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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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

“Upon his Interment a large Mob attended”

As I described yesterday, the funeral of Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver on 8 Mar 1774 did not go smoothly.

Some of Oliver’s close friends and relatives, including his brother, Chief Justice Peter Oliver (shown here), and their in-law, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, chose to stay away because they expected angry crowds.

Then a protocol mix-up caused the British army and navy officers to cut into the procession ahead of the Massachusetts legislators. Many of those politicians were already at odds with the Oliver–Hutchinson clan and grabbed the excuse to stay away completely.

Nonetheless, lots of people showed up—not to walk in the mournful procession but to watch it. “Such a Concourse or rather Multitude of Spectators I never saw at any Funeral here before,” the merchant John Rowe wrote.

The Cadets, the upper-class militia company that served as the governors’ honor guard, turned out for duty in the procession under their commander, John Hancock. That displeased some people, reportedly.

This is a story I see repeated in a lot of biographies without direct quotations or sourcing. The earliest version I’ve found appears in John Sanderson’s multi-volume Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, published in the 1820s and thus possibly based on people around in 1774:
The last instance, during the British administration, of the parade of this guard [the Cadets] was at the funeral of the lieutenant governor Oliver, under the chief government of general Gage [sic]; on which occasion Mr. Samuel Adams, hearing that Hancock designed, with the company, to perform the usual military honours to the deceased, who had been one of the most obnoxious tories of the whole continent, hastened to dissuade him from his purpose. But Hancock, in observing to his friend that the honours were designed for the office, and not the man, persisted in his resolution.
Hancock and the Cadets marched with Oliver’s body to his grave at the Granary Burying Ground. Then the well-dressed militiamen fired three volleys over the grave.

The large crowd responded by shouting three cheers for the lieutenant governor’s death. Rowe reported: “There was after Colo. Hancock’s Company had fired & the Funerall over, as the Relations were Returning, Some Rude Behaviour.”

Hutchinson wrote:
Marks of disrespect were also shewn by the populace to the remains of a man, whose memory, if he had died before this violent spirit was raised, would have been revered by all orders and degrees of men in the province.
Andrew Oliver had been politically unpopular for several years, having been hanged in effigy in 1765 as the Massachusetts stamp agent.

Peter Oliver later wrote:
The Vengeance of the Faction was carried to, & beyond the grave—Upon his Interment a large Mob attended, & huzzaed at the intombing the Body; & at Night there was an Exhibition at a publick Window, of a Coffin & several Insignia of Infamy—& at this Exhibition some Members of the general Assembly attended—could Infernals do worse?
As I noted above, the chief justice stayed away from the funeral, and his memory was probably distorted by secondhand reports and the passage of time. The “Exhibition at a publick Window” that Peter Oliver mentioned was part of that year’s illumination in memory of the Boston Massacre. Ordinarily it would have gone up on the 5th of March, but that was right before the Sabbath, so the display was delayed until Money, 7 March, the evening before the funeral.

The descriptions of the 1774 illumination say nothing about pictures criticizing Andrew Oliver. Instead, one window targeted Thomas Hutchinson and Peter Oliver himself.

Some final details from John Rowe: “Then followed the Coaches & chariots amounting to Twenty, then the Chaises amounting to Ten.” And, “Minute Guns were fired from the So. Battery.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Funeral Procession for Andrew Oliver

I started this month reviewing the events of early March 1774: the return of the Massachusetts Spy, the death of Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver (shown here), John Hancock’s Massacre oration, and the second Boston Tea Party.

That wasn’t all. Lt. Gov. Oliver had to be interred. And that funeral was scheduled for the day after the tea destruction.

In his diary, merchant John Rowe wrote one line about the tea, showing how such news had become ho-hum. But he left a long description the funeral:
This afternoon his Honour the Lieut. Governour Andrew Oliver Esq was Buried as Follows.

Colo. Hancock with his Company of Cadets & Colo. [John] Erving with the officers of his [militia] Regimt. preceded the Corps—Colo. Hancock’s Compy. under Arms.

