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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Sunday, January 31, 2021

Israel Putnam and ”an express from Boston”

engraved portrait of Israel PutnamOn 1 Sept 1774, British soldiers acting on orders of Gen. Thomas Gage took control of province-owned gunpowder stored in Charlestown (now Somerville) and two cannon used by a Cambridge militia company.

As governor and thus captain-general of the Massachusetts militia, Gage had the authority to issue that order. But coming on top of the Massachusetts Government Act the previous month, the move looked to local white men like another step toward depriving them of their traditional rights.

That evening there were some disturbances in Cambridge outside the house of William Brattle, the militia general who had prompted Gage’s move, and Jonathan Sewall, the royal attorney general. But eventually everyone went home, especially after Esther Sewall treated the crowd around her home to a round of drinks.

News of the event still spread, and the farther it got from Cambridge, the more dire it became. People were hearing there had been a second Massacre, or worse. The outer towns in Middlesex County were alarmed enough to send thousands of militiamen streaming into Cambridge the next day—a confrontation that historians later dubbed the “Powder Alarm.” (The first two chapters of The Road to Concord describe those two days in September 1774, which I argue is when Massachusetts’s resistance turned into revolution.)

Though there was still no violence in Cambridge, the rumors from 1 September continued to spread faster than that corrective good news. The alarm reached Israel Putnam (shown above) in Pomfret, Connecticut, in the late morning of Saturday, 3 September.

Putnam had extensive military experience in the Seven Years’ War, both with Rogers’ Rangers in the west and on the 1762 expedition to Cuba. He ranked as a colonel in the Connecticut militia. And on 3 September he saw his job as mobilizing that militia to help Massachusetts.

Putnam sent letters to men in other part of Connecticut, and he dashed off a special note to his neighbor Godfrey Malbone. We met Malbone last year in connection with the Anglican church he built in his largely Congregationalist corner of Connecticut.

Malbone had also reached the rank of colonel in the militia, mostly on the basis of his wealth. But he didn’t come from an old New England family, he’d spent some years at the University of Oxford, and he didn’t much care for his Yankee neighbors.

According to the Connecticut Historical Society, Putnam wrote to Malbone:

Saturday, 12 p.m.

Dear Sir. I have this minute had an express from Boston that the fight between Boston and Regulars [began] last night at sunset, the cannon began to and continued playing all night, and they beg for help,—and don’t you think it is time to go?

I am, Sir, your most obedient servant,
Israel Putnam
Malbone’s reply was short:
Go to the devil
TOMORROW: Connecticut on the march.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Online Architecture History Courses from Marblehead and Deerfield

This week I heard about two online courses on New England architecture being taught in the coming weeks.

For the Marblehead Museum, Judy Anderson will speak about “The Architectural History of Marblehead” and how the town’s buildings reflect its development over 350 years. Anderson has delivered versions of these talks at the museum and for the town, and now she’s going digital.

This course will take place over four Wednesdays, 10:00 to 11:30 A.M., with this schedule:
  • 3 February: British settlement in 1629 and boom town through the 1760s
  • 10 February: Georgian style developing across the 1700s until the economy crashed during the war
  • 17 February: Post-Revolution “Federal” style, the 1830s recovery, and Abbot Hall cornerstone laid in 1876
  • 24 February: Major fires in 1877 and 1888, the town as a resort, post-World War development
The sessions will explore topics like why Marblehead streets and houses look the way they do, the major defining elements of each architectural period and style, and how economic conditions and national events affected the town’s houses.

The cost for this course is $60, or $50 for Marblehead Museum members. Register at this webpage.

In March, Eric Gradoia, Historic Deerfield’s Director of Historic Preservation, will explore “The Vernacular Architecture of Early New England” for that museum.

These talks will trace the evolution of the dwelling house with respect to architectural trends, advances in technology, and social customs. Gradoia will focus on vernacular architecture: common buildings, purpose-built, that employ local building traditions and materials in their construction.

Each session will cover a distinct period from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Talks will cover typical house forms, building plans, construction practices, and architectural details unique to each period, along with discussions on such broader themes as architectural treatise and print material, the transition from craft-based building practices to machine-manufactured materials, and design movements and public tastes.

This course will also take place on Wednesdays, but from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M.:
  • 3 March: First Period: English Tradition and the New World Dwelling
  • 10 March: Georgian Architecture: New England Classicism and the Rural Residence
  • 17 March: Federal Architecture: The Refined and Elegant House
  • 24 March: Greek Revival and Picturesque Architecture: Building in the Age of Technology
Gradoia will present live via Zoom webinar, with a link sent to registrants prior to the event. Recordings will be available to registrants for up to 30 days after each session.

The cost for this Historic Deerfield course is $125, $110 for members, and $80 for students. Register online at this page.

Friday, January 29, 2021

“Lodged in part pay for the said Cannon”

In September and October 1774, as I describe in The Road to Concord, Gen. Thomas Gage’s royal government and the Patriots in and around Boston engaged in an “arms race”: racing to grab every cannon and mortar they could.

The Crown took two small cannon from the Cambridge militia, the guns on Governor’s Island, and the stock of hardware merchant Joseph Scott.

In the same weeks, Patriots emptied the Charlestown battery, removed a “great gun” from along the Dorchester shore, and spirited four brass cannon out of the two gunhouses of the Boston militia train.

The Royal Navy spiked all the guns in the town’s North Battery, but locals said they would clear those. Someone tried to float a boat loaded with guns up the Charles River, but it got stuck on the dam that formed the Mill Pond and the navy seized it.

That was the period when the Boston Patriot firebrand William Molineux sent his son John to take four iron cannon out of a stable in West Boston owned by Duncan Ingraham, who a couple of years before had moved out to Concord with his new wife.

As I’ve been quoting, in 1791 Ingraham petitioned the Massachusetts General Court, of which he’d recently been a member, to compensate him for those cannon. He specified the amount this way:
Your Memorialist prays that he may be allowed for the aforesaid Cannon the aforesaid Sum of ninety six pounds, after deducting therefrom thirteen pounds six shillings & Eight pence which was lodged in part pay for the said Cannon at the Store of Duncan Ingraham Junr. as your memorialist has since been informed by said Mollineux
So William Molineux didn’t just take the guns; he left a down payment for them equal to a sixth of £80. (Where Molineux got his money and how much was actually his is a whole other question, linked to his sudden death on 22 October.) It’s not clear how Patriots slipped these weapons out of town, but they used various ways to smuggle military goods past the army guards on the Neck.

Ingraham wrote that he hadn’t known about Molineux’s payment at the time, and perhaps not until shortly before his petition. That hints at a rift between the merchant captain and his namesake son. In 1774 they were on different political sides: Duncan, Jr., spoke for the Cadets in their dispute with Gen. Gage over having John Hancock as their colonel while Duncan, Sr., was considered a Tory by his Concord neighbors. The older man’s new wife might also have been an issue. Whatever the reason, his son didn’t tell him about making a deal with Molineux, perhaps for years.

