not an independent non-profit, though it’s been run by various private organizations from time to time.

In 1985 Salem’s Park and Recreation Commission voted to dismantle the village, but that prompted a revitalization effort, and the site reopened in 1988. However, it continued to lack a solid financing base.

Salem has a new plan for the structures: moving them to another city property called Camp Naumkeag, which in the early 1900s was a site for tuberculosis patients. There it would be served by the Salem Willows trolley stop. The park around the village’s old site would have space to expand. If everything falls into place, Pioneer Village would reopen by 2026, the 400th anniversary of British settlement at Salem.

According to the Salem News, the Y.M.C.A. of the North Shore has already moved its summer camp from Camp Naumkeag to Pioneer Village. I actually wonder if running an annual camp at the village after it moves would produce a local constituency for the institution in the future.

Seger went on to consider Pioneer Village as a historian:
I always thought that the Village represented a moment in place and time, and that moment was Salem 1930 rather than Salem 1630. As someone who has dabbled in Salem history here over that last decade or so, Pioneer Village looks to me like the culmination of a long period of overtly sentimental celebration of Salem, commencing with the Centennial of 1876. Generally it is seen as an expression of Colonial Revival culture, and I agree with that, but I also see it as an example of civic pride.
Seger thus sees Pioneer Village as a monument to how Salem wanted to view itself in 1930. But does that rationale still apply? The city’s tourism industry has shifted to focus on the witchcraft scare of the 1690s, leaving less attention to the “pioneers” of the early 1600s, the Revolution, the China Trade, industrialization, and other notable developments in Salem history. Locals might well want to preserve a monument to local history beyond witchy kitsch, but is that enough to sustain a small museum village?

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Looking Back on the Career of Ann Rinaldi

The novelist Ann Rinaldi died early this month at the age of eighty-six.

Rinaldi was best known for her historical novels about teen-aged girls involved in significant historical events, particularly the American Revolution.

She was a newspaper columnist who published a couple of contemporary young adult novels in the early 1980s. Meanwhile, her son Ronald had become a reenactor in the Bicentennial, drawing his sister into the hobby. So of course the parents had to travel with them.

“My son dragged us to every battlefield, monument, fort, and battleground, north and south, from Saratoga to Yorktown,” Rinaldi told Something About the Author. Reenacting immerses participants in the concerns of daily life—clothing, food, handcrafts. Those same details make historical fiction immersive.

Rinaldi applied her growing history knowledge to the Y.A. field to produce the novel Time Enough for Drums, set around the Battle of Trenton. Though historical fiction isn’t always popular with kids, it had a boom in the 1990s. Rinaldi soon made a specialty of stories set in the past. She often took well documented, well known families as her starting-points and mixed in the concerns of her teen-aged readers. And she was prolific.

Rinaldi’s novels set in the long eighteenth century include:
  • Time Enough for Drums (1986)
  • Wolf by the Ears (1991)
  • A Ride into Morning: The Story of Tempe Wick (1991)
  • A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials (1992)
  • The Fifth of March: A Story of the Boston Massacre (1993)
  • Finishing Becca: The Story of Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold (1994)
  • The Secret of Sarah Revere (1995)
  • Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley (1996)
  • The Second Bend in the River (1997)
  • Cast Two Shadows: The American Revolution in South Carolina (1998)
  • Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington’s Runaway Slave (2002)
  • Or Give Me Death: A Novel of Patrick Henry’s Family (2003)
In addition, Rinaldi wrote about the U.S. Civil War, westward settlement, immigrant neighborhoods—almost fifty novels in all.

In 2017 Laura Ansley, now managing editor at the American Historical Association, wrote at the Junto: “With her focus on teenage heroines, Rinaldi showed that history wasn’t only about important men. Young women experienced these historical events too, and their stories were also worth telling. . . . Speaking with other female academics around my age, I know that I’m not the only one who read and loved these books.”

Friday, July 16, 2021

Charles Adams’s Wish

On 16 July 1775, Abigail Adams had an urgent message to pass on to her husband John, then at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia:
Our little ones send Duty to pappa. You would smile to see them all gather round mamma upon the reception of a letter to hear from pappa, and Charls with open mouth, What does par say—did not he write no more. And little Tom says I wish I could see par.

Upon Mr. Rice’s going into the army he asked Charls if he should get him a place, he catchd at it with great eagerness and insisted upon going. We could not put him of, he cryed and beged, no obstical we could raise was sufficent to satisfy him, till I told him he must first obtain your consent. Then he insisted that I must write about it, and has been every day these 3 weeks insisting upon my asking your consent.

At last I have promised to write to you, and am obliged to be as good as my word.
Charles Adams was then five years old. His father did not use his influence to land him a spot in the Continental Army. But later in the war Charles did accompany his father and older brother John Quincy on a diplomatic mission to Europe.

The “Mr. Rice” who started all this heartache with an offhand joke to little Charles was Nathan Rice (1754–1834, shown above later in life), son of a Sturbridge minister who graduated from Harvard College in 1773. By then his widowed mother had married a man in Hingham, bringing the family to the South Shore.

In August 1774 Rice joined the Adams household as one of John’s law clerks alongside John Thaxter. Because their arrival coincided with the shutdown of the Massachusetts courts and Adams’s service at the First Continental Congress, those young men didn’t get to see much lawyering.

Thaxter transitioned into being the Adams family’s live-in tutor, also going on that mission to Europe. Rice joined the army in May 1775, serving in staff positions for most of the war, including as aide de camp to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.