The Bearers were Judge [Samuel] Danforth, Judge [Shrimpton] Hutchinson, Treasurer [Harrison] Gray James Russell Esq, Mr. Secretary [Thomas] Flucker, Foster Hutchinson Esq.

Then Followed the Family,…
That family contingent was smaller than normal.

The late lieutenant governor’s brother Peter Oliver was chief justice, and in February the legislature had impeached him for accepting a Crown salary—raising his public profile, and not in a good way. On the day of the funeral, Chief Justice Oliver wrote, he thought
his Risque of his Life was too great, for him to pay his final Visit to the Death Bed of an only Brother; & his Friends advised him not [to] pay his fraternal Respect to his Brother’s Obsequies—the Advice was just; for it afterwards appeared, that had he so done, it was not probable that he ever would have returned to his own home. Never did Cannibals thirst stronger for human Blood than the Adherents to this Faction…
Gov. Thomas Hutchinson also stayed away to avoid rousing the crowd. The governor’s son Thomas, Jr., had married one of Andrew Oliver’s daughters. But his friends told him that they did “not think it safe for me to attend the funeral.”

The rites didn’t go smoothly. In his history of the province, Hutchinson wrote about his late friend and colleague:
Even his funeral afforded opportunity for the spirit of party to shew itself. The members of the house of representatives, who were invited, being in one house, and the admiral, general [sic], and other officers of the navy and army, in another, the latter first came out, and followed the relatives of the deceased, which was so resented by some of the representatives, as to cause them to refuse to join in the procession, and to retire in a body.
Rowe’s version of that was:
next in order should have the Council & house of Assembly but thro some Blunder the Admirall [John Montagu] & his Core followed the Family & Relations, next them Colo. [Alexander] Lesly of the 64 Regiment & his Core, then the Gentlemen of this & the Neighboring Towns which were very few. . . .

Thro some misunderstanding or Blunder the Gentlemen of the Councill did not attend this Funerall & very few of the House of Representatives.
And that was just the start of the trouble.

TOMORROW: Three volleys and three cheers.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Reverse Course on the Copley Cartoon?

Yesterday I mused about the possibility that a British political cartoon inspired some elements of the Loyall Nine’s anti-Stamp Act protests in late 1765—in particular, hanging the stamp agents in effigy and dedicating a tree to liberty.

That idea was based on the common belief that the cartoon was created in London in the spring of 1765 and shipped to America in time for Boston’s 14 August protest. And that later that cartoon inspired John Singleton Copley to publish his own version on 1 November.

I have to note another possibility, however. What if the sequence was different, with the Loyall Nine’s protests inspiring Copley’s cartoon, which in turn inspired a version for the London market?

The British cartoon has been assigned the date of 22 Mar 1765 for over a century. But that’s actually the date when Parliament passed the Stamp Act. The print must have followed the law, but how much later? Since an Atlantic crossing usually took six weeks, it could have come out as late as June and still had plenty of time to reach Boston before the first protest in August.

However, the British Museum’s webpage about this picture says, “The print was announced in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 2 January 1766.” Would an engraving several months old have warranted such an announcement? (It would be nice to see the actual language of this announcement.)

The picture also appeared in the fifth volume of The British Antidote, a series of collections of anti-Bute cartoons. According to the 1883 catalogue of the British Museum’s prints, the 28 Nov 1766 Public Advertiser stated that fifth volume of The British Antidote “contains all the Political Prints that have been published since Nov. 1. 1765, down to the present Time.”

Thus, we don’t have a definite mention of the British “Deplorable State of America” print until two months after Copley’s print was published in Boston. And the description of the British Antidote implied that picture appeared in or after November, not months earlier.

Just as a copy of the print could have traveled from Britain to America in six spring or summer weeks, one could have traveled from America to Britain in six fall weeks. That would leave a couple more weeks for the practiced artists of the imperial capital to come out with their own version of “The Deplorable State of America” by 2 January.

I don’t know enough about the nuances of British political printmaking to assess the probability of the latter scenario. How long did it take to bring a print to market? How often did London artists adapt (not copy) work from the provinces? Did print sellers advertise pictures months after they first appeared?