Even after deducting that first payment, Ingraham asked Massachusetts for more than £82. In March 1792, the General Court voted to grant him only £58.13s.4d. Do the math, and the legislature’s committee decided that Ingraham’s four cannon were worth only £72.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

“I was requested by my Father to go to the Stable”

As I described yesterday, in 1791 Duncan Ingraham asked the Massachusetts government to compensate him for property taken from him before the Revolutionary War.

Specifically, Ingraham wanted to be paid for “four, four pound iron Cannon of the value ninety six pounds.” (A “four pound” cannon didn’t weigh or cost four pounds; rather, it shot a cannonball that weighed four pounds.)

To support that claim, Ingraham attached an affidavit from dry goods merchant John Molineux (1753-1794) which said:
I John Molineux of Boston in the County of Suffolk & Commonwealth of Massachusetts, declare, that according to the best of my remembrance, some time in the Month of October in the Year 1774, I was requested by my Father to go to the Stable, belonging to the House of Capt. Ingraham at West Boston, with two Teams, & take from thence two Pair Cannon, which was accordingly done, & conveyed into the Country, & beleive they were taken by Authority
Molineux’s father was the hardware merchant William Molineux, who had been at the forefront of the Boston resistance, pushing into confrontations, since about 1767. Ingraham was thus the second Boston businessman, after Joseph Webb, to formally claim that William Molineux had taken cannon from him for the use of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

That October 1774 date is significant. The congress convened for the first time on 7 October. Then delegates debated how best to oppose the royal authorities. Not until 20 October did the shadow legislature formally take up the question of “what is necessary to be now done for the defence and safety of the province,” and it took another week before the body appointed a committee to start buying military supplies.

That means Molineux was collecting cannon—which have no peacetime use—for the Provincial Congress before that legislature officially voted to prepare for war. We know Molineux must have acted before that 27 October vote because he died on 22 October.

Nonetheless, in 1792 the official state legislature paid Duncan Ingraham for his four iron cannon, recognizing that they had become part of the Patriots’ artillery force. Molineux probably jumped the gun, or in fact several guns, but retroactively the government agreed that he’d acted “by Authority.”

TOMORROW: How much money did Ingraham get?

(The image above is a handwriting specimen that John Molineux produced in the 1760s for his writing-school master, Abiah Holbrook, now in the Harvard University library collection.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

“Severall Cannon the property of said Ingraham”

As I described yesterday, my suggestion in The Road to Concord that the people of Concord divested the Loyalist-leaning Duncan Ingraham of four cannon in October 1774 caught the eye of Robert A. Gross, dean of Concord scholars.

I based my guess on brief mentions in the Massachusetts house of representatives’ published records of Ingraham petitioning to be compensated for those cannon in 1778 and 1791. His first attempt was unsuccessful; there was a war on, and, even though Ingraham hadn’t gone over to the enemy and had even served a short time as a militia officer, people may still have had their suspicions about him.

In 1788 Ingraham worked his way into his neighbors’ graces to be elected to the Massachusetts house himself. He served three terms, forming connections that made it easier for him to lobby for his cause. In March 1792 the state granted him £58.13s.4d. for the cannon.

Behind the legislature’s officially reported petitions and votes were more documents, not published but (we hope) saved in the Massachusetts Archives. Bob Gross asked John Hannigan, curator at the state archives, what papers survived from Ingraham. It turned out his 1778 petition and supporting documents were tossed out at some point, but the 1791 request remains. And those papers offer more detail about how the merchant captain lost control of his cannon.

I’d assumed that since Duncan Ingraham moved to Concord in 1772, he brought all his property—including stray artillery—with him. Thus, the cannon must have been confiscated in Concord. But it turns out he left a lot behind in Boston. Which makes sense since the traditional use for such small, privately owned cannon was to arm merchant ships during wartime, and the closer the guns were to a port the more valuable they were—as long as Ingraham had a business agent he could trust in town.

The affidavits Ingraham collected to support his 1791 petition show that back in 1774 he still owned a house in Boston that he rented to Samuel Breck (1747-1809), a young merchant (and father of the Samuel Breck whose childhood experiences I’ve cited).

Breck’s partner in a business at the “Corner of Greene’s Wharf” was Benjamin Hammatt, Jr. (1746-1829). The partnership dissolved in 1778, and the Brecks eventually moved to Philadelphia, but Hammatt remained in Boston and was available to testify in 1791. He wrote:
severall Cannon the property of said Ingraham were conveyed away from the Stable of said House, and I fully believe by the Authority and for the Use of the State.
So Ingraham lost his cannon from a stable he’d rented out in Boston, not in Concord.

TOMORROW: Just who “conveyed away” those cannon?

[The image above is a detail of Duncan Ingraham’s gravestone.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Digging Deeper into Duncan Ingraham

There are two big mysteries in my book The Road to Concord. The first is how in September 1774 Boston Patriots managed to get two cannon out of a locked militia armory with redcoat soldiers standing guard at the front door and an entire regiment camped across the street.

The second mystery is who in Concord was sending Gen. Thomas Gage detailed reports on the artillery and other military supplies that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s agents were amassing in that town in March and April 1775. That one I didn’t find a definite answer to.

In writing the book, I listed the retired merchant captain Duncan Ingraham as a possible suspect. As for what might have motivated him, I wrote about his tussles with the Patriots over artillery:
Some of those four-pounders [in Concord] came from Concord resident Duncan Ingraham, who in 1778 petitioned the legislature “that he may be paid for four Four-pound Cannon, which were taken for the public Service in October 1774.” Ingraham was a merchant captain who had settled in Concord with his new wife just the year before. Those cannon might therefore have been property left over from his maritime career. Ingraham was not a Patriot. He refused to participate in boycotts of British imports, he was ready to hold court sessions as a justice of the peace, and he hosted British army officers at dinner. The people of Concord showed their disapproval of this new arrival by hanging a sheep’s head and guts on his chaise. They also confiscated his property: on January 3, 1775, Dr. Joseph Lee wrote in his diary, “The mob unloaded Capt. Ingraham’s Bords that were to go to Boston,” where they might have been used by the army to build barracks. It seems likely that the community seized Ingraham’s four cannon for the public good.
That suggestion caught the attention of Robert Gross, the expert on Concord. In fact, I’d studied his Bicentennial classic The Minutemen and Their World to learn more about the town and locals like Ingraham, Dr. Lee, and James Barrett and his family. Look for his new study of Concord’s next greatest generation, The Transcendentalists and Their World, later this year. 

With the help of John Hannigan, curator (and the expert on Revolutionary documents) at the Massachusetts Archives, Bob Gross sought out the documents supporting Ingraham’s 1778 and 1791 petitions for compensation. They show that my guess about who took Ingraham’s cannon was mistaken—the people of Concord didn’t do that. Instead, the people of Boston did.

