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 31, 2021

Looking Ahead with the Omohundro Institute

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture launched the Across America, 1776 website to help plan and inform the country’s Sestercentennial commemorations.

The Omohundro Institute is based at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, but it takes a “vast” rather than narrow approach to the field, publishing the leading scholarly journal on early American history, the William & Mary Quarterly, and organizing international conferences.

New England will be well represented in the Across America, 1776 initiative because the Project Coordinator will be Prof. Joseph M. Adelman of Framingham State University. In this just-announced role, Joe Adelman will:
  • serve as the institute’s representative on the 250th project committee of the American Association of State and Local Historians.
  • write posts on the theme of the American Revolution and current commemorations of it for the institute’s Uncommon Sense blog.
  • chair a regular online meeting of journalists and academics looking to write public-facing pieces on the history of the American Revolution.
  • develop programming for a podcast series on the topic.
  • be a liaison with regional historical associations.
Adelman is the author of Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789, and for the past seven years has been the Omohundro Institute’s Assistant Editor for Digital Initiatives, meaning he has deep knowledge of media networks then and now.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Ezekiel Price on “A Great & Glorious Event”

Yesterday’s posting raised the question of when exactly Boston heard about the American and French victory at Yorktown. The most immediate reaction would appear in people’s diaries, so I looked for my usual informants on daily events.

John Adams? In 1781 he was far away in Europe.

Merchant John Rowe? His surviving diaries end in 1779.

Printer John Boyle? He stopped compiling his “Journal of Occurrences” in 1778.

Shopkeeper and selectman Harbottle Dorr? He stopped collecting newspapers assiduously at the end of 1776, adding just a few issues from the next two years.

Robert Treat Paine was keeping his diary out in Taunton in 1781. Fortunately, the folks at the Massachusetts Historical Society have done the hard work of deciphering his handwriting and publishing pertinent entries in the Paine Papers. On 26 October, he wrote: “News came that Cornwallis had Surrendred to Genl. Washington, on 17th. Instant.”

I wanted more detail than that, and I wanted a voice from Boston. Fortunately, Harvard has preserved and digitized the 1781 almanac diary of Boston court official and insurance broker Ezekiel Price (1727–1802), who was a gossip sponge.

Price’s entry for 26 Oct 1781 appears on sequence 37–38 of the digitized version of this diary:
This Morning Mr. Thomas Hulbert [?] came to Town from Providence who brings a Hand Bill printed at Newport Yesterday in which is an Account that the afternoon before one Capt Lovett arrived there from York River who brot an account that Lord Cornwallis & his Army Surrendered Prisoners of War to Genl. Washington on the 18th. instant—

that Cornwallis had wth. him in Garrison 9000 Men with an immense quantity of Stores also that a 44[-gun warship] & one frigate & 100 Transports were Captured—

Mr. Winship who left Newport Yesterday tells me that he saw Capt. Lovett & his Mate who informed him that they say the British Flag lowered & the Continental & French Flags hoisted on the Forts at York Town—that he heard the Huzzas upon the Occasion—

they they saw the French Admiral go on shoar at the Fort that the American Vessells which lay below York Town went up to Town & that he went up so near the Forts that he could throw a Bisket on Shoar—

From all these Accts. it is beyond a doubt that Lord Cornwallis & his great Army with Vast quantities of Artillery & Military Stores are in Possession of our illustrious Genl. Washington & the Allied Army—A Great & Glorious Event—

On this Joyful occasion all the Bells in Town were rang most part of the day & the Sons of Freedom showed evident marks of their felicity. In the Evening the Coffee house was illuminated & Fireworks displayed.

Mr. [John?] Marston tells me that a French Gentleman acquainted him he had received a Letter from a Person who was in York Town at the time of the Surrender & adds that Genl. Washington had ordered 1200 Horse to the Reinforcement of Genl. [Nathanael] Greene.
Price recorded additional information on 27 and 31 October. He came to date Cornwallis’s surrender to the 17th, like Paine. That was when the British general first raised the white flag. It wasn’t until the 19th that the commanders signed surrender terms and the Crown troops gave up their arms, but we now treat that date as the significant one.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Betsey Heath’s Handwriting Lessons

Betsey Heath's name decorated with doodles from a page of her copybook on 3 July 1781
Last month Heather Wilson wrote on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Beehive blog about a copybook written out by Elizabeth Heath (1769–1853) in 1781, when she was a student at the Brookline school.

Wilson wrote:
The cover of her book is plain—the faded, splotched, brown paper does not even bear a title, or her name. Inside, however, Betsey’s personality shines through. At the bottom of each page, after copying lines, Betsey saved space for doodles. She always wrote her name, sometimes her school and the date, and then she added her flair.

On 3 July, twelve-year-old Betsey copied lines of “The living know that they must die” and then got to doodling, adding merry faces into two of her swirling lines.

On 9 August, she added squiggly lines, flashes of red ink amongst the black, and her school and the date crammed inside of a heart.

The doodling, however, was not the only unexpected find within Betsey’s book. On each page, above the doodles, Betsey copied down an aphorism, often one that rhymed.
Handwriting teachers assigned such aphorisms as penmanship practice—doubling, of course, as moral lessons. They even came to be called “copybook maxims.” The choice of sentiment was probably not up to the students. Still, they could reflect the spirit of the day.
The lines Betsey copied on 26 October 1781, however, were different. “Liberty, peace & plenty to the united states of America,” she wrote. The previous day’s lines had included the book’s only explicit Biblical reference (“Uriahs beautiful wife made King David seek his life”) and then the next day took on a distinctly patriotic tone. This was the only entry from her entire school year that was not a piece of wisdom, or advice. But, why?
Wilson deduced that the burst of patriotism at Betsy Heath’s school on that day came from learning about the British surrender to American and French forces at Yorktown earlier that month. Looking at other items in the M.H.S. catalogue, she noted that on 25 October John Carter printed a broadside with that news at Providence.

In fact, we can nail down the date that the news arrived at Boston.

TOMORROW: All we need is the right diary.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

A Painter’s Process

William Hogarth’s series of paintings titled A Rake’s Progress have been at Sir John Soane’s London mansion, now a delight-crammed museum, for more than two centuries.

Recently those canvases went to the Tate Britain museum for an exhibit, and while there received close scrutiny from experts at both museums and their machines. The Tate website just published an article about the findings.

It’s not surprising that Hogarth made alterations in the paintings as he went along—everything from small changes in pose to adding or removing figures. Many artists do that.

What struck me is Hogarth’s likely motivation for those changes. It wasn’t just improving the composition or storytelling, but it was also foiling copycat engravers whose work could cut into the sales of his own prints.

The article explains:
Hogarth’s first advertisement of a subscription for the eight prints of A Rake’s Progress on 9 October 1733, indicated that the paintings were complete enough by this time for prospective subscribers to view them. Yet the paintings were not announced as finished until 2 November 1734:
having found it necessary to introduce several additional Characters in his [Hogarth’s] Paintings of the Rake’s Progress, he could not get the Prints ready to deliver to his Subscribers at Michaelmas [Sept.29] last (as he proposed.) But all the Pictures being now entirely finished, may be seen at his House, the Golden-Head in Leicester-Fields, where Subscriptions are taken.
Having engraved and published his own prints for the highly successful earlier series, A Harlot’s Progress in 1732, Hogarth was well aware of the financial advantages of eliminating the print-seller and publisher as middlemen. However, he had also suffered significant loss of income and control over quality due to the prolific plagiarism of his prints.