But I have to acknowledge the possibility that the British version of “The Deplorable State of America” didn’t inspire the form of protests in North America but rather depicted those protests for British viewers. In that case, the slim tree labeled “To Liberty” couldn’t have been the seed for Boston’s Liberty Tree but rather a London artist’s attempt to interpret Copley’s picture of that tree for the local audience.

One of the major differences between the London and Boston prints involves the depiction of kings. The British picture shows the French king bribing a corrupt boot and the British king losing his crown and scepter. Copley presented France as an allegorical woman and used the even more symbolic figure Loyalty instead of his monarch.

In sum, the British print was far more direct and radical than the American one. Did Copley tone down the original, or did the London artist amplify Copley’s allegory with real rulers? Given the cultural dominance of London, the first scenario seems more likely, but it raises questions—and the limited evidence raises more. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Influence of a Stamp Act Cartoon

The more I thought about the British cartoon “The Deplorable State of America or S——ch Government,” shown above, the more I wondered about its influence on American politics.

Scholars believe that this print, from an unknown artist, went on sale soon after Parliament passed the Stamp Act on 22 Mar 1765. Copies were shipped across the Atlantic to Boston, where John Singleton Copley evidently took one as inspiration for his own cartoon, discussed yesterday.

Did the same picture inspire Bostonians to protest the Stamp Act in other ways?

The cartoon shows a boot, representing the Earl of Bute, supposedly the politician behind the Stamp Act. (He had retired many months before.) The background of the cartoon includes a gallows, labeled “Fit Entertainment for St—p M—n.”

The anti-Stamp Act protest in Boston on 14 August featured effigies of a boot and stamp agent Andrew Oliver hanged from the great elm in the South End.

To be sure, Pope Night processions had given Bostonians annual practice hanging political enemies in effigy. But would they have extended that particular courtesy to figures connected to the Stamp Act without this cartoon?

Wherever the idea came from, hanging effigies of the stamp agents became an element of anti-Stamp Act protests all over North America, from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean.

Likewise, the cartoon labels a tree being buffeted by winds with the words “To Liberty.” On 11 September, the Boston Sons of Liberty decorated that big elm with “a Copper-Plate with these Words Stamped thereon, in Golden Letters, THE TREE OF LIBERTY, August 14. 1765.” After that, the elm was always known as Liberty Tree.

In his cartoon Copley clearly depicted Boston’s Liberty Tree, with a thick trunk and a sign reading “THE TREE OF LIBERTY / Aug. 14 1765.” But had the idea of dedicating the tree that happened to hold those effigies “To Liberty” come from the British picture?

Both Alfred Young in Liberty Tree and David Hackett Fischer in Liberty and Freedom discuss Liberty Tree as an American invention, dating to 14 Aug 1765. I can’t find any American newspaper reference to the “Tree of Liberty” or “Liberty Tree” before the following months.

Although both Young and Fischer discuss the political symbolism of trees in earlier times, going back to Britain, neither unearthed references to “the Tree of Liberty” before 1765. Thanks to the added power of Google Books, I’ve found three:
  • “Some iniquitous Ministers, who had formed Designs on the Liberties of their fellow Subjects, had found it necessary to restrain and discountenance the Trade of those they intended to strip of their Freedom; for as Poverty certainly follows an Interdiction of Industry, these Sons of Ruin find their Account in laying the Political Axe to the Root of Affluence, as the ready Means for cutting away the darling Tree of Liberty, which seldom thrives in a Land of Poverty and Want.” —Seasonable Observations on the Present Fatal Declension of the General Commerce of England, in Which the Genuine Cause of the Decay of Our Woollen Manufactures Is Particularly Considered, published in London in 1737.
  • The index of a 1739 edition of A Dissertation Upon Parties by Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke, originally published in 1735. Bolingbroke didn’t actually use the key phrase, however, instead writing: “If liberty be that delicious and wholesome fruit, on which the British nation hath fed for so many ages, and to which we owe our riches, our strength, and all the advantages we boast of, the British constitution is the tree that bears this fruit.”
  • Of all places, the second volume of Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, published in 1742: “Just as Pedlars catch Monkeys in the Baboon Kingdoms, provoking the attentive Fools, by their own Example, to put on Shoes and Stockens, till the Apes of Imitation, trying to do the like, intangle their Feet, and so cannot escape upon the Boughs of the Tree of Liberty, on which before they were wont to hop and skip about, and play a thousand puggish Tricks.”
Three uses over fifty years is hardly a lot. The rarity of the “Tree of Liberty” metaphor in British political writing, and the lack of consistency in its use, suggests that the phrase hadn’t taken root there.