Rice settled in Hingham, having married Sophia Blake. He returned to the army during the Adams administration’s Quasi-War, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. In the 1810s, after raising their children, Nathan and Sophia Rice moved up to Winooski, Vermont. The house they built in 1818, remodeled extensively, became known as the “Mansion House”; there was a local dispute over removing it to build apartments in 2019, and I don’t know how that turned out.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

“The idea of a place called Nova Scotia”

One of the most thought-provoking historical articles I’ve read recently is Alexandra L. Montgomery’s essay for the Journal of the History of Ideas blog, “Imagining Nova Scotia: The Limits of an Eighteenth-Century Imperial Fantasy.”

Montgomery, a Nova Scotian herself, writes that the visions of people far from the province have often overlaid actual life there.
Particularly during the decades on either side of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the then-colony became a near obsession among British colonial administrators on both sides of the Atlantic. Generations of men poured over questionable maps, spinning out schemes meant to exploit the region’s rich fisheries, timber stores, and geographically advantageous location along the major ship routes between Europe, the British mainland colonies, and New France. And yet,…while proposals for the region were unending, facts were in short supply.

Indeed, even the idea of a place called Nova Scotia was, for much of the early modern period, unmoored from any objective reality.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, the Earl of Halifax wanted to mold Nova Scotia into a “model colony,” with lots of British government money and oversight and a new capital named, naturally, Halifax. The French and Indian War made British Canada safer to settle but harder to pay for.
While the new leadership of the province and Board of Trade supported Halifax’s broad vision, they balked at its cost and chose to outsource the next phase of Nova Scotia’s transformation to private individuals and land companies. It was in this post-war context that some of colonial America’s most notable names became involved in the colony to their north. The Board of Trade’s open call for respectable land investors to take up and settle Nova Scotian land attracted no less a figure than Benjamin Franklin, and another company from Philadelphia hired a fresh-faced and not-yet-“mad” Anthony Wayne to survey their potential Nova Scotian lands.
But that fuse fizzled instead of booming, and by the time the more populous British colonies to the south were coming together to resist Parliament’s new taxes, American Whigs saw Nova Scotia as what a colony shouldn’t be.
In his 1767/1768 Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, John Dickinson pitted the colonies that would eventually break away from the empire against the somewhat newer areas of British control, among which he included Nova Scotia. He rejected the attempts to settle Nova Scotia as damaging to the population levels of the older colonies, not to mention a colossal waste of money.
That attitude colored the American Revolutionaries’ thoughts on whether to treat Nova Scotia as a potential ally, Montgomery writes.

The last image her article left me with was Nova Scotia at the end of the war, firmly within the British Empire and now the Loyalists’ first place of refuge. “Shelburne, Nova Scotia,…transformed from a boom town of as many as 14,000 people in 1783 to a near ghost town with over 300 empty houses just a few years later.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Samuel Adams’s Surviving Sister and Brother

Samuel Adams’s one surviving older sibling was his sister Mary, born in 1717, five years before him. According to descendants, he called her Polly.

In 1742, when Mary Adams was in her mid-twenties, she married a tailor named James Allen. She was his second wife. In 1751 Robert Treat Paine addressed Allen as “Merchant. Taylor living on the Draw Bridge, Boston.”

The Allens’ children included:
  • Samuel (1743-1830), treasurer of Worcester County for about forty years.
  • Joseph (1749-1827), reportedly his uncle Samuel’s favorite, clerk of the courts in Worcester County for more than thirty years and a member of the U.S. Congress for five months.
  • Mary (1754-1842), who married the Rev. Joseph Avery of Holden.
James Allen died in 1755, Mary in 1767.

Samuel’s one surviving younger sibling was his brother Joseph, born at the end of 1728 and thus six years younger. I started looking into the Adams genealogy after a question about this man from an unnamed commenter a few months back.

Joseph Adams followed Samuel to Harvard College, joining the class of 1748. That means there’s a brief profile of him in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates. At college Joseph was a bit of a party boy, once pounding down a door “in a riotous Manner, at Night,” and another time engaging in “contemptuous hollowing” at midnight after a sleigh ride and tavern supper.

After graduating, Joseph Adams trained in medicine. The first documentation of his profession might be that 1751 letter from Robert Treat Paine to James Allen, which offered “My Service to your Spouse and to Dr. Adams.” Paine was a year behind Adams at Harvard.

In 1753 the Boston Overseers of the Poor voted to make Joseph Adams the first “Doctr. for the Alms House,” both “Physition & Chirurgeon.” He was chosen again in 1754 and 1755. In all the Overseers recorded paying Adams about £260 in the currency of the time.

In 1754 Joseph Adams married a woman named Elizabeth Hill. In April 1759, when he was thirty, the doctor was sick enough to make out his will. He died sometime in the next few weeks or months because his estate was probated in September. I found no mention of his death in the newspapers, and no indication he left children.

In October 1764, the widow Elizabeth Adams married Gawen Brown (1719-1801), a “Clock and Watchmaker lately from London” in 1749. She was his third wife. He had six children from his first marriage; one, the future artist Mather Brown, from his second; and six more with Elizabeth. The best known of the last batch was William Hill Brown (1765-1793), author of the scandalous roman à clef The Power of Sympathy.

Since 1763 Brown had been established on King Street. Late in that decade he built and installed the clock that still keeps time in the tower of the Old South Meeting-House (works shown above). Timepieces bearing Brown’s signature are in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Revolutionary Spaces.