In response, by 1734, Hogarth had begun ‘An Act for the encouragement of the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other prints, by vesting the properties thereof in the inventors and engravers’, petitioning parliament to support legal ownership and profit for an artists’ own work. Although Hogarth may have initially delayed the print publication due to compositional changes to his paintings, the several months of delays that followed were likely an attempt to negate the piracy, yet again, of his work by copyists.

In a final delay announced on 10 May 1735, Hogarth is explicit about the reasons for postponing the print distribution to subscribers:
N.B. Mr. Hogarth was, and is oblig’d to defer the Publication and Delivery of the abovesaid Prints till the 25th June next, in order to secure his Property, pursuant to an Act lately passed both Houses of Parliament, now awaiting for the Royal Assent, to secure all new invented Prints that shall be published after the 24th of June next, from being copied without Consent of the Proprietor, and thereby preventing a scandalous and unjust Custom (hitherto practiced with Impunity) of making and vending base Copies of original Prints, to the manifest Discouragement of the Arts of Paintings and Engraving.
Hogarth finally released the prints for A Rake’s Progress on 25 June 1735, as the Copyright Act came into force.
The article displays some prints derived from Hogarth’s work, not only more clumsily rendered but differing in the very details that Hogarth repainted. Evidently some competitors had gotten in to see A Rake’s Progress in progress, possibly in the guise of being potential customers, and come out with notes or sketches of the composition they saw—not knowing that the artist would make changes.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Florida’s Foamy Fort

the stone walls of Castillo de San Marcos in Florida
This article from Atlas Obscura about Castillo de San Marcos National Monument caught my eye recently.

Lena Zeldovich wrote:
In 1702, when the Spanish still ruled Florida, an English fleet from colonial Carolina approached Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish stronghold on the Atlantic shore. . . .

But even after nearly two months of being shelled with cannonballs and gunfire, the fort’s walls wouldn’t give. In fact, they appeared to be “swallowing” the British cannonballs, which then became embedded within the stone. . . .

Built from coquina—sedimentary rock formed from compressed shells of dead marine organisms—the walls suffered little damage from the British onslaught. As one Englishman described it, the rock “will not splinter but will give way to cannon ball as though you would stick a knife into cheese.”
This behavior intrigued people who grew up near the fort, including mechanical engineering graduate student Phillip Jannotti and high-school student Sanika Subhash, daughter of Jannotti’s dissertation advisor.

They formed a team that tested souvenir samples of coquina stone by firing small metal projectiles into the material and recording how it behaved with high-speed cameras.

The result:
coquina had a rare ability to absorb mechanical stress, which stemmed from its loosely connected inner structure. Although the little shell pieces that make up coquina are piled and pressed into each other for thousands of years, they aren’t cemented together, so they can shuffle around a bit.

So when a cannonball slammed into the coquina walls of Castillo de San Marcos, it crushed the shells it directly hit, but the surrounding particles simply reshuffled to make space for the ball. “Coquina is very porous and its shells are weakly bonded together,” Jannotti says. “It acts almost as natural foam—the balls sink in, and slowly decelerate.”

It’s not clear whether the Spanish had known about coquina’s properties when they first built the walls, mining the stone from the nearby quarry within what is today Anastasia State Park. But they certainly learned to appreciate the material’s absorptive properties. When they realized coquina’s unique abilities, they used the fort walls for target practice.
The Spanish thus practice-attacked their own fort, not worrying about weakening its walls. And it worked. Another British colonial force tried to take the fort again in 1740, also without success.

Because of victories elsewhere, Britain held Florida from 1763 to 1783. During the Revolutionary War, therefore, this site was known as Fort St. Mark.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

“I sincerely thought I was serving the interest of my country”

Yesterday I followed the narrator of The Wonderful Appearance of an Angel, Devil and Ghost through his encounter with an Angel early on the morning of 15 Oct 1774.

The next stretch of the little book begins:
I continued in my chamber till ten o’clock, my usual hour of rising, then came down and desired my breakfast might be got ready by my return, which would be in about half an hour.
I fully sympathize with the man as a late riser, but can’t imagine going out in the morning without having had breakfast.

Later, the narrative shows the gentleman starting midday dinner at 4:00 P.M., and the editor adds a footnote to assure readers this is common “for these kind of gentry.” That suggests readers of 1774 would have found the character’s habits unusual but not impossible to believe.

The narrator continues:
Afterwards I took a walk (which hath lately been my practice) round the camp in the common, having a card of permission…
There was indeed a contingent of the British army camped on Boston Common; this was the first time I recall reading about a “card of permission” letting civilians walk around that camp.

The gentleman asks a “Captain ———” about any mysterious noises the night before. The captain responds, “you know you was very drunk last night.” Another officer steps in to say, “I was in company with him, and assisted in carrying him part of the way home.” A colonel invites the narrator to dine with him the next day. These details show that the narrator is friendly with the army in October 1774, and thus a Loyalist.

The narrator’s politics come to the foreground in the following pages. He rereads “the late acts of parliament” but “could not discover…that the parliament had any design of distressing the people of America.”

At 12:30 A.M., the gentleman hears “a most terrible shout,” and a Devil appears at his bedroom door. (This apparition carries a book and halter, as shown in the accompanying woodcut, but those details are never significant in the text, suggesting the booklet was written around illustrations printer John Boyle had on hand.) This Devil says he has been ordered there by the Angel “to converse with you concerning the crimes you have been guilty of towards your country.”

The gentleman insists he is “one of the best friends the country has.” As an example, he mentions writing letters to London supporting laws “whereby the inhabitants of the American colonies might be upon an equal footing with their brethren in Great-Britain.” A footnote to this line says acidly, “In regard to TAXES, I imagine.”

The Devil and the man discuss the Stamp Act, Declaratory Act, Townshend duties, and the destruction of the tea. The gentleman complains about how mobs attacked “our late worthy governor H[utchinson], lieutenant-governor O[liver], the honourable Mr. H[allowell], Justice S[tory], &c.” The booklet thus lays out the preceding nine years of conflict through Loyalist eyes, concluding that the Patriots “will expose themselves to the severest punishment in this world, and to damnation in the next.”

The editor pushes back against this view in the footnotes, but the Devil simply tells the gentleman he’s wrong. If he continues to stick to that political position, he’s bound for hellish torment. Rather than try to tempt the man into further wrongs, this unusual Devil says, “I conjure you desist, before it is too late.”

The next night the gentleman receives his third supernatural visitor, a “GHOST of one of my deceased ancestors” (shown here). This specter voices a standard argument of the New England Patriots, still echoed today: that the early English settlers, “for the sake of of enjoying that liberty which was denied them at home, were content to leave everything else that was dear behind, and seek it in the hospitable wilds of America.” The sacrifices of that generation gave the people of 1774 “their liberties and properties,” which they had to preserve and pass on.

The Ghost thus shames his descendant, and the gentleman finally bursts out:
VENERABLE SHADE! ’Tis true, (with shame I acknowledge it) I have gone on in the way you have described; but believe me, I never till the last night had the least apprehension that I was doing wrong, I sincerely thought I was serving the interest of my country.
The narrative closes with its central character “determined, if I could withstand the shining temptation, to be once more an honest man.”

The supposed editor then adds a paragraph hoping the man’s repentance sticks, and the publication ends with thirteen lines about the reality of hell from the British poet Elizabeth Rowe.

All in all, the booklet leaves me wondering about its intended audience. Though there are a couple of hints that the gentleman was paid by a secret cabal to promote stricter laws on America, it never shares details of that conspiracy or how it worked. Instead, it presents the main character as sincere in his belief that obeying those laws is the colonists’ best course. Was this written for other Loyalists who needed converting? For Patriots who enjoyed the sight of an opposing gentleman scared into submission? Did its author mean to change anyone’s mind or confirm readers’ righteousness?