Which might make this picture with a tree labeled “To Liberty” all the more influential in the last third of the eighteenth century and beyond, as the “Tree of Liberty” became an international symbol.

TOMORROW: Unless we’re getting it all backwards.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Copley’s One and Only Political Cartoon

As long as I’m writing about political cartoons and about John Singleton Copley, I should note the only cartoon that Copley ever published.

It survives in a single copy at the Library Company of Philadelphia collected by the Swiss artist Pierre Eugène du Simitière, who came through Boston on his way south in 1767. Du Simitière penciled Copley’s name on his copy and also saved a Pennsylvania knock-off that he deemed “a wretched copy.”

This picture was announced by an item in the 7 Nov 1765 Boston News-Letter:
On the fatal First of November, 1765, was published, a caricatura Print, representing the deplorable State of America, and under what Influence her Ruin is attempted.----

At the Top is a Figure representing France, holding in one Hand a Purse of Money to a Comet, marked with a Jack-Boot, and out of her Mouth a Label, by which we find she actuates the Star to shed its baneful Influence on Britannia; who presents a Box to America, telling her it is the St--p A--t: but on it is wrote Pandora’s Box (which, according to the Poets, was fill’d with all Kinds of Calamities[)].

America, who is in deep Distress, calls out to Minerva to secure her, for she abhors it as Death! Minerva (i. e. Wisdom) forbids her taking it, and points to Liberty, who is expiring at the Feet of America with a Label proper to his Extremity.

Close by is a fair Tree, inscribed to Liberty; at whose Root grows a Thistle, from under it creeps a Vine, and infixes its Stings in the Side of Liberty.--

Mercury (who signifies Commerce) reluctantly leaves America, as is expressed by the Label.—

Boreas, near the Comet, blows a violent Gust full upon the Tree of Liberty; against which Loyalty leans, and expresses her Fear of losing her Support.—

Behind, a Number of Shops haul’d up and to be sold; a Croud of Sailors dismiss’d, with Labels proper to them.

On the other Side a Gallows, with this Inscription, Fit Entertainment for St---p M--n: A Number of these Gentlemen, with Labels expressing various Sentiments on the Occasion. At the Bottom is a Coat of Arms, proper for the St—p M—n.

The above is to be Sold by Nathaniel Hurd, near the Town House.
Scholars agree that Copley took inspiration for this picture from a British cartoon published in March 1765 under the title “The Deplorable State of America or Sc——h Government,” shown here.

Both the British original and Copley’s picture blame the Stamp Act on the Earl of Bute, a former prime minister supposedly influenced by France. They both forecast wounded liberty and damaged trade, and they shows gallows for stamp agents.

However, though Copley drew on the same classical and political symbolism as the London artist, he greatly reinvented the picture. He traced nothing, instead:
  • posing the figures differently
  • replacing the French king with an abstract flying woman
  • replacing the British king losing his crown with the female figure of Loyalty
  • changing Liberty from female to male
  • shifting the background scenes
  • adding a urinating dog
Artistically, Copley’s composition was more unified, but as propaganda his image is harder to read. The grouping of the figures and the heavy hatching mean nobody stands out. The word balloons (“Labels”) are smaller and not framed by white space for easy reading. Copley would almost certainly have improved if he’d kept making political cartoons, but we’ll never know.