As a native of Britain with continuing business ties there, Gawen Brown appears to have been wary of independence, so much so he’s been labeled the “Tory Clockmaker.” There’s even a latter-day report he returned to Britain during the war, but I can’t pin that down.

Despite that loyalty, Samuel Adams entrusted correspondence to the clockmaker’s namesake son, “young Mr Gawen Brown,” in October 1775. (So did John Adams, though we know his judgment about couriers wasn’t perfect.) I think Samuel Adams was willing to do that because he was a sort of uncle to the young men: Gawen Brown, Jr., was Adams’s late brother’s widow’s stepson.

The younger Gawen Brown followed his father into the trade of importing watches. During the war he seems to have bounced around: a captain of marines in 1776, an officer in Col. Henry Jackson’s Continental regiment in 1778, on state expeditions against Crown strongholds at Newport and Penobscot. Later he commanded the Independent Company of Cadets. This Brown died in Petersburg, Virginia, around the start of 1789.

Later that year, the 11 June Independent Chronicle carried a legal notice about the division of some property in Maine. It was signed by Samuel Adams, Gawen and Elizabeth Brown in her right, Joseph Allen, Samuel Allen, and Joseph and Mary Avery in her right—all the remaining heirs of Samuel Adams’s father.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

“Only three of which survived him”

In 1854 the New England Historic and Genealogical Register printed transcript of pages inserted into Samuel Adams’s family Bible, setting down the family genealogy.

Later the same material was reprinted in Samuel Adams Wells‘s biography of his ancestor.

That page showed that Adams’s parents must have been in near-constant mourning for their young children.

The genealogy starts with the births of the senior Samuel Adams in 1689 and Mary Fifield in 1694. They were married at Old South Meeting-House by the Rev. Dr. Ebenezer Pemberton (shown here) in 1713.

Two years later Samuel was among the men petitioning for land for a new church in the South End, which would open in 1719 as the New South Meeting-House.

Meanwhile, the couple was having children:
  • Richard Adams, born 21 Jan 1716, “being on Saturday morning at seven of the Clock. The said Richard Adams dyed on Tuesday the 26th: day of June, about 10 of ye Clock at night.”
  • Mary Adams, born 30 July 1717, “Tuesday morning, at 4 of the clock.”
  • Hannah Adams, born 6 Nov 1720, “at half an hour after eleven at night, 1720, and dyed the 13th Jan. [1721] at eight of the Clock at night.”
  • Samuel Adams the future governor, born 16 Sept 1722 “at twelve of the Clock at noon, being Sabbath day.”
  • John Adams, born 4 Sept 1724, died 9 Aug 1725.
  • A second John Adams, born 28 Oct 1726, died 15 June 1727.
  • Joseph Adams, born 29 Dec 1728, “one quarter after one of ye Clock in ye morning, Sabbath day. Baptised pr. the Rev. Mr. [Samuel] Checkley ye same day.”
  • Abigail Adams, born 20 July 1730, died 29 Aug 1730.
  • Thomas Adams, born 22 Dec 1731, died 16 Aug 1733, “20 minutes after four of the Clock in the morning.”
  • Sarah Adams, born 18 Nov 1733 at 8:30 A.M. on a Sunday morning, baptized the same day, died 28 Feb 1736.
  • A second Abigail Adams, born 22 Oct 1735, died 31 March 1736.
  • Mehetable Adams, born 12 Apr 1740, died 11 June 1740.
At the bottom of that page, Samuel Adams the Patriot wrote of his father:
Samuel Adams aforesaid, dyed on Tuesday the eighth day of March, 1747, about eleven o’Clock in the forenoon; having lived with his wife thirty-four years, and about ten months. By her he had twelve children, only three of which survived him.
Those three were Mary, Samuel himself, and their brother Joseph, not yet twenty years old.

Of the other nine siblings, only one baby had lived more than a year, and six had died in six months or less.

The elder Adams persevered in recording the detail of every birth and death. Indeed, he became more precise as time went on, recording births at the accuracy of five-minute increments instead of “about 10.”

The younger Samuel Adams grew up to marry Elizabeth Checkley, daughter of the minister who had baptized most of the family.

TOMORROW: Samuel Adams’s surviving siblings.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Board of War and Ordnance’s Rattlesnake

Another place we see snake symbolism in Revolutionary America is the seal of the Continental Congress’s board of war and ordnance, adopted in 1778.

We don’t know who designed this emblem, but I imagine the conversation went something like this.

“All right, gentlemen, as you asked, I added the breastplate and the Liberty Cap to pile of weapons and the drum and the flags. So this is the final, right?”

“Yes, that’s good, but we had another idea!”

“Of course you did.”

“We want to add a snake!

“A snake.”

“A rattlesnake! Like on those Pennsylvania militia drums, and that flag Mr. Gadsden brought.”

“If I added a rattlesnake to that pile, wouldn’t that look like no one in his right mind would try to pick up those weapons? Isn’t that the wrong message for a Board of War and Ordnance?”

“The rattlesnake doesn’t have to be on the weapons. It could be somewhere else.”

“There isn’t really room—”

“Oh, we’re sure you could fit it in somewhere.”

And the resulting design, complete with flying rattlesnake, is still in use by the Department of the U.S. Army today.

It’s not always clear in modern versions of this seal that the snake is a rattler. However, as this Revolutionary War document bearing the seal shows, the rattles were originally distinct. They probably numbered thirteen.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Political Significance of Snakes

Last week the Age of Revolutions blog shared my new article “Join, or Die: Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?”