Saturday, December 25, 2021

“Having on the usual garb of an ANGEL”

The Wonderful Appearance of an Angel, Devil and Ghost described the experiences of an unnamed “Gentleman of Boston” over the course of three days and nights, 14–16 Oct 1774.

On the morning of 17 October, that man reportedly narrated his experiences to a friend, identified by the initials S.W., in front of three witnesses: S.P., J.W., and P.R.

S.W. prepared the manuscript for publication, adding “a few Marginal Notes,” a preface, and a paragraph and poem at the end. He completed his work on 1 December, and John Boyle advertised the book on sale a week later.

At least, that’s what the booklet said. All but the most credulous readers knew that this presentation was a sham, designed to lend a wild cautionary tale some veneer of veracity.

There was in fact a genre of pamphlets about supernatural visitations, as Robert Girouard studied in a paper published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts in 1982. The printer Ezekiel Russell was especially active in issuing these, and he soon reprinted A Wonderful Appearance.

In the 1769–1791 period Girouard studied, most of the supernatural visitors voiced a mix of religion and politics, as did those in A Wonderful Appearance. There were also older ghostly booklets with more purely religious messages, such as the oft-reprinted Prodigal Daughter.

This gentleman’s story starts with him “supping abroad among a select company of my jovial acquaintance” and returning to his “lodgings”—he doesn’t have a wife or appear to own his home. As the man gets ready for bed:
I heard an uncommon noise, which to me appeared but at a little distance from the house; the sound, though awful, was very harmonious; it continued I apprehended about ten minutes; I was amazingly terrified at it, not knowing how to account for such an unnusual sound. However, being very anxious of knowing what it was, I immediately went to the window, opened it, and looked out, but before I was able to unfasten it the noise ceased, though my astonishment still continued.
The noise recurs for short bursts as the gentleman goes to bed at midnight. (The booklet is interesting evidence about sleeping hours, at least for a wealthy gentleman in Boston.)

Then, “just after the town-clock struck two,” the noise returns along with “a violent wrap against the window next my bed-side.” The shutter bursts open.
About two minutes afterwards a person appeared outside of the window, having on the usual garb of an ANGEL, (with a sword in one hand, and a pair of scales in the other) who unfastened it, and entered the room—— . . .

He…taking a large chair which stood by the bed-side, seated himself close by me, and said, “Arise man from your bed—put on your cloaths—take a chair and seat yourself down by me—I have something to communicate of the greatest importance—your temporal—your eternal welfare are interested in it.”
I like the detail of the Angel (shown above) being able to appear in midair in the midst of unearthly harmonies but needing to unfasten the window and pull up a chair.

The Angel tells the gentlemen he brings a warning to “you, and through you, all those of your cast,…such abandoned, such hell-deserving wretches as you are”:
“…unless prevented by a speedy repentance, and restitution being made to the many hundreds who are now groaning under the weight of that oppression you have been instrumental in bringing upon them, you may expect (and that justly) to meet with the severest punishment, if not in this, in the future state, the hottest place in hell being reserved for all those who have proved themselves TRAYTORS to their KING and COUNTRY.”
The gentlemen begins to repent of being “tempted as I have been, to sell my country for unrighteous gain.” A footnote explains that some suspected he “received an annual stipend for his unwearied endeavors to carry into execution the wicked designs of a cursed Cabal.”

But once the angel “flew rappidly out at the same window” at “about three o’clock in the morning,” the gentleman starts thinking the visitor “might be nothing more than a delusion, as I had drank a little too freely in company the last evening.” He concludes: “I at last determined…to sit up the next night and if the Devil should chance to come, as the Angel had predicted, to arm myself with courage, and stand, if possible, the combat, like a man of spirit and resolution.”

TOMORROW: Oh, yeah, that’ll work.

Friday, December 24, 2021

John Boyle’s Big Publication for December 1774

On 8 Dec 1774, with the Massachusetts government riven, the port of Boston closed, and more redcoat soldiers arriving in town from other parts of North America, Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy newspaper ran this advertisement:

This day was published, (price Half a Pistareen) and sold at JOHN BOYLE’s Printing-Office, next door to the Three Doves in Marlborough-street.

Or, the WONDERFUL APPEARANCE of an Angel, Devil and Ghost, to a Gentleman in the Town of Boston, in the Nights of the 14th, 15th, and 16th of October last: To whom in some measure may be attributed the Distresses that have of late fallen upon this unhappy Metropolis.

Related to one of his neighbours the morning after the last visitation, who wrote down the narrative from the Gentleman’s own mouth; and it is now made public at his desire, as a solemn warning to all those, who, for the sake of aggrandizing themselves and their families, would entail the most abject wretchedness upon MILLIONS of their fellow creatures.

Adorned with four plates, viz. 1. The Devil. 2. An Angel, with a sword in one hand, a pair of scales in the other, 3. Belzebub, holding in his right hand a folio book, and in his left a halter. 4. A Ghost, Having a white gown, his hair much dishevilled
The young printer Boyle ran almost exactly the same advertisement through early January in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston Gazette, and even the Loyalist-leaning Boston News-Letter. He arranged for the printers of the Essex Gazette of Salem and the Essex Journal of Newburyport to advertise and sell the book.

In 1775 The Wonderful Appearance of an Angel, Devil and Ghost was reprinted in Marblehead by Ezekiel Russell and in New York by John Anderson.

This 32-page booklet purported to be the account of a wealthy friend of the royal government whose sleep was disturbed by three supernatural visitors warning him to change his ways and start caring more about his neighbors.

COMING UP: Extracts for the holidays.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

What Was “Legal Age” in the British Empire?

Earlier this month I listened in on a Massachusetts Historical Society seminar on a project digitizing Massachusetts Superior Court records.

Poking around on the web after that session led me to this Family Search page explaining some of the nuances of the colonial court system.

Low on that page is a list of what it meant to be “of legal age” under English law, according to Giles Jacob’s A New Law-Dictionary, first published in 1729 and reprinted throughout the century. Here’s a P.D.F. download of the first edition, which I double-checked for this information:

12: “take the Oath of Allegiance to the King.”
14: “Age of Discretion” so that he can “consent to Marriage, and chuse his Guardian.”
21: “may alien his Lands, Goods and Chattels.”
21: “may be a Member of Parliament.”
24: “can be ordained a Priest.”
30: can “be a Bishop.”

09: “is dowable”—able to have/receive a dower.
12: “may consent to Marriage.”
14: “she is at Years of Discretion, and may chuse a Guardian.”
21: “may alienate her Lands, &c.”

“Persons under the Age of Fourteen, are not generally punishable for Crimes; But if they do any Trespass, they must answer for the Damage.”
“Fourteen is the Age by Law to be a Witness,” and “in some Cases a Person of nine Years of Age has been allow’d to give Evidence.”
14: “may dispose of Goods and Personal Estate by Will; tho not of Lands ’till the Age of Twenty-one.”
“A Person under Twenty-one, may contract for Necessaries suitable to his Quality, and it shall bind him.”
“One under Age may be Executor of a Will.”

21: “the full Age of Man or Woman; which enables them to contract and manage for themselves, in Respect to their Estates, until which Time they cannot act with Security to those as deal with them; for their Acts are in most Cases either void, or voidable.”
“A Person under the Age of Twenty-one may make a Purchase; but at his full Age may agree or disagree to it.”

Age Prier is “when an Action being brought against a Person under Age for Lands which he hath by Descent,” a court may stay the action until the person comes of age. 
A person came of age at the end of the day preceding the date of their birth.