Copley left no writing about this cartoon, so we don’t know why he made it. Was he expressing his own political belief at the time? Did Nathaniel Hurd, an established engraver and goldsmith, commission the picture from him? Neither man was politically active, though Copley found himself dragged into the tea crisis. Did they make this print in late 1765 because at that time they were in agreement with the great majority of anti-Stamp Act Bostonians, or because they saw an eager market for it? Again, we don’t know.

TOMORROW: What else did that British cartoon inspire?

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Sources for Revere’s Window Art

My second thought on the art that followed the fatal events of early 1770 is perforce not as developed as yesterday’s.

Of the three images that Paul Revere illuminated in his windows on the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre in 1771, we can connect two of them to other images he produced.

One window showed:
the Soldiers drawn up, firing at the People assembled before them—the Dead on the Ground—and the Wounded falling, with the Blood running in Streams from their Wounds: Over which was wrote FOUL PLAY.
The caption was new, but otherwise that description matches the picture that Revere copied from Henry Pelham to make a famous engraving and later carved as a woodcut as well.

In another window was:
the Figure of a Woman, representing AMERICA, sitting on the Stump of a Tree, with a Staff in her Hand, and the Cap of Liberty on the Top thereof,—one Foot on the Head of a Grenadier lying prostrate grasping a Serpent.—Her Finger pointing to the Tragedy.
Revere engraved America, grenadier, and serpent beside his picture of John Hancock for the Royal American Magazine in March 1774. That America was standing, but Revere included a similar America, sitting this time, in his illustration “A certain Cabinet Junto” in January 1775, as shown above. The same female figure appeared in mirror image in “America in Distress” two months later.

Revere clearly copied that figure of America, and most of the “America in Distress” composition, from “Britannia in Distress,” a print that appeared in the Oxford Magazine in 1770. (The rest of his “Cabinet Junto” came from “A retrospective View of a certain Cabinet Junto” published in 1773.) Thus, Revere probably had access to his source for “a Woman, representing AMERICA,” by early 1771.

That leaves this image:
the Ghost of the unfortunate young [Christopher] Seider, with one of his Fingers in the Wound, endeavouring to stop the Blood issuing therefrom: Near him his Friends weeping: And at a small distance a monumental Obelisk, with his Bust in Front
To be frank, this picture seems a bit busy—an obelilsk and a bust and a bleeding ghost?

Revere hardly made any engravings without copying from someone else’s engraving or drawing. And when he tried, the results were poor. Though Revere was skilled at engraving decorations on metal, drawing human faces, figures, and landscapes in perspective was not among his talents.

Therefore, I suspect there must be some model or models for Revere’s Seider picture—a picture of a youth with a finger in a bleeding wound and perhaps a separate picture of a memorial obelisk and bust. One or the other of those images would include some weeping mourners.

I’ve kept my eye open for possible models in looking at Revere’s other work and at British engravings. Occasionally I’ve run keyword searches on the British Museum website, source of the original prints I’ve linked to above. But so far I’ve come up empty.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Henry Pelham and History Painting

While Henry Pelham’s picture of the Boston Massacre is often analyzed as a political cartoon, I suspect he was aiming for something more akin to a history painting.

British artists considered history painting—portraying a dramatic moment from history, myth, religious scripture, or even a theatrical play—as one of the highest forms of visual art at this time. In 1760 the Society of Artists of Great Britain started to award annual “premiums,” or large prizes, for paintings of subjects from British history.

At first those British history paintings were from the distant past. Robert Edge Pine won a premium in 1763 for a picture of King Canute and his mother, for instance. But there was interest in showing show more recent history, too.

Benjamin West’s first history paintings showed scenes from classical times, but in 1768 he painted a British general magnanimously saving a French prisoner, and in 1770, the same year as the Massacre, he went all out with a large canvas of the death of Gen. James Wolfe, shown in modern dress with recognizable living men around him.