Prompted by a question from editor Bryan A. Banks of Columbus State University, for this essay I delved into how and why Americans adopted snakes as symbols of their resistance when most of the time they didn’t like snakes. At all.

And by “snakes” I mean multiple species. The fractured snake that appeared in Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper in 1754 and then resurfaced during the Stamp Act debate is sometimes called a rattlesnake, but it didn’t have a rattle. It was a different species, called a glass snake (or joint snake, or brimstone snake).

The rattlesnake slid onto the scene in late 1775 as the American colonies were at war and needed a more forceful, dangerous viper to make their point. In both cases, I argue, traits that natural histories had ascribed to these New World species fit well into the political narrative that American colonists wanted to promulgate at that time.

Researching this essay made me look anew at a couple of pictures that Paul Revere created for Isaiah Thomas’s Royal American Magazine in March and April 1774. They’re both visible on this webpage from the American Antiquarian Society, and I’ve coped a relevant detail above.

The pictures are portraits of John Hancock and Samuel Adams in elaborate frames surrounded by symbolic figures. At the right stands an allegorical woman—Liberty and Britannia, respectively. The woman (and, in Liberty’s case, a lion) is stomping on a grenadier from the 29th Regiment, the unit involved in the Boston Massacre.

That grenadier in turn is grasping a snake. When I first saw these pictures, I thought the grenadier might have been trying to introduce the snake into American society and gotten caught. Now I wonder if Revere meant that snake was American society, and the grenadier was trying to squash it, only to be squashed by higher forces.

And what about Revere’s engraving of a “Hooded Serpent” or cobra in the June 1774 issue of the Royal American Magazine? Thomas copied the text of that from a 1771 British magazine and had Revere duplicate the engraving. It doesn’t seem like it would have any allegorical significance for the American colonies. But now that I’ve explored political snake symbolism, I wonder.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Unpaid Taxes and a Stolen Horse

As I said yesterday, I searched Massachusetts newspapers for any mention of the Quock Walker cases in July 1783 or any other month of that and preceding years—without success.

I searched not only for Walker’s name but also for the names of Nathaniel Jennison and John and Seth Caldwell, the white men involved.

I didn’t find reports of the case. But I did come across advertisements showing some of what those men were dealing with in 1783.

On 30 Dec 1782, Jotham Houghton, constable for Petersham, sent out a long, detailed notice about the taxes on tracts of land in that town and how much tax was owed on them. It was printed in the 16 Jan 1783 Independent Chronicle in Boston.

According to Houghton’s accounts, “Nathaniel Jennison, of Barre,” owed more than £30 going back to June 1780, plus “for hiring a soldier, 1s 5d.”

In apparent response, Jennison placed an advertisement in the 3 July 1783 Massachusetts Spy offering fifty acres in Petersham and “A LOT of new LAND lying in Rutland” for sale “for State securities or good private security, hard money will not be refused.”

On 2 July, Jennison was on the eastern side of the state. The 10 July Independent Chronicle ran this ad from him:
STOP THIEF!
Twenty dollars reward,
STOLEN from a pasture in Roxbury, on the 2d of July instant, a large dark bay HORSE, sixteen hands high, black mane and tail, trots and paces, high carriage, about nine years old. Any person who shall take up said horse, and give intelligence to Nathaniel Jennison, of Barry, in the county of Worcester, shall receive ten dollars, with all necessary charges; and if the thief is apprehended, and brought to justice, they shall have the above reward of twenty dollars
It wasn’t turning out to be a great year for Nathaniel Jennison, even beyond the judgment against him in the Walker cases. 

But Jennison wasn’t the only figure having troubles. On 19 February, David Puket, the tax collector of Greenfield, issued a notice, printed in the next day’s Independent Chronicle, that he was selling “One farm belonging to John Caldwell, Esq;” for unpaid taxes. As a measure of inflation, Duket calculated the tax bill to be worth:
  • “79l. 4d. old emission.”
  • “4l. 6s. 11d. State’s money.”
  • “16s. silver.”
The sale was to take place on Monday, 17 March.

On 10 June, John and Sarah Caldwell bought a notice in Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy (published first on 12 June), saying that they would sell “By PUBLICK AUCTION” three horses and “A NUMBER of good likely COWS” at “the house of Mrs. SARAH CALDWELL, widow, in BARRE.”

Finally, the 26 June Independent Chronicle ran a notice from Daniel Wells, new tax collector in Greenfield, stating that “John Caldwell, Esq;” now owed nearly £2.13s., and he would sell off the man’s property on 21 July if that bill was still unpaid.

Because of the number of Caldwells in Barre and nearby, I’m not sure those three notices involved the same John Caldwell involved in the Quock Walker cases. Nor can I figure out how this John Caldwell was related to the widow Sarah Caldwell; her late husband was possibly William, who died young in 1780.

Despite those genealogical uncertainties, those advertisements show how farmers in central Massachusetts, including relatively prosperous men who had been able to invest in land in different towns, were under economic pressure by 1783. That was part of the background to the Quock Walker decisions.

One bit of pleasant news: Seth Caldwell married Mary (Polly) Jones of Worcester in 1782, and they started a large family the next year. He died in 1805 at age forty-seven, styled a militia major. She died in 1828 at age sixty-four.

Friday, July 09, 2021

How Did the 8th of July Become Quock Walker Day?