I first started to wonder about this question when I read the accounts of adolescents like Edward Garrick and even Henry Knox about the Boston Massacre. They weren’t yet of age to carry on business, but they were “of legal age,” as the depositions and court record said, to give testimony.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Music to Enjoy over the Holidays

Here are some links to music with colonial connections to enjoy at home over the upcoming holidays.

During last year’s stay-at-home holiday, the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes and Drums recorded a version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” on a multitude of fifes to a multitude of cameras, expertly arranged together.

Also from last year, the original cast of Hamilton reunited on video to perform some modern Christmas songs together. Top-notch singing. 

In an older vein, the Sons of Liberty (shown above) are three Smith brothers from Virginia who, at least until they went off to separate colleges, played period music at historic sites and reenactments. They, too, recorded a video at the end of last year; the eighteenth-century music starts at about 4:30. Here’s a half-hour concert commemorating the Battle of Cowpens.

Finally, the Museum of the American Revolution is hosting a live concert of period music that people can enjoy in their homes.

Tuesday, 28 December, 6:00 to 7:30 P.M.
A Hessian Holiday Concert
Museum of the American Revolution

The museum says:
Join us for this live concert and discussion exploring the surprising German influence on early American music performed by ensemble members of Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra Tempesta di Mare, hosted by Museum Curator of Exhibitions Matthew Skic with illustrated comments from Ulrike Shapiro, Executive Director at Tempesta di Mare. . . .

At the Battle of Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776, Washington’s army defeated a force of Hessian troops, German soldiers who fought alongside the British in America. Included among the 900 captured Hessians was a group of oboists (or “hautboists”), the favorite entertainment of Colonel Johann Rall, who was mortally wounded at Trenton. Accompanied by regimental drummers, these 10 oboists marched into Philadelphia as prisoners of war following the battle.

Less than a year later, the Continental Congress hired these musicians to provide entertainment for the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1777. John Adams wrote that the festivities included “fine music from the band of Hessians taken at Trenton.”

Some of these Hessian musicians returned to Hesse-Cassel following the end of the Revolutionary War, but some of them stayed. One of them, Philipp Pfeil, moved to Philadelphia and became “Philip Phile, music master,” later composing the march we know today as the ceremonial march of the Vice President of the United States.
The concert will include both German music and early American patriotic songs, performed by five members of Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra Tempesta di Mare.

Online access to this concert costs $15, $10 for museum members. Purchase tickets here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Filling the New England Seat on the U.S. Supreme Court

For more than a century the U.S. Supreme Court had a seat reserved for New Englanders.

The early Presidents had two good reasons for that. First, by appointing justices equally from all regions of the country those Presidents—especially all those Virginians—avoided charges of favoring their home region.

Second, in its early years the Supreme Court justices also rode circuit, hearing federal cases in their districts. So a New Englander covering the northeastern states wasn’t so far away from home.

For the first two decades, that New Englander was William Cushing, formerly chief justice in Massachusetts. In 1795 President George Washington promoted him to be the chief justice, and the Senate confirmed him. But Cushing declined the commission. Being chief justice just wasn’t as prestigious and powerful as the job has become.

Justice Cushing remained on the bench longer than any of the other original court. He was also the last to wear the full judicial wig inherited from the British system. When Cushing died in 1810, President James Madison needed a replacement from New England. He also wanted someone from his own Republican party. Which was difficult because most New England lawyers were Federalists.

Madison’s first choice was Levi Lincoln of Hingham—former U.S. attorney general under Thomas Jefferson, former lieutenant and acting governor of Massachusetts (shown above). The Senate voted its approval. But Lincoln declined, citing bad eyes. Again, being a Supreme Court justice wasn’t that great.

Madison then nominated Alexander Wolcott of Connecticut, mentioned in yesterday’s posting. Wolcott had practiced law, but he was primarily known as the leader of his state’s Republicans. He engaged in harsh political disputes and oversaw patronage appointments. The closest he’d gotten to judicial experience was in his own patronage position as a Customs inspector. The Federalist Columbian Centinel called Wolcott’s nomination “abominable.”

Nonetheless, the Republicans were firmly in charge of the U.S. Senate, 28 votes to 6, and Supreme Court nominees usually got approved within a week. In Wolcott’s case, the Senators referred the court nomination to a committee for the first time. Then they didn’t take a vote until nine whole days later, on 14 Feb 1811.

The U.S. Senate rejected Alexander Wolcott’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 24 to 9. This was the largest percentage against any court nominee ever. Even Republican Senators voted against the nomination by a margin of at least 2:1.

Wolcott went back to Connecticut politics. President Madison looked around for another New Englander to nominate to the high Court. Again, he needed a prominent Republican—but one with a less partisan history.

Madison’s third choice was John Quincy Adams, former Federalist Senator from Massachusetts. Adams had bucked his party’s foreign policy on several issues under President Thomas Jefferson and ended up a politician without party backing. In 1809 Madison appointed him the U.S. minister to Russia, a country Adams had first visited as a teen-aged secretary for the Continental Congress’s envoy, Francis Dana.

As with Lincoln, the Senate gave their advice and consent in favor of President Madison’s nominee. And as with Lincoln, the nominee declined the job. Adams would go on to be U.S. Secretary of State, President, and a long-time Representative from Massachusetts.

Once again President Madison scanned the New England legal landscape. The best candidate he could find was a lawyer from Marblehead, only thirty-two years old, with one term in the U.S. House of Representatives under his belt. This was Joseph Story, still the youngest person ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Story was confirmed and served thirty-three years. As an associate justice, law professor, and author, he exercised more influence over the U.S. legal system than anyone else in the early 1800s but Chief Justice John Marshall.

When Story died in 1845, President James K. Polk nominated Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire to succeed him. After Woodbury, the justices in that line were Benjamin Curtis of Watertown; Nathan Clifford of Maine; Horace Gray of Boston; and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., of Boston. The replacement for Holmes was Benjamin Cardozo of New York, though by that time Louis Brandeis—a native of Kentucky who had established his legal career in Boston—was representing New England on the high bench.

Monday, December 20, 2021

“To serve the purpose of their party”

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been quoting letters to the newspapers of Litchfield, Connecticut, about papermaker Elisha Horton’s conversations with his employer, Julius Deming, around the election of 1804.

Horton stated in court and in the press that Deming told him to vote his conscience. Four other people said Horton had complained to them at the time that he was afraid to vote Republican out of fear Deming would fire him and/or shut down the paper mill.

What could make this situation more difficult? Religion! As I noted back here, Horton and his wife were founding members of Litchfield’s Methodist Episcopal Society.

A week after printing Horton’s letter about Election Day, the Federalist Litchfield Monitor evidently ran a piece arguing that the man’s “brethren, who are Methodists, believe him to be a pious, honest, sober citizen for they have proved him and known his ways…”

That 5 Feb 1806 issue of the Litchfield Monitor isn’t in the newspaper database I can access, if it survives at all. I’m quoting from the 5 March Witness, the town’s Republican newspaper.

That issue of the Witness published a letter from four men; one of them, John Stone, had already written to contradicting Horton’s account of 1804. Together those men certified “That said Horton for two years past, or more, has not been considered by the Methodist society in this town as a member of said society.”

The Litchfield Monitor responded on 12 March with two letters. The first said that Horton was being “assailed with all the malice of Democracy, because he was too honest to sell himself to the tools of Alexander Wolcott.” Those four Methodists had written about Horton’s church membership merely “to serve the purpose of their party.”

Alexander Wolcott (1758-1828) was the leader of Connecticut’s Republicans. That year he accused the Federalists of having “priests and deacons, judges and justices, sheriffs and surveyors, with a host of corporations and privileged orders, to aid their elections.” There was no love lost between the parties.