And like so many other radical acts in Boston between 1768 and 1774, William Molineux was in the thick of it.

TOMORROW: The cannon Duncan Ingraham left behind.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Hagist and Johnson on History Author Talks, 26 Jan.

Tomorrow’s History Author Talk features three scholars who’ve written about the British army and its effects on the civilian population of the colonies. The session has the theme of “All the King’s Men Who Tried to Put British America Back Together Again.”

The first featured author is Don Hagist, expert on the British enlisted men and editor of the Journal of the American Revolution. He’ll discuss his latest book, Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution.

Joining in the conversation will be Donald F. Johnson, author of Occupied America: British Military Rule and the Experience of Revolution. Johnson is a professor of history at North Dakota State University. His study focuses on the ports that the British military held for extended periods of the Revolutionary War: Boston (1774-1776), New York (1776-1783), Newport (1776-1779), Philadelphia (1777-1778), Savannah (1779-1782), and Charleston (1780-1783).

Moderating the conversation will be Todd Braisted, himself the author of Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City and an expert on the Loyalist armed forces in the war. He’ll represent the Bergen County (New Jersey) Historical Society Historic New Bridge Landing.

As I recall, these conversations usually begin with short prepared presentations by the two featured artists followed by questions from the moderator. They can be viewed on Roger Williams’s History Author Talks website without preregistration and are archived there later. The live session is scheduled to start on Tuesday, 26 January, at 7:00 P.M.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

A Chat with D. Brenton Simons

Last month I had the pleasure of chatting on video with D. Brenton Simons, president of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, and Christian Di Spigna, author of Founding Martyr.

The conversation, set up by the Dr. Joseph Warren Historical Society, focused on Simons’s work as a genealogist and head of the nation’s oldest genealogical research library. We used connections to Joseph Warren to illuminate those topics.

For instance, I asked Simons to talk about one of the episodes from his well researched and entertaining book Witches, Rakes, and Rogues that led up to the 1765 bankruptcy of merchant Nathaniel Wheelwright. That failure influenced Warren in two ways: his mother was one of the many other people who also had to declare bankruptcy, and Warren himself ended up administering the Wheelwright estate for the probate court.

This interview was recorded on video (though I think the audio is all one really needs), and posted both in the Dr. Joseph Warren Historical Society’s series of interviews and in the N.E.H.G.S.’s new “Antiquarto” conversations with Simons.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

“Contested Elections” and “Difficult Transitions”

Back on 6 January, both the Massachusetts Historical Society and Revolutionary Spaces had online panel discussions planned about the past examples of difficult Presidential transitions in American history.

That was a timely topic, but no one realized how timely. That morning, the President defeated at the polls and in the Electoral College told a crowd of his supporters:
We’re going to have to fight much harder and Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. If he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our constitution. Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. . . .
The President then left. He watched on television as his supporters mobbed the Capitol and threatened his Vice President, taking no action to stop the violence for hours. Five people died in that riot.

Understandably, both local historical societies postponed their panel discussions on 6 January. But in the following week they proceeded with those events as Congress finished the ritual of totaling electoral votes and then impeached the President again for his abuse of power.

Now we can watch both discussions online. They cover some of the early transitions as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson contested the Presidency. At that time, politicians still espoused the ideal of not forming political parties but blamed the other side for forming one first. The 1820s contests between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson also get attention.

The most contested U.S. election of all was of course in 1860, when one side refused to accept democratic defeat and started a civil war. That event can be bookended with another contested election in 1876, which led to the federal government ending Reconstruction attempts to protect the rights and persons of black citizens in the former Confederacy.

At the Massachusetts Historical Society, the theme of the panel was “‘At Noon on the 20th Day of January’: Contested Elections in American History” and the participants were:
  • Joanne B. Freeman, Yale University
  • Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia
  • Rachel A. Shelden, Penn State University
  • Erik B. Alexander, Southern Illinois University
  • Ted Widmer, Macaulay Honors College, moderator
Watch here.

At Revolutionary Spaces, the theme was “Difficult Transitions” and the participants were:
  • Joseph Ellis, Mount Holyoke College
  • Eric Rauchway, University of California, Davis
  • Amber Roessner, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • David Greenberg, Rutgers University
  • Matthew Wilding, Revolutionary Spaces, moderator
Watch here.

And let’s make some reforms to lessen the chance of having to go through this again.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Wayside Inn Foundation Events, 26 Jan. and 2 Feb.

The Wayside Inn Foundation, the nonprofit wing of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, will host two online events in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 26 January, 7:00 P.M.
“Sudbury’s Patriots of Color and the World of the American Revolution”

Benjamin Remillard, a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, will discuss his most recent research about the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the enlistment of men of color representing Sudbury after those battles, and the later lives of veterans of color.

Remillard has taught history at several universities throughout New England, including Regis College, Mass. Bay Community College, and U.N.H., and has co-led service trips to the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. He has also published and presented papers on various aspects of early American history, including indigenous memorialization efforts on Boston Harbor’s Deer Island and in Mystic, Connecticut.

Access to this program costs $10, or $5 for Wayside Inn Foundation members. Register online here.

Tuesday, 2 February, 7:00 P.M.
“Taverns of the American Revolution”

This event is a book talk, a cocktail-making demonstration, and a virtual road trip to the surviving taverns of the thirteen original colonies.

Adrian Covert, author of Taverns of the American Revolution: The Battles, Booze, and Barrooms of the Revolutionary War, will present the research that led to his book about the public houses that played a role in shaping the American Revolution and can still be visited today, including Longfellow’s Wayside Inn.

“To drink at a surviving tavern of the American Revolution is to interact with history on an entirely different level,” says Covert. In discovering these places, he adds, “The best part of surviving taverns of the American Revolution is that for them history hasn’t stopped. These aren’t museums, these are 250-year-old conversations about politics, culture, food and life.” Several of those historic places are within a short driving distance of Boston.

Via video, attendees will also learn from bartender David Gordon how to make the Wayside Inn’s signature historic cocktails, the Coow Woow and Stonewall, or a new non-alcoholic beverage, the Prancing Red Horse.

‍Access to this program costs $10, or $5 for Wayside Inn Foundation members, students, and restaurant workers and bartenders. People aged 21 or older may purchase Cocktail Kits for $15. People may also purchase Mocktail kits for $5. Those kits include the recipes and ingredients needed to make the beverages. Beverage kits may be picked up from the Wayside Inn on Saturday, 30 January, between 10:00 A.M. and noon, or by appointment. Register online here.

Copies of Adrian Covert’s Taverns of the American Revolution may be purchased in advance via online booksellers or the Mount Vernon Gift Shop.