In West’s first letter to John Singleton Copley in June 1767, he explained that he had been too busy to write before because “history Painting…demands the greates Cear and intelehance in History amaginable.” In that letter West offered advice about manipulating color and light to draw viewers’ eyes to the most important figures in a picture:
Thare is in Historical Painting this Same attention to be Paid. For if the Principl Carrictors are Suffred to Stand in the Croud, and not distinguished by light and shadow, or made Conspicuous by some Pece of art, So that the Eye is first Caut by the Head Carrictor of the History, and So on to the next as he bears Proportion to the Head Carrictor, if this is not observed the whole is Confusion and looses that dignity we So much admier in Great works.
Copley was Henry Pelham’s older half-brother and mentor as an artist. Compare the advice he received from West with how Pelham kept Capt. Thomas Preston’s head on the right of his image in the foreground against white space while the soldiers recede into smoke. Likewise on the left, victims’ faces stand out while much of the crowd is in shadow. Pelham used hatching to darken the background figures.

We don’t know if Copley shared West’s advice with Pelham, but we do know the half-brothers discussed history painting when Copley was first viewing art in Europe and Pelham was trying to emulate his career in Boston. “My Dear Harry,” Copley wrote to from Paris in September 1774, “as you proceed invent Historical Subjects. possess Sr. Josa. Renolds lectures as soon as you can,—some of the Book Dealers will send for them for you—and they will tell you how to proceed in the management of those great Subjects.”

In the spring of 1775 Copley wrote, “You will be glad to know in what manner a Historical composition is made, so I will give it to you, in that way I have found best myself to proceed.” He then went on for several pages.

Reaching Italy in June 1775, Copley wrote, “you should than (as I would have you) sketch any Historical Subject. . . . I don’t think a Man a perfect Artist who on occation cannot Paint History, and who knows but you have a talent in history like Raphael till you try; and if you have, your fortune is secure in this Life.”

Of course, being a history painter was Copley’s own ambition. He felt frustrated at how his American customers wanted portraits only. After settling in Britain, Copley put a lot of time and energy into creating magnificent scenes of the British army winning parts of the American War far from America.

Now I’m not saying that Henry Pelham’s 1770 Boston Massacre image was a history painting. It’s not a painting at all, of course. In Britain, West still had to argue the case that it was valid to treat a recent event in that high-brow fashion. But Pelham’s picture has more in common with that artistic genre than with contemporaneous political prints, which usually take place on a generic and often blank landscape, feature allegorical figures, and sometimes use unrealistic techniques like word balloons.

With the exception of the dog in the center foreground, no elements in Pelham’s painting are wholly symbolic or unreal. And even the dog isn’t vomiting, urinating, or doing the other distasteful things that dogs often did in political cartoons. Pelham reserved his symbolic imagery for the bottom margin, where he etched a skull and crossbones and lightning shattering a sword.

Analyzing Pelham’s print as akin to a history painting doesn’t mean treating it as an attempt to depict the shooting on King Street exactly as it happened. Artists composed their history paintings for emotional and polemical effect, as West’s advice reveals. But they did so less obviously than when they drew cartoons.

As Paul Revere copied Pelham’s image, he added the label “Butcher’s Hall” to the Customs House, thus inserting a fictional label into the scene to hammer home its political message. That moved the picture closer to cartoon form. Even then, the result was a long way from Revere’s “View of the Year 1765,” “A Warm Place—Hell,” and other political art. And Revere didn’t bother with most of the hatching.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

“My vanity once more got ascendancy over my reason”

Yesterday I started to quote Ens. George Eld’s account of the Crown raid on Paramus, New Jersey, which started on 23 Mar 1780.

Most of the fighting took place on 24 March as British and Hessian units attacked the Continental positions and then withdrew, pursued by an enemy force.

Eld was in charge of part of the rear guard, and starting to resent his commander, Lt. Col. John Howard, for not providing more support.

The ensign’s account continues as the British column reached the Hackensack River:
we arrived at a Bridge; so great was Howards confusion, that as the rear Guard was crossing the Bridge, he was threatening the trembling Owner of the adjacent house, with death & destruction if he did not take up the planks of the Bridge—

as this was impossible, our army not chooseing to make the attempt & the Owner of the house from inclination not intending to do it, I volunteered the duty & promised Coll. Howard to destroy the Bridge. I never professed myself a volunteer for any duty, but on this occasion I had two reasons for my Conduct.