Then came a letter from Horton himself, declaring
Within two years last past, the Methodists…made application to me to become their Leader. . . . I told them that my business was such, that I could not conveniently attend their meetings on week day, and that my constitution would not admit of my being out so far from home in the night, &c.

I have repeatedly attended their Sabbath preaching, and have cast in my mite at their contributions, and had requested John Stone several years ago to call on me when there were any collections to be made.
Another of the certificate signers, Horton said, had carried his contribution to “a poor Methodist Preacher” in a distant town. He concluded:
I am grieved to the heart, to find that men can be so infatuated as to testify as they and others have done, with the notorious design, to wound my feelings, and to murder my reputation.—I do not write this to prejudice you against them, but to let you know how far I am innocent as to what they have testified.
Horton did not, however, attempt to directly deny what Stone and others had written about his dilemma in 1804.

It appears that everyone in Litchfield now knew the real situation. Horton felt dependent enough on Deming that not only had he stopped voting for Republicans, but he also refused to acknowledge feeling any pressure from Deming. This was, after all, before secret ballots.

Later in 1806, Deming sold the paper mill to the partnership of Federalist lawyer Aaron Smith, shopkeeper Timothy Peck, and Horton. After two years Peck and Horton bought Smith out. That evidently restored the papermaker’s political independence.

Life in Litchfield went on. The Federalists lost power nationally, then even in New England. Horton retired from the mill. The election of 1824 shook up the national parties, producing a new duality of Democrats and Whigs.

When Horton died in 1837, the Litchfield Enquirer praised him as a “revolutionary officer” and a veteran of the Boston Tea Party. It also said, “As in ’75, so in ’37, he was a zealous and staunch whig.”

Sunday, December 19, 2021

“Could not, while in the employment of Mr. Deming, act on the republican side”

Elisha Horton’s letter detailing what he would have said in court about Julius Deming, quoted yesterday, was actually a response to a previous publication.

Sometime around the turn of the year 1806, Horton testified in a court case that hinged on whether Deming had tried to influence votes in favor of the Federalists.

That day didn’t go well. As in his letter, Horton evidently complained of “a violent pain in my head.” Deming’s political opponents thought that was just a lousy excuse for evasiveness.

On 8 Jan 1806, the Republican Witness newspaper of Litchfield, Connecticut, published an item headlined “Cure for the Headache; Or a Spur for a Dull Memory.” It was a letter from a local man named John Kilborn saying:
That a few days before freeman’s meeting [i.e., Election Day], in the Spring of 1804, I was in company with Mr. Elisha Horton, of Litchfield, at the Paper-mill then owned by Julius Deming, Esq; Mr. Horton then being under the employ of said Deming, as principal workman in said mill.

Mr. Horton remarked to me that he had been requested to use his influence with the republicans to put forward as general an attendance at the approaching election as possible; but that his situation was such with Mr. Deming, that he could not consistently with his interest, pursue that open line of conduct,…that he was convinced from what Mr. Deming had repeatedly manifested to him when speaking to him on the subject of politics, that he would actually discharge him in case he was known to be active with the republicans. . . .

he observed that but a few days before this, Mr. Deming had conversed with him very fully on politics, and had spoken freely of republicans, and declared so sure as republicanism prevailed in Connecticut, he should quit all business and retire to private life;…that he [Horton] was so fixed in business and had expended so much in repairing a convenient dwelling, expecting to continue a long time in said business, that to be turned aside [i.e., laid off], would greatly injure him…
Some of Kilborn’s story matched Horton’s—they agreed that Deming disliked the rise of Republican politics in Connecticut and threatened to retire from business if it continued. But Kilborn said Horton had told him something that Horton denied in court and in his letter: that Deming would fire him for being a Republican voice, and he couldn’t afford to make his boss that angry.

Horton saw one solution to his dilemma, Kilborn wrote: “he was very desirous that some republican should set forward and purchase the paper-mill of Mr. Deming, so that he could continue in business, and at the same time act freely in politics.”

On Election Day, Kilborn wrote, Horton told him about another conversation with Deming, in which the factory owner identified his manager as “a committee-man” for the Republicans and Horton had denied that. Again, that matched Horton’s version of events.

But then Kilborn said Horton did something he hadn’t told the court: that he “immediately left the store, and went to see Mr. Moses Seymour, jr. and had earnestly solicited him to purchased the Paper-Mill.” Seymour (1776–1824, shown above) was the head of the local Republicans.

Moses Seymour, Jr., himself wrote a letter published in the Witness on 24 February:
On the morning of Freeman’s meeting day in April 1804, Mr. Elisha Horton called on me (his feelings appearing to be much agitated) and requested me to purchase Mr. Deming’s paper mill, as he told me he wished for his own sake, that it might be shifted into other hands; that he could not, while in the employment of Mr. Deming, act on the republican side of politics; that he believed from what Mr. Deming had said, that he would discharge him from his employment provided he so acted, which would be a great damage to him as he had laid out considerable money in repairs, expecting to continue in his business; he said he dare not stay and vote that day; I told Mr. Horton he best knew what Mr. Deming had said to him; and if he believed his fears well founded, I could not advise him to stay and vote.
In that same issue, John Stone told the same story that Kilborn had. So did Amos Parmalee, Jr., who added:
On the day of the late trial for a libel on Esq. Deming, previous to the commencement of the trial, I saw Mr. Horton at Timothy Peck’s store. I observed to him that I was requested to attend this trial and testify what he (Horton) had confessed to me requesting Mr. Deming’s influencing his voting. He then requested me to step one side with him in private; which I did.—He then addressed me thus: “what I told you about Esq. Deming was a confidential matter—I expect the lawyers will question me whether Mr. Deming has influenced me; but I am not obliged to answer them.”
The clear implication of the letters in the Witness was that Horton had curtailed his political behavior and his honesty in order to stay in Julius Deming’s favor. Because Deming remained his boss.

TOMORROW: Horton’s community reputation.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

“Vote for those you in conscience think to be good men”

On 29 Jan 1806, the Litchfield Monitor, the Connecticut town’s Federalist newspaper, published a long letter from papermaker Elisha Horton.

Horton had been called as a witness in the libel trial between local magistrate and merchant Julius Deming and the town’s other newspaper, the Witness. That Republican paper had accused Deming of intimidating voters.

Evidently, Horton hadn’t testified to his liking, or other people’s liking. His letter said:
The following is a simple state of facts, which I had recollected, and committed to writing, previous to giving in my evidence, at the late Court.—I had accidentally left the writing at home—and partly owing to a violent pain in my head, and partly to my being interrupted when giving in my testimony, I could not relate the same so fully to the Court as I could have wished.

June, 1802, if I mistake not, I took the charge of Mr. Julius Deming’s Paper-mill—and from that time until the fall of the year 1803, Mr. Deming had not opened his mouth to me upon politics.—Freemen’s meeting day [i.e., Election Day], I went in his Store, and observed to him thus:—Esq. Deming, I have come to vote this day, just as I did in old times,—I have seen no Nominations, or list of Candidates on either side, and shall vote for those I think to be good men, or best qualified for office.

Mr. Deming replied, “I never shall blame you for voting as you please; but hope you will be conscientious in voting, or vote for those you in conscience think to be good men.” . . .

During the winter [of 1804], many of both parties were inquisitive, to learn of me, on which side I should vote—I uniformly told them that I should not vote on either side—that I should not attend meeting.