For more information about the Wayside Inn Foundation, including membership and its Fund for Diverse Programming, e-mail TWIF@wayside.org.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Two Days of the “1776 Report”

On 5 January 2021, the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission (dubbed “The 1776 Commission”) had its first meeting.

The next day, the President egged his fans into storming the Capitol building to disrupt the certification of his big election loss. One police officer and two rioters were killed in the violence, two more people died in the excitement, and two suicides have been linked to the fallout of that day. The President watched on T.V.

On 18 January, less than two weeks after the commissioners’ first meeting, they issued a 40-page document titled “The 1776 Report.” Three pages consisted of the Declaration of Independence. Other passages had been copied without credit from previous writings by a couple of commission members. Most of those members were political scientists, lawyers, and activists, not historians, and all came from the far right.

Predictably, the “1776 Report” was highly political in its analysis of U.S. history and retrograde in those politics. At its core was a pair of contradictory claims: American history education is too close-minded, and there’s only one proper way to present American history. Working historians took issue with how the report described both the national past and the process of teaching. On 20 January the American Historical Association issued a written condemnation joined by more than twenty other scholarly organizations.

At Slate, Rebecca Onion rounded up some of the professional response in an article titled “Trump’s ’1776 Report’ Would Be Funny if It Weren’t So Dangerous” and assessed the document’s argument. Here’s a taste:
The basics: The ideas the country was founded on were Good; in fact, they were, and remain, Perfect, Eternal Truths. Therefore, nobody who really believed in those ideas could do anything wrong! (No racist bones here!) Therefore, the fact that some founders said privately that they believed slavery was evil, yet continued to hold people in bondage, was not evidence of their hypocrisy, but of their inherent righteousness. Therefore, “the foundation of our Republic” (yes, this document is sure to use the word Republic, itself a dog whistle) “planted the seeds of the death of slavery in America.” If it took a few more decades for this “plan” to end slavery gradually to come to fruition, so what?

As for Native history, that’s a simple circle to square: It’s just not in here. Not a word.

The passive voice gets a workout, trying to explain away everything bad in our history. “Despite the determined efforts of the postwar Reconstruction Congress to establish civil equality for freed slaves,” the report intones, “the postbellum South ended up devolving into a system that was hardly better than slavery.” Which parts of the Congress wanted civil equality? Which parts of the government fought against this? Who, in the South, made it “devolve” into this terrible new “system”? These invisible actors just float around, unnamed.
The “1776 Report” basically tries to draw an unbroken, unbent, unknotted line between the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. After all, both documents talk about equality, right? This sort of analysis is insulting, both to the intelligence of Americans who study the nation’s history at any level and to the many Americans who didn’t enjoy equal treatment.

It’s true that all the talk of ”liberty” in the Revolution produced enough discomfort with slavery in New England and Pennsylvania that those states limited the practice by the end of the eighteenth century. But that certainly wasn’t the case throughout the U.S. of A. Some states actually increased their exploitation of slave labor after the split with Britain, as changes in their populations and laws show. The issue was so divisive that the national government formally shut down debates over it in several ways. And of course ending slavery in the U.S. turned out to require a great big war.

That’s not even getting into how the end of slavery didn’t produce true equality, freedom, or legal protection for all, either in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, or in most of the twentieth, or by some practical measures in the twenty-first. That level of historic factual detail would mess up the report’s tidy, reassuring, and complacent narrative.

The “1776 Report” was on the White House website for two days. With the handover to a new administration, that website is being completely revamped. The old version was removed to an archival site maintained by the National Archives alongside other administrations’ websites. All 18 January links to the “1776 Report” were therefore broken, but the document remains available through the government and numerous other sources, such as archive.org. The new President dissolved the “1776 Commission,” so there will be no second report from it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Probing the Tale of Warren and Jeffries

I’ve just shared the two versions of the story of Dr. Joseph Warren sneaking across the siege lines in early June 1775 to try to talk Dr. John Jeffries into heading the provincial medical corps.

Both versions present Dr. Jeffries as a badass: so skilled that Warren was eager to recruit him, so proud that he refused to work under anyone else, so good a friend that he didn’t tell the royal authorities about Warren’s mission until he was dead.

Of course, one of those stories came from Dr. Jeffries’s family, and the other probably did. There’s no version of the tale from Warren’s side, nor any contemporaneous documentation.

Dr. Jeffries’s notes on young smallpox patients on Rainsford Island, now digitized from Harvard’s Countway Library, offer a little more information about this period in his life. I wondered what journal might say about when Jeffries was available to meet Warren on a dock in the North End and/or to treat Bunker Hill casualties on the morning after the battle.

Neither of those possibilities can be ruled out. Jeffries’s first journal entries are dated 6 June, 7 June, 10 June, 11 or 12 June, 14 June, 16 June, and 20 June. (It’s quite possible he missed recording the date of 15 June; his entry for patients after 14 June went through the whole cycle of patients twice before he wrote another date.) Jeffries was probably not on the island on the missing dates, and therefore could have been in the North End one of those nights, and on the Charlestown peninsula on 18 June.

At the same time, the notebook shows us that Jeffries was on Rainsford Island many times in the week before the battle. Rainsford is in the bottom right corner of the map above, well out in the harbor. That distance is why the town put the smallpox hospital there.

If Warren wanted to talk with Jeffries privately, with minimal chance of being taken prisoner, wouldn’t it have been wiser to take a boat from Dorchester out to Rainsford Island?

According to the Jeffries story, they met at the Charleston ferry landing, a place where the British army was patrolling, which Warren could reach only by crossing a river where the Royal Navy had stationed warships. That would be a very risky rendezvous.

Then there’s the question of Dr. Warren making this trip himself. With John Hancock off in Philadelphia, Warren became the presiding officer of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was still on the important Committee of Safety. And as of the afternoon of 14 June, he was being made a major general of the Massachusetts army. Basically, in the late spring of 1775 Dr. Warren was the single most important leader of the New England resistance.

To believe the Jeffries story, then, we have to believe that Dr. Warren decided to risk being captured or killed rather than ask someone else to carry a message into Boston. Which we know people were doing at this point in the siege.

What’s more, Dr. Jeffries wasn’t just an ordinary medical colleague. He had taken an appointment as a Royal Navy surgeon in 1771. So Warren was supposedly putting his life and the cause in the hands of a man who had already pledged loyalty to the enemy military.

Another detail that makes me go “hmmm” appears in the first version of the story. Allegedly on 18 June Dr. Jeffries told Gen. William Howe about how Warren had “ventured over to Boston in a canoe to get information” a few days earlier. Why didn’t the general ask why Jeffries hadn’t mentioned that before? The Crown made a wave of arrests in the days after Bunker Hill, including Samuel Gore, Peter Edes, James Lovell, and John Leach—the latter two on suspicion of being in contact with Warren. Yet Dr. Jeffries supposedly set up a secret meeting with the local leader of the rebellion, kept quiet about it, and wasn’t detained.