Back in 2006, while discussing a proposed Juneteenth holiday and how the Quock Walker cases had more relevance to Massachusetts, I wrote:
…despite the Walker decision, Massachusetts didn’t become a slavery-free zone right away. That case wasn’t reported or publicized, so only in retrospect did it become a landmark. We still don’t know the exact date of the decision (which makes it hard to observe its anniversary).
At this remove, I’m not sure where I read that scholars didn’t know the date of the decisions that confirmed Walker’s freedom, but I certainly didn’t find any.

When I read that in 2020 the Massachusetts General Court passed a law stating that the decision came out on July 8 and making that date Quock Walker Day in Massachusetts, I naturally became curious. Had new documentation come to light?

First I went back through the scholarly articles studying the case, from the 1960s to the 2000s, seeing if any of them cited a date or a newfound document. Nothing.

Then I looked for books stating the decision came on 8 July. Most of those have been published just in the last few years. The earliest I found was Charles M. Christian’s Black Saga: The African American Experience, published in 1995:
MASSACHUSETTS SUPREME COURT ABOLISHES SLAVERY

On JULY 8, the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Commonwealth v. Jennison abolished slavery in the commonwealth by virtue of the Declaration of Rights of 1780.
A similarly organized book, Junius P. Rodriguez’s Chronology of World Slavery (ABC-Clio, 1999) said:
In a landmark judicial decision on July 8, slavery was abolished in Massachusetts by action of the Massachusetts Supreme Court in the case of Commonwealth v. Jennison, which involved the efforts of a slave, Quock Walker, to obtain his freedom. The decision was based upon an interpretation of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
Neither of those books cited sources. Nor did any of the more recent books that echo the same date. This timeline from the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Case for Ending Slavery website, a teachers’ resource created in 2010, gives the 8 July date, based on the Chronology of World Slavery quoted above.

Massachusetts’s official guide to the constitutional cases that ended slavery in the state, the Long Road to Justice website, and Historical Digression’s narrative of the cases don’t state a specific date.

I took another look in my newspaper database, again finding nothing.

I decided to go to the expert on both state government records and the end of slavery in Massachusetts, John Hannigan of the Massachusetts Archives. I asked him, Do we know when the Massachusetts Supreme Court issued its decision in the commonwealth’s case against Nathaniel Jennison?

Hannigan swiftly replied:
Jennison appeared before the Supreme Judicial Court to answer the indictment during the April session, which opened on April 15 and adjourned on April 24, 1783. [Chief Justice William] Cushing issued his now-famous instructions and the jury found Jennison guilty at some point during the course of those ten days. I don’t think it’s possible to pinpoint a more accurate date, as none of the documents are specifically dated beyond the month and year of the session. Indictments were usually entered at the end of the record book for each session, possibly indicating that the justices reserved those for last, but there's no way to prove that.

Ironically, the SJC was not even in session on July 8, 1783. The justices adjourned the session for Cumberland county on July 5, 1783; they didn’t meet again until the Suffolk county session opened on August 26, 1783.
The image above is from the surviving record of the Jennison indictment. Clerk Charles Cushing (brother of the chief justice) wrote “April Term at Worcester A.D. 1783” with no further detail.

Thus, there appears to be not a scrap of historical documentation that the final decision in the Quock Walker cases happened on 8 July 1783, and some strong evidence that it couldn’t have. However, the 8th of July observance is now a matter of state law.

TOMORROW: What Nathaniel Jennison was doing in July 1783.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Quock Walker Day and Juneteenth

Back in June 2006, just weeks after I launched Boston 1775, I shared my thoughts on whether Juneteenth should become a Massachusetts holiday.

Juneteenth would be a synecdoche for the end of slavery in the U.S., I wrote. The 19th of June was the date in 1865 when slavery ended in some parts of Texas, but it stood for the process of liberation over a broader range of space and time.

As Annette Gordon-Reed’s new book On Juneteenth relates, some African-American citizens have celebrated that date for generations.

Most of my 2006 posting focused on the end of slavery in Massachusetts, more than seventy-five years before the U.S. Civil War. I quoted state Chief Justice William Cushing‘s charge to the jury in one of the legal cases arising between Quock Walker and the man who claimed him, Nathaniel Jennison.

Publicizing the full history of slavery in Massachusetts was, I argued, more important for this state than observing Juneteenth, which shifted the problem to another corner of the country.

Last year the Massachusetts legislature voted to make the 8th of July Quock Walker Day, commemorating the end of legal slavery in this state. This is the first year to observe the holiday, and the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington is hosting a community celebration online this evening at 7:00 P.M.

In addition, last month the U.S. Congress voted to make Juneteenth the national celebration of the end of slavery. All too predictably, the far right opposed that. The only votes in Congress against the resolution were from fourteen Republican members of the House.

Many progressives also noted the irony that endorsement of the holiday was coinciding with a push in many states to make voting more difficult. The current U.S. Supreme Court said that state legislators can impose obstacles to voting even when they know those measures don’t solve serious problems and would affect African-American citizens most.

TOMORROW: A question of timing.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Expanding the Team of “Revolutionary Superheroes”

A few years back, Lee Wright of The History List showed me the art he’d commissioned for a T-shirt called “Revolutionary Superheroes.”

It posed five people in the resolute manner of a team fighting injustice. Those people were Abigail Adams, John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton—all major figures at Founders Online.

The online retailer needed a “hang tag” to attach to that T-shirt when museum stores carried it, and Lee asked me to write the copy. I came up with a line about each figure (treating the Adamses as one), aiming to be accurate and thought-provoking.