In the spring of the year, Orin Stone, came to the mill, with a line as he said from M. S. jr. informing me, that I was appointed as one of their [the Republicans’] Committee, and wishing me to act accordingly.—I refused, desiring him to give my respects to Mr. S. and tell him I wished to be excused.
Other articles tell me “M. S. jr.” was local merchant Moses Seymour, Jr. (1774-1826). His father had been one of Litchfield’s Revolutionary leaders and was still serving as town clerk.
Freemen’s-meeting day arrived, and having little or no help in the mill, I concluded to go into town, and see Mr. Deming concerning a pair of Writing Moulds [frames for papermaking], which were expected on from Philadephia—…After conversing about them, and I was about to leave the store,—‘And shall you not stay to meeting?’ (said Mr. Deming.)—

No, replied I; I think not.

“Well, (said Mr. Deming) if you do stay and vote, I tell you now, as I told you the last year, vote for the men you in conscience think to be good men.

I then, for the first time, introduced the subject of politicks to Mr. Deming, this: ‘Squire Deming, I am dissatisfied.

“At what?” (replied he)—

At certain principles which are prevailing among the democrats (said I)—

Mr. Deming seemed a little surprised, and said—“Why I am informed that you are one of their Committee.”

I answered, they have appointed me, but I have refused to act as one. I observed to Mr. Deming that I had voted several times on the Democratic side; as I was dissatisfied with some of the measures towards the close of Adams’s administration, but was now more dissatisfied with the democratically principles which are prevailing among us.

Mr. Deming observed,—“Mr. Horton, I have never said but a little to you upon politicks.”—

Not half so much as I wish you had, said I.—

Mr. Deming then observed to me,—that “there was something very alarming in the new order of things which designing men were endeavouring to introduce into this state;”—adding, that “he had formerly transacted business on a very large scale,” &c.—“that he had already lessened his business in a great measure;”—and concluded thus,—That should the State of Connecticut be revolutionized, he should still lessen his business, or give up all his business abroad, and retire to private life.

The same evening a report was circulated in the western part of this town (and perhaps in other places) that Mr. Deming had threatened me in a very pointed manner, that if I presumed to vote on the democratic side, he would immediately turn me out of his employ—Mr. Arunah Blakeslee called upon me the same evening to know the truth of the report: I denied it then,—I deny it now,—and shall deny it as long I live.
Blakeslee was from the west side of Litchfield. I can’t find anything else about him, so he doesn’t appear to have been prominent, just an interested voter.

TOMORROW: Contrary voices.

(The photograph above shows Julius Demings’s 1790s house as it looks today, courtesy of Dan Sterner’s handsome Historic Buildings of Connecticut.)

Friday, December 17, 2021

“An alledged libel against Julius Deming”

While researching the life of Elisha Horton, as I laid out yesterday, I came across newspaper articles about a local political controversy in the early 1800s.

The other main figure in this story is Julius Deming (1755–1838, shown here). Born in Lyme, Connecticut, Deming became a captain of cavalry under his cousin Col. Henry Champion and then, also under cousin Henry, an army commissary at Litchfield.

As the war ended, Deming remained in Litchfield and set himself up as a merchant. He married Dorothy Champion, cousin Henry’s daughter. (Another daughter was Deborah Champion, and I wrote about her legend back in 2014.)

For business Deming traveled to London, traded with China, and formed partnerships with prominent men like Benjamin Tallmadge and Oliver Wolcott. He grew richer. He became the local magistrate and served in some state and county offices, though his family understood him not to enjoy politics. (This story suggests he had strong feelings about politics nonetheless.)

Among the businesses Deming invested in was a paper mill, where he hired Elisha Horton as his manager. One source tells me Horton started work at the Litchfield paper mill in the early 1790s, the other that he started work for Deming in the early 1800s. Maybe there were two mills, or maybe Deming bought a mill where Horton was already working for the previous owner.

The 1790s and 1800s of course saw the rise of party politics in the U.S. of A. New England Federalists like Julius Deming were shocked when Thomas Jefferson won the Presidency in 1800 and his allies made inroads in their region. Litchfield had two newspapers keeping an eye on each other: the Litchfield Monitor (Federalist) and the Witness (Republican).

By September 1805, if not before, Deming was in a feud with Selleck Osborn (1783–1826), the young publisher of the Witness. There was a dispute over coverage of a lawsuit involving Tallmadge and Wolcott. Then on 9 October the Witness published an article headlined “Reign of Terror” reporting that on the recent Election Day Deming had tried to intimidate a Republican voter.

On 11 December the Witness’s last piece of local news, festooned with a pointing hand, was:
Yesterday the Editor and Printer of the WITNESS, were indicted by the State’s attorney, for an alledged libel against Julius Deming, Esq.
That case hinged on Deming’s political methods. And when it went to court, a key witness was Elisha Horton.

TOMORROW: What Elisha Horton wanted to say.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Elisha Horton, Litchfield’s Tea Partier

As I looked for evidence of Elijah Houghton at the Boston Tea Party, I noticed that right before him on the more expansive lists was Elisha Horton.

In an old Yankee dialect, those names sound awfully similar. I half-wondered if people heard “Elisha Horton” and thought it meant “Elijah Houghton.” 

But Elisha Horton’s name doesn’t appear on the lists in Traits of the Tea Party or Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves, either. So I did more digging.

Elisha Horton was born on 11 Feb 1757 in Milton, son of Enoch and Hepzibah Horton.

That town was the site of Massachusetts’s first paper mill, set up in 1731. By 1763 those mills were said to be “in a ruinous Condition,” but because a supply of paper was “very advantageous to the Province” the Massachusetts General Court granted mill owners James Boies and Richard Clarke £100 to rebuild. Daniel Vose, Stephen Crane, and others added more mills in 1771 and 1773, which required more workers. 

I mention those mills because in later life Horton ran a paper mill in Litchfield, Connecticut. That suggests he spent his teen years training at the papermaking complex in Milton, but there’s no certain evidence of that.

The Rev. A. K. Teele’s 1887 history of Milton includes a “Muster Roll of Capt Daniel Voses Company of the Train in Milton of Col. [Lemuel] Robinsons Regiment that traveled to Roxbury and served as a Standing Company in the defence of Liberty before the Standing Army was compleated after the battle of Concord.”

One of the matrosses, or artillery privates, on that militia list was Elisha Horton. Those men served one to three months at the start of the siege of Boston.

That was quite possibly the eighteen-year-old Elisha Horton, but he didn’t mention that time when he applied for a Revolutionary War pension in 1818. Then again, he didn’t have to since he could point to continuous service in the Continental Army from February 1777 to June 1784. During that time Horton rose from private to sergeant major to ensign, the lowest level of officer. With his pension application he included his commission signed by Thomas McKean as president of the Continental Congress.

By 1788 Horton settled in Salisbury, Connecticut. Four years later he moved to the Bantam Lake area of Litchfield, where the merchant Julius Deming had financed a paper mill. From then until 1818 Horton managed that mill, becoming a co-owner after 1806. He and his wife Hannah helped to found the town’s Methodist Episcopal Society.

In 1818 Elisha Horton retired from and sold his interest in the mill. He then supported himself on his local property holdings. He also applied for a pension from the federal government for his Revolutionary service.

Hannah Horton died in 1824, and in the following year the sexagenarian Elisha married a woman in her early thirties named Marilla Bradley. Ultimately she lived until 1860, applying for a federal pension as a Revolutionary soldier’s widow.

Elisha Horton died on 30 Nov 1837. His estate was listed as insolvent, possibly because of the financial panic of that year. But he was still respected by his neighbors, and the 9 December Connecticut Courant ran this death notice:
In Litchfield, on the 30th ult. [last month], Mr. Elisha Horton, aged 81—a revolutionary officer and pensioner. He was one among the two or three survivors of those daring spirits who were engaged in throwing the tea into Boston harbor previous to the declaration of independence—the first overt act which preceded the revolution.
When two Boston newspapers, the Courier and the Traveler, reported Horton’s death the following week, they identified him as a “native of Boston” and a Revolutionary officer, but they didn’t mention the Tea Party. Did that mean the publishers of those papers didn’t believe that aspect of his life?