To be sure, none of those questions makes Warren’s trip to talk with Jeffries impossible. But the tale seems increasingly unlikely. Much less likely than that Dr. Jeffries, back in Boston after 1790, made up a story for his American-born son about how he’d been friends with the heroic Dr. Warren, who had really wanted him to join the team.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

“The connection of my father and General Joseph Warren, M.D.”

In 1875, Bostonians were very excited about the Centennial of the start of the Revolutionary War. Naturally, that included the editorial staff of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal.

People at that magazine asked Dr. John Jeffries (1796-1876), whose father of the same name had grown up in Boston and lived through that war (albeit while supporting the Crown), what stories he’d heard. Those tales were of course secondhand since this man wasn’t born until more than a decade after the war. (He was in fact his father’s third son named John.)

In its 17 June 1875 issue, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal published the elderly doctor’s reply:
In compliance with your request that I should state what I know of the connection of my father and General Joseph Warren, M.D., with the battle of Bunker Hill, I have penned the following reminiscences derived from statements of my father, who, like Drs. Warren, [Isaac] Rand, and others of that time, had been a pupil of Dr. James Lloyd. . . .

Dr. Warren had sent to my father a message to meet him secretly at midnight at the end of the wharf of the Charlestown ferry. He accordingly met him shortly before the battle of Bunker Hill. Dr. Warren came over in a small boat, with muffled oars. His object was to induce my father to unite with the Continental army as a surgeon. This he urged upon him, offering him great inducements to accept.

The reply was, “I thought, Warren, that you knew me better. I would not take office under anybody. My motto is ‘Aut Cæsar aut nullus [Either Caesar or no one].’”

Warren then said, ”Don’t be so quick, Jeffries, I have a general’s commission in my pocket. We want you to be at the head of the medical service.” The offer, however, was declined.
Yesterday I quoted the much briefer version of the same story that had appeared half a century earlier in Samuel Swett’s history of Bunker Hill. That telling was an adjunct to the story of how Dr. Jeffries had helped to identify Dr. Warren’s body, a topic that the 1875 letter didn’t mention at all.

There are other small differences between the two versions of the story. Did Warren visit Boston to gather information or to recruit Dr. Jeffries? Did he come by “canoe” or in a rowboat with “muffled oars”? Was he expecting to become a major general soon or did he already have “a general’s commission in my pocket”? (Indeed, other sources indicate that Warren never received the official commission that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress voted to give him on 14 June.)

However, those discrepancies seem like the typical signs of a story getting a little more dramatic as it’s retold over the decades.

I think what strains credibility about this tale, in either version, is Dr. Jeffries’s basic claim.

TOMORROW: Crossing the line.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Dr. Jeffries and Dr. Warren

When I started looking at Dr. John Jeffries’s records of caring for young smallpox inoculatees in June 1775, I hoped to find clues to his whereabouts during that month.

For almost two hundred years at least, a story has circulated about Jeffries and Dr. Joseph Warren meeting that June, and it’s always struck me as dubious.

To review, Dr. Jeffries (1745-1819) was son of Boston’s treasurer, David Jeffries, and protégé of Dr. James Lloyd. He thus had strong links to both the town’s Whig establishment and to friends of the royal government. Dr. Jeffries dined with the Sons of Liberty in August 1769, but in November 1770 Lloyd and Jeffries testified for the defense in the Boston Massacre trial. The two doctors described the victim Patrick Carr’s dying words, which helped to absolve the soldiers.

That testimony appears to have put Jeffries in the Loyalist camp. The next year, he accepted a sinecure appointment as a Royal Navy surgeon. He evacuated Boston with the British military in 1776, became a military surgeon, and spent the war either with the Crown forces or in London seeking higher positions.

In peacetime, Dr. Jeffries used his money to become a pioneering balloonist, or at least balloon passenger. But eventually the cost of living in the imperial capital and the lure of an inheritance in Massachusetts sent him back home. He reestablished his family and elite practice in Boston.

In 1825, six years after Dr. Jeffries died, Samuel Swett published his pioneering study of the Battle of Bunker Hill. He wrote this about the identification of Dr. Warren’s body on the morning after the battle, 18 June 1775:
Dr. Jeffries was on the field dressing the British wounded, and the wounded American prisoners, with his usual humanity and skill. [Gen. William] Howe inquired of him if he could identify Warren; he recollected that he had lost a finger nail and wore a false tooth, and informed the general that Warren had five days before ventured over to Boston in a canoe to get information, invited Jeffries to join the Americans as surgeon, and informed him that he was himself to receive a commission in the army.
Swett probably heard that story from Jeffries’s family. It’s certainly complimentary to the late physician, with its superfluous mention of “his usual humanity and skill.” And of course the idea that the heroic Warren had thought enough of Jeffries’s skills to try to recruit him was a ringing endorsement.

TOMORROW: A longer version of the story.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

How Aged Was William Northage?

This evening I came across an example of the importance of checking original documents where possible to confirm transcriptions.

In a 1993 article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine titled “John Jeffries and the Struggle Against Smallpox in Boston (1775-1776) and Nova Scotia (1776-1779),” Philip Cash and Carol Pine referred to Dr. Jeffries’s 1775 patients on Rainsford Island this way:

These patients range in age from Nancy Hawes who was four weeks old to William Northage who is simply listed as “aged.”
Jeffries’s medical records at Harvard’s Countway Library are currently being transcribed, so we can see his actual handwriting. Note what he wrote next to the name of William Northage in this image’s last entry.
Jeffries didn’t described this patient as simply “aged.” He left space to record an age, as he had for previous names, but never got back to it.

All the other patients Jeffries listed on these opening pages were children, aged from four weeks to ten years. Later in this document, on the dates of 10, 14, 16, and 20 June, Jeffries referred to William Northage by the name Billy. In that time he used pus from Billy Northage’s legs to inoculate his own infant son John. To me all that suggests William Northage was another child rather than an old man.

Billy Northage appears alongside Benjamin Northage, aged six in 1775 and thus identifiable as the Benjamin Nottage baptized in the Brattle Street Meetinghouse in 1769. I suspect Benjamin and William were brothers.

Benjamin’s father, Josiah Nottage (sometimes spelled Nuttage), was a house carpenter who after the war became known for constructing bridges across the Charles and Passaic Rivers. In 1796 Josiah and Benjamin Nottage bought house lots on Phillips Street that eventually became the site of Vilna Shul.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Desk Job

Since I spent much of the afternoon assembling furniture, of the cheap, practical kind, I’m linking to this exploration of a writing desk made about 1778.

Part of Google’s Arts & Culture collaboration with museums around the world, this page combines close-up images of the desk with an analysis of how it was made, and by whom.
The ébéniste (furniture maker), Martin Carlin, put the entire piece together, including carving the wooden parts and applying the plaques and bronzes. A locksmith installed the locking mechanism for the drawer. A different person supplied the leather for the bureau top.