Now The History List has a whole line of “Revolutionary Superheroes” items, including stickers, notebooks, and shirts of various styles.

Meanwhile, some customers were asking about other Founding figures beyond those five. It was time, Lee decided, to commission another set of “Revolutionary Superheroes”—but who?

The History List collected suggestions through social media—more than fifty in all. Then Lee commissioned me to write capsule biographies summarizing what each person did notably during the Revolution. You can see all the crowd-sourced candidates at this webpage.

Anyone can read those bios and consider the people’s lives. Some names are far more famous than others. Some folks did a lot more to further the American Revolution than others. I had to dig hard for information on a few while cutting off large post-Revolutionary careers of the most famous. I learned a lot in the process, and I hope people exploring the page learn, too.

People who buy “Revolutionary Superheroes” merchandise can vote on which five figures should be added to the line next. The voting is by ranked-choice, and the result will be democratic—i.e., the historical figures with the most aggregate points will win, and all voters will have to live with the result.

If this proves popular, The History List might invite more nominations for a third batch of notables, including the public didn’t nominate this time around.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Listening in on Pope Night with The Dollop

A friend alerted me that the Dollop podcast recently cited my name.

The Dollop is a conversation about history between two comedians, Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds. Anthony reads up on a topic and presents the facts to Reynolds, and they both riff on the implications. It’s been going strong since 2014.

In Episode 480 Anthony and Reynolds discuss “Pope Day,” a topic I’ve had a lot to say about. Anthony notes my observation that the 5th of November celebration evolved into Halloween, an observation others have also made. (My main thesis is how the holiday’s overt patriotism licensed the raucous violence.)

All in all, this Dollop episode offers a detailed, grounded introduction to a weird colonial tradition. I’d add two important points about Pope Night in the mid-1700s:
  • Colonial New Englanders were expending all that anti-popery energy when there were no practicing Catholics anywhere closer than Canada. They weren’t really intimidating a local Catholic minority; they were showing off for themselves.
  • By the 1750s the Boston processions added a contemporary villain in place of the Pretender: Adm. John Byng, Charles Paxton, John Mein, and so on. That gave the holiday a link to current politics even before the Stamp Act, and then it grew stronger.
One less conceptual correction involves the leader of the North End gang in 1765. That year’s anti-Stamp protests made Ebenezer Mackintosh, the South End gang’s captain, internationally notorious. His North End counterpart didn’t become a concern for the royal governors or the ministers in London, so all the surviving contemporaneous sources mentioned only his last name: Swift.

For a long time authors decided that must be the most visible man named Swift in pre-Revolutionary Boston: Samuel Swift. He was friendly with the Whigs, especially John Adams.

The fact that Samuel Swift was a political moderate, a Harvard-educated attorney, and fifty years old during the Stamp Act crisis should have made people skeptical that he was the leader of a working-class youth gang. Plus, it turned out he lived on Pleasant Street in the far South End.

In The Boston Massacre (1970), Hiller Zobel argued that a far more likely candidate was Henry Swift, a shipwright. He:
  • was a mechanic, like Mackintosh.
  • was born in 1746, thus in his late teens during the Stamp Act rumbles.
  • lived in the North End.
  • was indicted for rioting after the fatal Pope Night of 1764.
I’ve therefore always named Henry Swift as the North End captain.

However, some books continue to point the finger at Samuel Swift, and the Dollop gents must have relied on those sources. Given the class distinctions in the eighteenth century, I think the genteel attorney would have been horrified to be linked to the Pope Night disorder. Now that’s comedy!

Before leaving the topic of digital appearances, here’s a reminder that History Camp America is coming up this Saturday, 10 July. Registration closes on Thursday.

Monday, July 05, 2021

“I could almost wish that an inoculating Hospital was opened, in every Town”

In the Washington Post, Prof. Andrew Wehrman wrote about Massachusetts and Boston’s official response to the threat of smallpox in the summer of 1776:
Abigail Adams…learned of the Continental Army’s failed invasion of Canada. Smallpox had broken out among the soldiers, dooming the campaign. Returning soldiers threatened to bring the disease back with them. Exasperated, John wrote to Abigail: “The Small Pox! The Small Pox! What shall we do with it?” He answered his own question by remarking, “I could almost wish that an inoculating Hospital was opened, in every Town in New England.”

While John Adams and 55 other men in Philadelphia debated the final wording of the Declaration of Independence, on July 3, 1776, the people of Boston declared their independence from smallpox. Fearing further outbreaks, the Massachusetts legislature voted to once again shut down the entire city for a general inoculation.

The people of Boston cheered the news. Ezekiel Price, a local businessman and court official, declared on July 4: “Liberty given for to inoculate for the small-pox; many begin upon it this afternoon.”

Abigail Adams took her four children to her uncle’s house to inoculate with the families of her two sisters. Guardhouses were built to warn anyone entering the city of the presence of smallpox and to prevent anyone from leaving the city during the general inoculation without a certificate from a doctor.

On July 18, 1776, Col. Thomas Crafts read the Declaration of Independence for the first time to the people of Boston from the balcony of the State House. Abigail Adams joined the “multitude into King Street to hear the proclamation.” The assembled crowd was composed of recently inoculated Bostonians and those with previous immunity who had stayed behind to take care of the rest. . . .