By 1837 Joshua Wyeth had coined the term “Tea Party,” and George Robert Twelves Hewes had become celebrated for his two as-told-to books about it. The event was famous. More and more people were trying to connect themselves or their ancestors to it. Eventually being at the Tea Party was almost a requirement for being a Patriot in Boston, producing false or exaggerated claims.

Was Horton truly involved in destroying the tea? It would have been unusual for a teen-aged apprentice from Milton to get into the action at Griffin’s Wharf—though not impossible. Did young Elisha witness the event, or pass on stories about it, and his neighbors came to assume he’d been part of it? Did Horton claim to be involved to bolster his patriotic reputation, knowing that no one in Litchfield was likely to contradict him?

Given his long service in the Continental Army and his local stature, I doubt Elisha Horton felt a strong need to burnish his credentials. However, we can’t assess the stories he told his neighbors since they don’t survive. We can’t be certain the report of him being part of the Tea Party is true, but we do know it dates back to 1837.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Looking for Elijah Houghton

Yesterday the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum decorated the grave of Elijah Houghton (1739-1819) of Harvard, Massachusetts, with a medallion indicating that he participated in the Boston Tea Party.

This event, shown here, was part of the museum’s campaign to mark all the graves of people known to have participated in the Boston Tea Party.

My immediate reaction when I read that news was, of course, what evidence shows that Elijah Houghton participated in the Boston Tea Party?

In the first three decades of the 1800s, newspapers in Boston and elsewhere mentioned men’s connections to the destruction of the tea after they died—usually not before.

Benjamin Bussey Thacher included a collected list of tea destroyers at the back of his 1835 book Traits of the Tea Party. I shared that list and analyzed it back at Boston 1775’s first Tea Party anniversary.

In 1884, Francis S. Drake wrote Tea Leaves, profiling all the Tea Partiers he could identify based on previous reports and family traditions, which were often flimsy or even outright unreliable.

And Elijah Houghton’s name doesn’t appear in any of those sources.

I found a report that Elijah Houghton’s name surfaced in a supplement that the Boston Globe published in 1973, two hundred years after the Tea Party. I don’t know what evidence that publication pointed to.

The contemporaneous record tells us that Elijah Houghton was born in the town of Harvard on 2 June 1739, son of Thomas and Mariah Houghton. The following month, his father had him baptized across the town line in Lancaster.

On 9 June 1766, soon after turning twenty-seven, Elijah Houghton married Mercy Whitney in Harvard. They had their first child, Thomas, a little more than seven months later. Ten more children are named in the town’s baptismal records: Elijah, Jr. (born in 1769), Abraham (1771), Moriah (1772), Mercy (1774), second Abraham (1777), Elisabeth (1779), Hannah (1781), Allice (1784), second Hannah (1786), and Sally (1788).

There’s no question that Elijah Houghton marched out of Harvard during the Lexington Alarm of April 1775. He served five days in Capt. Joseph Fairbanks’s militia company.

As for later in the war, there were multiple men named Elijah (or Elisha) Houghton enlisting from Massachusetts over the years, including one from neighboring Lancaster and two who lived long enough to apply for pensions. None of those Elijah Houghtons was linked to Harvard. And given the way Mercy Houghton kept having children at regular intervals, her husband probably wasn’t away from home for long.

When Elijah Houghton died in his home town in 1819, the local records identified him as “Elijah, s. of Thomas and Meriah, July 20, 1819, a. 80 y. 1 m. 18 d.” and as a Revolutionary War soldier. Mercy had died two years before.

Does it seem likely that Elijah Houghton participated in the Tea Party? That would mean a thirty-four-year-old farmer from Harvard, father of three children under age six, traveled forty miles and inserted himself into the Boston Whigs’ top-secret operation. I’d need to see strong evidence to believe that. Perhaps it’s out there, but I haven’t come across any sign of it.

The list of participants on the Tea Party Ships and Museum’s website doesn’t offer details about Houghton or when and why he was included. The institution appears to be casting a very wide net to ensure no possible Tea Party participants are left out before the event’s Sestercentennial.

TOMORROW: Or do we mean Elisha Horton?

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Prehistoric Dolphins at Washington’s Birthplace

While poking around the edges of yesterday’s posting on young George Washington and dolphins, I came across a news story I missed last year.

On 16 March 2020, the National Park Service staff at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Fredericksburg, Virginia, waded into a situation with the help of paleontologists.

I knew that N.P.S. historic sites have strict rules about arranging for archeological study before starting any excavation or construction to be make sure no useful finds are destroyed. I hadn’t thought about the rules for capturing even older scientific evidence, but of course the same principles would apply.

The Washington Birthplace site sits next to the Potomac River, or actually a bit above it, which explains the need for paleontolgists:
For several years park rangers have been regularly monitoring the emergence of fossils within the rapidly eroding cliffs along the shoreline at the monument. Some barely exposed fossil bone discovered and documented the previous year, by the monument’s chief ranger Tim Sveum and NPS paleontologist Justin Tweet, was now more visible revealing identifiable skeletal remains.

Monitoring and repeat photography of the freshly exposed fossils was undertaken by park ranger Wesley Spurr who observed that the high rate of erosion resulted in the loss of three bone elements over a two-week period.

Photos of the fossils visible at the surface were forwarded to paleontologists Vincent Santucci and Justin Tweet (NPS Paleontology Program), and Stephen Godfrey (Curator of Paleontology, Calvert Marine Museum), who confirmed the remains of the ancient marine mammal. It was also apparent that these important fossils were “at risk” and in imminent danger of being swept away.
The rapidly exposed fossil turned out to be from a form of extinct long-nosed dolphin in the Eurhinodelphinidae family. Furthermore, whle the scientists collected that specimen, they also found “a second and more complete fossil dolphin skull” nearby.

The paleotologists dated those fossils to fifteen million years ago. For Washington, that would have been an unbelievably long time. Educated Americans of his era were still learning about the world being less than five thousand years old.

Nonetheless, Washington was very curious about fossil discoveries, as Mount Vernon discusses. Like his fellow Virginia Thomas Jefferson, Washington was particularly interested in signs that elephant-like mastodons lived in North America.

In 1770, Washington wrote in his diary about a place along the Ohio River “Where the Elephants Bones were found.” Two years later, land speculator Dr. John Connolly sent him a fossil tooth from Big Bone Lick, writing, “I just stumbled upon the tooth I now present you with.”

In the winter of 1780, during the long stand-off with the British in New York, Gen. Washington and some of his officers took time to visit a site in Orange County where a ditch digger had unearthed bones and teeth. The man who owned that land, the Rev. Robert Annan, wrote that the commander-in-chief “told me, he had in his house a grinder which was found on the Ohio.”

I therefore think that Washington would have been intrigued and even excited by the news that deep below his childhood home were the fossilized bones of extinct dolphins.

Monday, December 13, 2021

“You can decipher most squiggles”

At the Washington Papers, research editor Kathryn Gehred recently wrote about the questions and challenges involved in transcribing people’s handwritten letters.

After all, our scribbles are often inconsistent and sometimes ambiguous, but we know what we mean to write.

Gehred’s first main example came from young George Washington’s notes on his voyage to Barbados.
In the center paragraph of the notebook, Washington wrote that the crew had “catched a Dolphin.” I wouldn’t want to correct his grammar here, as it shows the way Washington wrote, and likely spoke, when he was 19 years old.