Dominique Daguerre not only coordinated all this work, but also designed the piece and purchased the materials. Daguerre, an art and furnishings merchant called a marchand-mercier, sold the finished piece to a very special buyer . . .

Catherine the Great, Czarina of Russia from 1762-1796, commissioned Pavlovsk as a gift for her son Paul Petrovitch and his wife, Maria Feodorovna
Sold by the Soviet government in 1931, the desk is at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, but we can appreciate it from our homes.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Digging into the Three Cranes Tavern in Charlestown

I was intrigued by the Massachusetts Historical Council’s webpage for the archeological site of the Three Cranes Tavern in Charlestown.

As the page explains, Charlestown was settled in 1629, the year before Boston, and that site was originally the location of the Great House that served as a meetinghouse, storehouse, and protection. In 1635 a man named Robert Long bought part of the property and opened the Three Cranes Tavern, named after a well known public house in London.

The Three Cranes remained in the extended Long family and one of the town’s busiest taverns for the next 140 years. In that time, tax records and the archeological record show, the owners added a separate dwelling house, brewery, stone foundation, and wine cellar.

As of 1763, the tavern was the southern end of the stage coach route from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The horses were stabled there while passengers could continue over the ferry to Boston if they chose.

In 1766 proprietor Nathaniel Brown mortgaged the property to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. Without banks, I’m guessing, that was one of the province’s few chartered institutions that could lend out money.

Then came the war and destruction, as the webpage says:
The long history of the Three Cranes Tavern came to a fiery end on June 17, 1775. On the night of June 16, 1775, rebellious colonists occupied Breed‘s Hill. General [Thomas] Gage responded by sending British troops to remove the Americans from the hill. The famous Battle of Bunker Hill ensued. Rebel snipers in nearby Charlestown shot at British soldiers from windows, so General Gage [sic] turned his cannon on the town setting fires everywhere. By the end of the night most of downtown Charlestown, including the Three Cranes Tavern, had burnt to the ground.

Although the damage was great, most of the streets, chimneys, and foundations were visible among the rubble. The citizens of Charlestown cleaned up the debris, filled the site of the tavern over, and created an open market in its place. Market Square was renamed City Square in 1848 to celebrate Charlestown becoming a city.
It actually took quite a while to reuse the tavern site. Nathaniel Brown was a Loyalist and apparently gave up on the property, moving first to Pownalborough, Maine, and then to Nova Scotia. The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company went into abeyance from 1775 to 1786. Finally in 1794 the artillery company donated the land to the city.

For those who want to dig deeper, here’s a 2014 article about Boston city archeologist Joe Bagley’s work on the site and a 2016 reevaluation of the evidence by Craig S. Chartier.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

“News Media” Institute for Teachers at A.A.S., 26-31 July

Last summer, the American Antiquarian Society had planned a weeklong National Endowment for the Humanities Institute for educators. And then the pandemic began, and by fall the government had let it get out of control.

The A.A.S. has therefore rescheduled that N.E.H. Institute for this summer and moved it online. “The News Media and the Making of America, 1730–1800” will take place 26-31 July 2021. Full information is posted here.

N.E.H. Institutes are designed principally for American educators, including teachers and other professionals. This one is limited to twenty-five participants. There’s an application process, with a stipend and development certificates for those who are accepted. The application deadline for this course is 1 March.

This weeklong colloquium and workshop will explore how media was used during the Age of the American Revolution and how news—in all its various forms—was connected to civic engagement. According to the description, it will be organized into four thematic units:
(1) The Colonial Media Milieu, which will focus on the multiplicity of news sources in early America and explore what people thought was news, what sources they used to gather and authenticate news, and what role news seems to have played in their understanding of public life in their community.

(2) The Long Revolution, which will explore the forty-year period from 1760 to 1800 to examine how people living in rural Massachusetts interacted with the urban media in Boston; how the news of the violence at Lexington and Concord was portrayed in the newspapers and broadsides; and the relationships between printers and how personal, family, and business networks impacted what information they printed.

(3) The Republican Experiment, which will cover the decade or so between the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789 and Jefferson’s election to the presidency in 1800 by focusing on the concept of “republicanism.” The creation of the new federal union in 1887–89 in no way ended the controversies over how that union should be organized, and much of the news of those years had to do with conflict over the meaning of liberty, self-rule, federalism, and the proper structures of a government in a large and diverse republic such as the United States.

(4) The Revolution in Memory, which will act as a coda to our end date of 1800, tracing into the nineteenth century the public memory of the Revolution and the political uses of the Revolution’s events, language, and symbolism. An endless parade of bestselling biographies of the Founding Fathers and even a hit musical about Alexander Hamilton all attest to the long and significant afterlife of the Revolution.
The faculty scheduled for this institute include the expert A.A.S. staff; Prof. David Paul Nord, author of Communities of Journalism; Prof. Joseph Adelman, author of Revolutionary Networks; and Gary Gregory from the recreated Edes & Gill print shop in Faneuil Hall.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Manuscript Transcription in Your Own Home

This evening at 5:00 P.M., the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture is hosting an online workship titled “Making History thru Handwriting: An Introduction to Manuscript Transcription.”

Julie A. Fisher from the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia and Sara Powell from Harvard University will discuss transcribing handwritten documents, the importance of that task in making more historic sources available for study, and practical tips for transcribers.

They will also talk about opportunities for the public to join transcription projects taking place across the United States and in Europe. This is a trend made possible by digital imaging. Transcribers can work at archives or at home, and images can be expertly manipulated to make marks clearer. That work can also go on when we’re staying healthy at home. There’s even specialized software for managing such projects.

Among local projects, Harvard University has invited people to participate in transcribing the thousands of documents from eighteenth-century North America that it has digitized in recent years. Another large crowd-sourced project is Transcribe Bentham at University College London. And the Georgian Papers Project straddles the Atlantic. More ongoing projects are listed on the From the Page software website.

Julie A. Fisher, Ph.D., specializes in Early American and Native American history. She’s developed digital humanities projects over the past four years at the American Philosophical Society and as a consulting editor with the Native Northeast Portal (formerly the Yale Indian Papers Project) at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. In March 2019 she hosted the Omohundro Institute’s first Transcribathon.

Sara Powell is the assistant curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library, specializing in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts—so she’s familiar with older handwriting styles that baffle us even more than ours will baffle the students of the late twenty-first century.

This workshop is scheduled to run from 5:00 to 5:45 P.M. on Wednesday, 13 January. It is free. To register, one must be logged in to the Omohundro Institute.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Warren on “America’s First Veterans,” 13 Jan.

On Wednesday, 13 January, the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati will offer an online talk by executive director Jack D. Warren, Jr., about the new book America’s First Veterans.