Boston’s “freedom summer” ended on Sept. 18, 1776, when the city ordered the guardhouses closed and the city to reopen for business. Although statistics were not immediately published, 20 years later, Thomas Pemberton, a businessman and member of the newly founded Massachusetts Historical Society, compiled the numbers. In the summer of 1776, Boston saw 29 deaths from 304 cases of natural smallpox. By contrast, only 28 deaths were reported with 4,988 Bostonians inoculated. Ninety percent of Boston’s nonimmune population was inoculated, saving hundreds of lives.
The implications for how our population should respond today are obvious. Some choose to reject them.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

“A version of its origin story it can love?”

This weekend the New York Times published Jennifer Schuessler’s dispatch “The Battle for 1776,” about the relationship between the ongoing political battle over historical memory and the upcoming Sestercentennial.

Schuessler asked, “does America still need a version of its origin story it can love?”

I think that’s the wrong question. Nations develop origin stories that they love, even if those stories are mythological, exclusionary, or incomprehensible to outsiders. (Indeed, there’s an argument that some degree of incomprehensibility is a plus because acceptance of the story regardless helps to distinguish insiders from outsiders.) The American nation will naturally have an origin story.

The bigger question is whether that story will serve the needs of our nation going forward. In my opinion, that requires deep grounding in historical evidence, including acknowledgment of what might even be considered national embarrassments, as well as commitment to shared ideals. Is that easy? No.

The article then asks if the “complexity, context and contingency” that academic historians emphasize might get in the way of an origin story rather than enrich it. Fortunately, Schuessler goes on to quote some historians who offer ways to deal with such complexity.
Americans have been fighting over the history — and mythology — of the Revolution from almost the moment it ended. “There’s no one memory of the Revolution,” said Michael Hattem, the author of “Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution.” “And the way we remember it has always been shaped by contemporary circumstances.”

As its public mythology evolved, various groups laid claim to its memory and symbols, as a way of defining the nation and anchoring themselves to citizenship. It was Black abolitionists of the 1840s who first promoted the story of Crispus Attucks, the mixed-race Black and Native American sailor said to be the first to die for the Revolution in the Boston Massacre. . . .

Philip Mead, the chief historian of the Museum of the American Revolution, which opened in Philadelphia in 2017, said he hoped the 250th anniversary would help move past the perception of American history as either hagiographic or iconoclastic. . . . What we need from 1776, he said, isn’t an origin story, but a transformation story. “We learn who we are by understanding how we have changed,” he said. “And the Revolution was a huge inflection point in that change.”
With that perspective, the U.S. of A.’s origin story isn’t set in 1776. It’s older, and ongoing, and still to be written.

[The photo above was taken by Charles Rich in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, in 1976. Check out his whole collection here.]

Saturday, July 03, 2021

“The Marriage was a nullity”

Yesterday I followed Sarah Gore and the uncle who raised her, the Rev. Henry Caner, from Boston to London after the end of the siege of Boston.

In April 1777 Caner gladly married the young woman to a Englishman named Richard Manser. The minister anticipating leaving her in Britain with her husband while he returned to America as soon as all the troubles were over.

However, by the summer Caner was referring to his niece once again by her first married name, as in his 5 August leter to Dr. John Jeffries: “Mrs. Gore & Nurse desire to be remembered in this.”

Finally on 10 Jan 1778 Caner broke the news to Sarah Gore’s father, deacon Thomas Foster of Boston:
By a Line from your Son Wm inclosing a Letter to our Dear Sally, I am inform’d of the Death of your Son John. I sincerely condole with you & Mrs. Foster on so melancholy an event. And am sorry that I must add to your affliction by acquainting you with an expected misfortune that had befallen your & our dear Child.

In a former Letter I acquainted you that Sally was married, & we thought happily to a Gentleman of very promising appearance, but to my grief has turn’d out a villain.

They had been married but 5 Weeks, when Lord Dartrey [an Irish baron, shown above as painted by Mather Brown] called upon me & acquainted me that Mr. Mansor had a Wife living in a remote part of London at the time when he was married to Sally. This you may believe was like a Thunder Clap to me.

However as soon as Mansor came home I acquainted him with it, & turnd him immediately out of Doors.

The same Evening I made the matter known to Sally in the tenderest manner I was able. She fainted & with much difficulty could we recover her. To be short it went very near to cost her her life. With great Care & Attention, & the Assistance of several kind Ladies of rank & quality, she has in some measure got the better of it. Her health & flesh & strength & spirits are return’d & she is now Sally Gore again.

The Marriage was a nullity, as he had a wife at the time of his marrying Sally, so she has reassumd the Name of Gore, by which she is now known to all her friends & Acquaintance.

The former Wife is since dead & the Villain has had the Assurance to write me several insolent Letters…demanding my Sally as his lawful Wife. A Number of worthy friends have offer’d their service to vindicate her against his impudent Claim. Among others Lord Percy, & particularly the Noble Lord & Lady Dartrey, are so exceedingly obliging that they have offer’d to foot [?] the whole Expence if Mrs. Gore finds it necessary to prosecute the vilain.

In short, I am greatly comforted under this misfortune to find that the dear Child is restor’d to her health & spirits again.
In the end, the Rev. Mr. Caner never returned to America. Though strapped for funds without a pulpit, he took a second wife and settled in Cardiff in 1778; she was notably younger, but then he was in his late seventies, so she almost had to be. Later he moved to a town near Bristol and died in 1792.

Sarah Gore and her young son John did return to Boston, as did her father-in-law, John Gore. The younger John grew up to be a merchant, factory investor, and Federalist. In 1805 he managed to get three volumes of King’s Chapel records back from Caner’s heirs. He died in 1817.