Let’s look as well at the two times he spelled the word “dolphin.” The first time, Washington clearly wrote “Dolphin”; but in the second instance, it looks like he wrote “Dalpin.” There’s not a lot of difference between a script “o” and “a,” and Washington clearly spelled the word correctly once. Should I correct the spelling in the second instance?

I believe on this point editors would disagree on what to do. If this were the only time Washington used an “a” in place of an “o” for the word dolphin, I would correct it, figuring that the “o” looked like an “a” due to sloppy penmanship. However, since he repeatedly wrote “Dalpin” or “Dalphin” elsewhere in the journal, we chose to keep the letter as “a.” I believe showing that young Washington misspelled words, even words he had spelled correctly earlier in the paragraph, carries historical meaning.

I write the above to give readers who do not have a background in transcription a glimpse into some of the issues that transcribers face. In some cases, the handwriting is so bad that you really do need to rely on context for what the author meant to say, even if what you’re looking at on the page is pretty much just a squiggle. Eventually, if you become familiar enough with a person’s handwriting, you can decipher most squiggles.

But what do you do when a person is writing a name? It’s tough to figure out a name from a letter’s context. And you can’t always trust that the person writing the name knows how to correctly spell it—as anyone reading Alexander Hamilton’s and George Washington’s multiple attempts to spell “Kosciuszko” can tell you.
Indeed, Founders Online tells us that in August 1780 Washington and his military aides sent out letters referring to “Kosciusko” and “Kosciusco.” And that was just after Col. Thaddeus Kosciuszko sent headquarters a letter, demonstrating the spelling he obviously preferred.

That said, I can’t spell Kosciuszko myself. I just look it up and copy-and-paste when I need it.

(The image above is a sketch of a dolphin-shaped fountain ornament from eighteenth-century Britain, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

A Shortage of Anti-Federalist Verse

Of all the poems, light verse, and songs I’ve quoted from the debate over a new U.S. Constitution this week, only one has come from Anti-Federalists.

That wasn’t because I lean Federalist. It’s because the corpus leans Federalist.

The University of Wisconsin project documenting the ratification process has a collection of twenty-seven “Poetry and Songs” that mention the debate. So far as I can tell, the song from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that I quoted yesterday is the only one that’s explicitly Anti-Federalist.

A few of those songs or verses lampoon the whole debate over the proposed new constitution. But most express Federalist positions. Five are even labeled “Federal.” Five originated in Benjamin Russell’s strongly Federalist Massachusetts Centinel. Two are attacks on the Anti-Federalist governor of New York, George Clinton (shown above).

Why does this corpus lean to one side of the political debate? I think there are several overlapping reasons:
  • Most newspaper publishers were Federalist.
  • The Federalists predominated in the ports and market towns where newspapers were published, thus comprising more of the readers and supporters of those newspapers.
  • The wealthy gentlemen more likely to have the time, education, and fervor to write verse were also more likely to support the new Constitution.
  • Anti-Federalism wasn’t a united platform with a clear program to rally around. Rather, it was a collection of worries about the new frame of government. Those skeptics didn’t cohere into a party as Federalists had started to do when they advocated for a new constitutional convention.
Within a short time after the new Constitution was in place, and the promised amendments were under way, a network of newspapers opposed to the Washington administration developed. Within a few years they coalesced around Thomas Jefferson and his political allies. After that, the output of political poems and songs probably evened out.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

“But now a crew for constitution”

As I wrote yesterday, Pennsylvania ratified the new U.S. Constitution in December 1787. But that didn‘t end debate in the state.

Many people were still wary of a stronger federal government, especially in counties to the west—not coincidentally, the areas where the Whiskey Rebellion would challenge President George Washington’s administration in 1791–94.

The town of Carlisle was divided on the issue while the surrounding rural areas of Cumberland County were largely against it.

On 26 December, Federalists in Carlisle celebrated the ratification. Anti-Federalists showed up and told them “their conduct was contrary to the minds of three-fourths of the inhabitants.” That argument blew up into a full-scale riot.

The next day, the two sides had separate rallies. The Federalists, now armed, finished toasting the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists paraded with effigies of jurists James Wilson and Thomas McKean, who had favored the document.

Many in town wanted that to be the end of the affair, but officials took depositions about the riot, and on 28 January issued warrants for the arrest of twenty-one Anti-Federalists. Seven of those men refused to post bail as a protest. Tensions grew.

On 3 Mar 1788, John Shippen wrote to his father from Carlisle about the next confrontation:
On Saturday, by daylight, a company from the lower settlement entered the town, singing “Federal Joy,” (a song composed by one of their party, and published in the newspapers,) took possession of the Court-house, and rung the bell all the morning. (I should have mentioned, they were armed.)

Several other companies came in from different parts of the country, the last of which about ten o’clock. They then marched to the jail, and demanded the prisoners; upon which, they received them, placed them in their front, and marched through town huzzaing, singing, hallooing, firing, and the like. It is thought there was upwards of eight hundred. Such a number of dirty, rag-a-muffin-looking blackguards I never beheld.
Indeed, back on 23 January the Carlisle Gazette had published a four-column Anti-Federalist essay signed “The Scourge” which started with a verse from the Book of Judges and ended with a song titled “The FEDERAL JOY, to the tune of Alexander, hated thinking.” Using the melody of that drinking song, the poet parodied the Federalists’ attempted celebration the previous month.
AWAKE my muse in copious numbers,
Sing the federal joy compleat,
The loud huzzas the cannon thunders
Announce their triumphs to be great.

Behold they march with curls flying,
Weary steps, and powdered heads,
Soften’d hands, with eyes espying
Crowds of whigs assembled.

But see they halt, & now are forming
Regular as veteran bands,
Breathing defiance, scoffing, scorning,
The low opposers of their plans.

But now a crew for constitution,
Harshly then began to treat them,
Despising federal institution,
Nor aw’d by powder or pomatum.
This Anti-Federalist author referred to his side as “a crew for constitution” and “whigs,” as opposed to the “federal” party that was trying to replace the American constitution with, well, the Constitution.
From words to blows, those vile aggressors,
Rudely drove our harmless band,
Despoil’d the work of their hair-dressers,
Daring assumed the chief command.

Now helter skelter in disorder,
Flew our heroes to their homes,
Happy their legs were in good order,
To save from geting broken bones.

Lawyers, doctors and store-keepers,
Forsook their general in his need.
And from their windows began peeping
Viewing their valliant hero bleed.

But like veterans in the morning,
Appear’d in arms bright array,
Revenge, Revenge, they cry’d when forming
We ne’er again will run away.

Full thirteen rounds for federal honor
Shall thunder loud, tho’ hell oppose;
Display our new terrific banner,
To intimidate our scurvy foes.

Undauntedly three rounds they fir’d,
When lo a drum, most dreadful sound
Awak’d new fears, courage retir’d,
Paleness in every face was found.

Again their shanks were put in motion,
With rapid strides they homewards stretches,
Or to avoid another portion,
Or s--t a second pair of breeches.

And now the pannic being over,
When not afraid of club or rope,
Descends to law for to recover
Money for to purchase soap.

But not a souse for all their swearing,
Tho’ shirt and breeches both were foul’d;
Liberties sons are presevering,
Nor will by fed’rals be controul’d.

And if those harpies seek preferment
Thro’ their countries streaming blood,
They’ll dig graves for their interment,
Or smother in the purple flood.
This song has little to say about policy but a lot about class and masculinity. And the Shippen letter from six weeks later shows that the Carlisle Anti-Federalists liked it.