The institute’s announcement says:
Over a quarter of a million men served in the armed forces that won our independence. Those who survived became America’s first veterans. Using eighty-five manuscripts, rare books, prints, broadsides, paintings, and other artifacts, America’s First Veterans introduces the stories of the men—and some women—who bore arms in the Revolutionary War. The book follows their fate in the seventy years after the war’s end and traces the development of public sentiment that led to the first comprehensive military pensions in our history.

“These and thousands of other veterans of the Revolution,” Jack Warren writes, “were ordinary people, made extraordinary by their service in the struggle for American independence.” They believed in the American cause, he explains, and “many suffered for it, in ways their fellow Americans learned to honor and that we should honor as well.” In the words of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, who wrote the foreword to the book, their generation “seized an historic opportunity that forever changed the world.”
Warren’s talk will last about an hour on Zoom starting at 6:30 P.M. This event is free with registration here.

The institute is offering signed copies of America’s First Veterans through this page (and I haven’t found it on sale anywhere else). This book is tied to an ongoing exhibit at Anderson House, which unfortunately we can’t visit in person.

We can sample another recent publication of the American Revolution Institute online here. In The Art of War in the Age of the American Revolution: 100 Treasures from the Fergusson Collection, Ellen McCallister Clark highlights books, manuscripts, maps, broadsides, engravings, paintings, and other objects in the Society of the Cincinnati’s holdings.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Tracking Ebenezer Dumaresque

When Dr. Nathaniel Martyn “absconded” in 1770, leaving his wife and two children with her family, he left behind another child as well.

Three years earlier, the Boston Overseers of the Poor had indentured a boy named Ebenezer Dumaresque to Martyn. That contract was due to end when the boy came of age on 25 Nov 1781, meaning he was about to turn seven when he left Boston for the rural town of Harvard.

The Boston Overseers’ file on Ebenezer, visible at Digital Commonwealth, also includes this note: “Ebenr. Dumaresque bound to John Gleason of Woburn.” Gleason’s name doesn’t appear in the Overseers’ indentures ledger, published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts; only Nathaniel Martyn’s does. I take that paper trail to mean that the Overseers got Ebenezer back from the Martyns and then sent him out again, adding the note in his file.

I’m guessing that the boy’s new master was the John Gleason who was born in Brookline in 1720 and married in Watertown in 1740. He and his wife had children in Woburn from 1747 to 1755, and he died there after 1786.

Dr. Martyn had probably brought Ebenezer out to help around the house in 1767 as his wife was busy raising their newborn daughter. The Gleasons, in contrast, were at the end of their period of having children and might have needed farm labor to replace grown sons. But we don’t have hard evidence one way or another.

The name Ebenezer was common in eighteenth-century New England—the tenth most common male given name according to Daniel Scott Smith’s study of records from Hingham. But the name Dumaresque was quite uncommon. As long as we can keep up with the creative ways locals misspelled that surname, we can follow Ebenezer’s trail through the war years.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors has several entries for Ebenezer Dumaresque (Dumarsque, Dumasque, Damasque, Demasque) from Western (now Warren) in Worcester County. All those entries indicate the soldier was born about 1760, as our Ebenezer was. All but one describe him as a little over five feet tall with a dark complexion and dark hair. (One anomalous entry says he was 5'10".)

According to those state records, Ebenezer Dumaresque first served six months in late 1780 in Lt. Col. John Brooks’s regiment, then reenlisted in the spring of 1781 for three years “for bounty paid said Dumaresque by John Patrick and others, in behalf of a class of the town of Western.” He spent most of that time at West Point in New York. On 11 Nov 1782 Pvt. Dumaresque was tried by regimental court-martial for being absent without leave, but his commander pardoned him.

As of the 1790 U.S. Census, “Ebenr. Dumask” headed a household in Palmer, Massachusetts. In addition to himself, the house contained a white male aged 16 or more, a white male under age 16, and two white females.

On 23 Apr 1818, Ebenezer Dumaresque applied for a pension from the federal government as a Revolutionary War veteran. He declared under oath that in early 1781 he had signed up for three years in the 7th Massachusetts Regiment. During his service “he was engaged in no battles.” When the army shrank ”after the Restoration of Peace,” he was shuffled into another unit “under the command of Majors Porter and Preston (he thinks there was no Colonel).”

At the very end of 1783, Dumaresque stated, he was “regularly discharged under the Hand of Major General [Henry] Knox at West Point.” He kept that paperwork for more than a quarter-century until around 1810 “when under an expectation of obtaining a Soldier’s bounty land he sent his discharge to the State of Ohio by an agent” and never saw it again.

By the time he applied for a pension, Dumaresque had left Massachusetts and was living in Kingsbury, New York. He couldn’t supply testimony from any neighbors confirming his military service. All he could send with his application was a short inventory of movable property and a description of his poor health, indications of poverty as the law then required for a pension.

However, Dumaresque’s federal file also contains a July 1819 note from Alden Bradford, secretary of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. It stated:
The records in this office, relating to revolutionary services, are not later than 1780—

But, happily, for you, the Govr, who commanded 7th Regt, has a list of his men, & has furnished a certificate which is herewith forwarded
Lt. Col. John Brooks (shown above) had become the governor of Massachusetts. He personally wrote out a statement certifying that Ebenezer Dumaresque had indeed served under him in the Continental Army from early 1781 to mid-1783.

Dumaresque received his pension. At some point he moved from Kingsbury to the nearby town of Queensbury. Federal records indicate that he continued to receive his money, and to head his own household, past the 1840 census, in the year he turned eighty.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Mystery of Dr. Martyn

As I described yesterday, in the late 1760s Nathaniel Martyn held a respected position in rural Massachusetts society.

Youngest son of the minister at Northborough, he had become a physician and landowner in Harvard and married a young woman from Bolton. They had two young children. When they needed household help, the Harvard selectmen had assured Boston officials that Dr. Martyn was a suitable person to raise an orphan boy from the port town.

And then Dr. Martyn ran away. The Rev. Ebenezer Parkman of Westborough, who had seen Nathaniel Martyn grow up, wrote in his diary on 16 Aug 1770 that the physician had “absconded.” His wife had returned to her parents with the two little children.

When I read that in the excellent Ebenezer Parkman Project website, I hoped to find other sources that filled out the Martyn family’s story. Was there another woman? Another man? Money troubles? Religious conversion? Psychiatric difficulty? I’m sad to say that I haven’t found any further comment on why Dr. Martyn left his family.

I unearthed only two tenuous leads. In the 1921 book Northborough History, the Rev. Josiah Coleman Kent wrote that Nathaniel Martyn “resided for a time in Harvard, and later went south.” That could refer to the family’s move to Bolton, just south of Harvard, or it could refer to a longer journey. This statement came with no indication of its source, and of course Kent was publishing a century and a half after the event.