(Incidentally, the “Lady Dartrey” who offered help to Sarah Gore in her time of trouble was a granddaughter of William Penn with the given name of Philadelphia Hannah Freame.)

Friday, July 02, 2021

“My Daughter, which she really is, tho’ but an adopted one”

This story came up (in my head at least) during yesterday’s online presentation from King’s Chapel about how the Revolution affected members of that Anglican congregation. I realized I hadn’t shared it here before. 

The minister of that church was the Rev. Henry Caner. He raised a niece named Sarah Foster, whom he called Sally. I don’t know how that arrangement came about since Sarah’s father, a deacon of Boston’s First Meetinghouse named Thomas Foster, was alive. Perhaps he had remarried.

The minister was very fond and protective of his niece, telling Earl Percy that he “took the Liberty of introducing [her], as my Daughter, which she really is, tho’ but an adopted one.”

In March 1768 Sarah Foster married John Gore, Jr., a dry goods merchant. His father had risen from the trade of decorative painter to become a paint merchant, militia captain, and Overseer of the Poor—moving from the ranks of mechanics to the ranks of gentlemen.

John and Sarah Gore had a baby, also named John, in 1769. He was baptized at the West Meetinghouse, which the Gore family attended. Evidently being raised by an Anglican minister hadn’t made Sarah an Anglican.

In 1771 John, Jr., unexpectedly died. That left Sarah Gore as a young widow with a baby son. I don’t know if Sarah Gore moved back in with her uncle then, but the Caner household was undoubtedly less crowded than the Gore household.

Then came the Coercive Acts and the war. The Rev. Mr. Caner was always one of the strongest supporters of the royal government. When the lines were drawn in 1774, Capt. John Gore also declared himself loyal to the king while most of his family, including son Samuel and son-in-law Thomas Crafts, were not only Patriots but active Patriots.

In March 1776, the British military evacuated Boston. Among the Loyalists leaving at the same time were Henry Caner, John Gore, Sarah Gore, and her little boy. “I was crowded with my Daughter & an old Houskeeper on board a small Vessel with forty people,” the minister wrote.

That extended family then moved on to London. The letters of Henry Caner, which were collected and published in 1972, show that in London Sarah Gore lived with Caner and that “old Houskeeper.” John Gore shared space with his friend Adino Paddock.

Caner spent a lot of effort trying to find a new income for himself as an Anglican cleric. Sarah Gore explored high social circles, visiting Lady Rockingham, meeting the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. Her uncle hoped these connections would lead to a living, but in July 1776 complained, “I meet with many ‘good Morrows’ & compassionable expressions, but that is all except a share of the Donations…for the suffering Clergy.”

On 22 Apr 1777, the Rev. Mr. Caner had big news for Deacon Thomas Foster:
Sally, who will write you by this Opportunity, has never been from me a Day since we left Boston. She had far’d as well as my Self, & has been fully attentive to me as to her Father, having never taken a step which I did not approve.

I have preserv’d her from a Connection with the Army, which I knew would be disagreeable to you, & in right of a Guardian or Father am about to dispose of her within a day or two to a Gentleman here in London, one Richard Manser, who appears to be a sober, well-bred young man, with whom I hope she will be happy.

They will live in the same house with me while I stay in England, & when we return to America I assure you I shall leave her behind me with regret.
A postscript to that letter reports the deed had been done: “Yesterday I parted with your Daughter, my dear Child & companion, Sarah Gore, having married her to Mr. Richard Manser, of London. I performed the Ceremony myself at St Martin’s Church, Westminster.”

That’s the famous church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, rebuilt in the 1720s and shown above in a photo by Robert Cutts. [It has a lovely café in the crypt.]

However, by 30 June the Rev. Mr. Caner was once again referring to Sally as “Mrs. Gore.”

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Thursday, July 01, 2021

A Collection of Art from Bengal via Berwickshire

Last month the Herald in Scotland reported on a collection of Indian art coming to the National Museums Scotland:
Brought back from India in 1766, the collection, which features paintings and lacquer work, was formed by Captain Archibald Swinton while he was in Bengal in north-east India between 1752 and 1766. . . .

The large paintings depict the Nawabs who were ruling Bengal at that time. When Capt Swinton, an army surgeon, first met them, they were the local rulers under Mughal sovereignty but subsequently came under British rule.

The paintings are believed to have been given as diplomatic gifts during this period of transfer of power. . . . An Edinburgh-trained surgeon, Capt Swinton, who lived from 1731 to 1804, travelled to Madras (now Chennai) in 1752 and secured a position as an army surgeon. He served in the East India Company’s army at the beginning of its military expansion in India and subsequently, with his Persian language skills and familiarity with local customs, became an interpreter for the East India Company.
Here’s a biography of Capt. Swinton from the Daily Star of Bangladesh. That article includes the Swinton family painting above, made by Alexander Naysmith in the 1780s.

Evidently the Nawabs gave this art to Capt. Swinton shortly before the East India Company and then the British military forcefully took over India. Indeed, the donors were probably showing off their wealth and power for political advantage.

As a result, this collection doesn’t carry the baggage of art objects and cultural artifacts that came to western countries through looting, conquest, or purchase in a manifestly unfair society.

National Museums Scotland has displayed some of the Swinton collection before. Now those artworks are becoming national property to settle a massive tax bill.

From The Scotsman I learn that the estate at issue belonged to the late Major-General Sir John Swinton, K.C.V.O., O.B.E., D.L., laird of Kimmerghame House and father of the actress Tilda Swinton.