That statement is, however, consistent with the one other reference to a Dr. Nathaniel Martyn in North America that I’ve found after 1770. In 1775 Robert Hodge and Frederick Shober of New York published a collection of theological essays by the Rev. Dr. Hugh Knox, and the list of subscribers included Dr. Nathaniel Martyn of Hertford, North Carolina.

As for the family Martyn left behind, information about his wife Anna and son Nathaniel is sparse. But in 1790 his daughter, then twenty-three years old, married George Caryl from the Harvard College class of 1788. Caryl was like Pamela’s father in a couple of ways: youngest son of a town minister and trained in medicine, in his case under Dr. Samuel Willard of Uxbridge.

But unlike Nathaniel Martyn, Dr. George Caryl was firmly attached to his native soil. He brought his bride home to his father’s house in the part of Dedham that would become the town of Dover in 1836. Caryl was the only doctor in that district for a long time, and he also had patients in neighboring towns.

George and Pamela Caryl had nine children between 1797 and 1808, four surviving to adulthood. Inheriting the family homestead, Dr. Caryl lived and worked in Dover until 1829. His widow lived on until 1855.

The Caryl family house, shown above, is now owned by the Dover Historical Society.

TOMORROW: What about the orphan boy?

Saturday, January 09, 2021

How Natty Martyn Grew Up

Last September, we got a passing glimpse of fifteen-year-old Natty Martyn, youngest son of the minister in Northborough in 1756.

Natty had a bad sore, and his family had begun to despair for him. The Rev. John Martyn took his son to Dr. Ebenezer Dexter in the neighboring town of Middleborough, and he recovered.

Natty Martyn’s father was a Harvard graduate, though he didn’t go into the ministry until fifteen years after graduating. In the early 1760s the family also hosted the retired Harvard Hebrew instructor Judah Monis, who had married Natty’s maternal aunt. But neither Natty nor his older brothers went to college.

Instead, Nathaniel Martyn became a physician, training in the field like most other country doctors of the time. He set up a practice in the town of Harvard, where his father had been the first town clerk and filled other offices in the 1730s. The doctor was assigned “ye Sixth Seat Below” at the Harvard meetinghouse.

On 23 Dec 1765, the twenty-four-year-old Dr. Martyn married twenty-year-old Anna Townsend of Bolton. Their first child, named Michael after one of his paternal uncles, arrived in September, but died within two weeks.

In his diary for 16 June 1767, the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman of Westborough recorded that he “rode by the way of Dr. Martyns to see him—and the fine Farms at Still River Corner.” Martyn had bought the large farmhouse built in 1749 by Moses Haskell. The Massachusetts Historical Commission called this property “One of Still River’s earliest and largest farms.” The house still stands on Still River Road, as shown above, though altered considerably for use as a Benedictine chapel.

When Parkman visited, Anna Martyn was expecting another child. The couple had two before the end of the decade:
  • Pamela, born 24 Aug 1767.
  • Nathaniel, baptized 13 Aug 1769.
There was at least one other member of the household. In May 1767, the selectmen of Harvard signed a printed form for Boston’s Overseers of the Poor certifying that Dr. Nathaniel Martyn was “a Man of sober Life and Conversation; and in such Circumstances, that we can recommend him as a fit Person to bind an Apprentice to.” On 19 November, those officials indentured a boy named Ebenezer Dumaresque to the doctor. Ebenezer was to come of age on 25 Nov 1781, meaning he was six years old when he moved out to Harvard, most likely to work as a household servant.

Sometime in 1769, it appears from real estate records, Dr. Martyn sold his property in Harvard to Peter Green, a younger physician from the Harvard class of 1766. The Martyn family moved to Bolton, Anna’s home town.

On 16 Aug 1770, the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman wrote in his diary:
Dined at Mr. Harringtons, who acquainted me with the proceedings at Bolton and with Mr. Goss’s present Case under Confinement to his Bed, by Lameness. N.B. Dr. Wait has the Care of him. The brief Story of Dr. Wait. Called at Mr. Josh. Townsends by reason of what has occurred lately relative to Dr. Nat. Martyn, who has lately absconded. His wife and two Children at Mr. Townsends.
Anna Martyn was back home in her father’s house. And Dr. Nathaniel Martyn was nowhere to be found.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Friday, January 08, 2021

“Equal Suffrage in the Senate”

When people discuss the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College, the conversation often leads on to the U.S. Senate.

After all, one way the Electoral College distorts our votes derives from how each state has two U.S. Senators and the electors were originally a shadow version of the entire Congress, both House and Senate. The result is disproportionately large representation in the Electoral College for voters who live in small-population states.

Of course, small-population states have even more disproportionate power in the Senate, which has approval power over major Presidential appointments, judges, and (with a two-thirds supermajority) treaties.

Equal representation for each state in the Senate was part of the compromise at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that convinced small states to give up their even more disproportionate power under the Articles of Confederation. It was a product of that historic moment.

Historians can point out that in 1790 the most populous state, Virginia, contained 748,000 people, or 631,000 as calculated by counting enslaved people as only three-fifths of a person, while Delaware had 59,000 or 55,000 people. The largest state was thus only about twelve times bigger than the smallest. Despite small states having disproportionate sway, Virginia, home of four of the first five Presidents, still managed to exercise a lot of political power.

In contrast, today the most populous state, California, is more than 67 times larger than the least populous, Wyoming. Despite being only 1.5% the size of California, Wyoming has 5.5% of the larger state’s weight in the Electoral College and 100% of its weight in the Senate.

Our incoming Senate is split down the middle in terms of political party, with fifty Republicans on one side and fifty Democrats and independents caucusing on the other. Yet the Democratic side represents 41 million more of us people—equivalent to the entire population of Argentina. 

I think there’s an argument to be made that we citizens are served by having some of our national representation determined by state boundaries. Because of differing laws, each state’s population does end up being an interest group in itself. But as to whether the Dakotas (combined population 1.7 million) should have twice the Senate power as Illinois (population 12.6 million), that’s hard to justify except on the basis of inertia.

Since the Constitution requires three-fourths of the states to approve amendments, it would be hard to change the Electoral College by re-amending Amendment 12. (That’s why the National Popular Vote Compact appears to be the most promising way to reform the system, asking state legislatures to make the decision and stick to it.)

Changing the makeup of the Senate, however, would be even harder—well nigh impossible. That’s because of a usually overlooked clause at the end of Article V of the Constitution:
…no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
Changing the design of the U.S. Senate would thus not only require a supermajority of states, as with an amendment, but complete unanimity. This is the only surviving exception to the amendment process. (The other was forbidding any attempt to limit the slave trade until 1807.)

It would probably be easier for the very large states to split into smaller ones, each having two Senate seats.

(The picture above, courtesy of Wired, is a British map of North America from 1741. Europeans still thought California was an island.)