The first reason arose from my having perceived that the Enemy were bringing Cannon & horse—the whole weight of which must have been sustained by the rear guard, the other was, vanity; the vanity of attempting that danger, which a whole army had avoided—

I now called the Light Infantry, which composed the rear Guard to assist me, but so great was the panic, that only FOUR remained.—

Capn. [Francis] Dundass hearing my voice joined me as did Capns. [David] Anstruther & [George] Dennis with one private of the 43d. & 2 privates of the 42d. Regt. The Hessian detachment perceiving our intentions formed on a small rise & covered our attempt—Under a very heavy fire, we effected our design, by dislodging the planks—which effectually prevented the horse & feild pieces from following our line of March.

As this was done in the full view of the whole army, my vanity once more got ascendancy over my reason, inducing me to remain the last on the Bridge—In our retreating from the Bridge—three of the Light Infantry were killed, one of the 42 & 43—Capn. A: was wounded—Lt. Dennis slightly—Dundass & myself escaped.—

For having thus destroyed the Bridge, which rendered the rest of the retreat safe & easy—Capn. Dundass & myself recd. in public orders the thanks of Genl. [Edward] Mathew, the Commanding Officer at Kings bridge—as also Genl. [Wilhelm von] Knyphausen’s thanks Commr. in Chief at New York.

We now (March 24th. 5 o’clock even’g) recrossed the North river, after a march of 40 miles thro’ the enemys Country—We took 1 Capn. & 100 privates—our loss must have been nearly 300—
As usual, as the sources in Rees’s overview show, the two sides disagreed on who had come out best and how many casualties the other side suffered. Eld’s account was unusual in wildly overstating his own side’s losses. 

As for Eld’s memory of being praised for his brave action, Col. Howard did report:
After crossing the River Hackinsack, I ordered the Bridge to be broke down to prevent the Rebels passing it; in this Service Capts. Dundass and Elde of the Light Infantry were particularly active themselves taking up the Boards under the Enemy’s Fire.
However, Rees also quotes Knyphausen’s general orders, and he thanked five other officers—but not Eld or Dundas. Eld’s vanity may have affected his memory. 

(The picture above shows Francis Dundas, who went on to be a general and acting governor of the Cape Colony.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Raid on “a place called Paramus”

On 23 Mar 1780, Ens. George Eld of the Coldstream Guards’ light infantry company again went into battle against the rebels surrounding New York City again.

I’ve used Eld’s diary, published by the Boston Public Library, as a source for descriptions of some earlier skirmishes in 1780: at Hatfield’s house in Morrisania, at Young’s house near White Plains, and in a coffee house.

On the March 1780 operation, John U. Rees already wrote a detailed narrative and analysis with maps and pictures for the Continental Line: “‘So much for a Scotch Prize’: Paramus, New Jersey, 23 March 1780.” So I recommend reading that for an overview.

I’m just sharing Eld’s personal perspective on that fight as a junior officer.
March 23d.—At six in the evening a detachmt. of 600 commanded by Lt. Coll. [John] Howard marched to Spithim Devil creek, from whence at about ten they embarked in flat bottom boats and landed at 1/2 past twelve at Kloster lock in the Jersies—

having marched till seven in the morning I was sent forward with 60 Light Infantry to attack a rebel Picquet, on the right of the main body of the rebels who were advantageously posted & fortified in a Church Yard at a place called Paramus—the Picqt. was placed at the edge of a wood with a plain of half an mile in the rear,—

I surprized the Picq. which instantly fled & the most famous chase over the plain ensued—we were in at the death of seven.—I had given orders that my Party should not fire but use their Bayonets—notwithstanding the Main Body Being apprized of Coll. Howards attack, fled into the woods—

I fired at an Officer who was mounted, who to save himself cast away his saddle bags—which contained above 27.000 Dollars, paper Currny, orders, letters, &ca the dollars, (reserv a few thousd. for myself) I sold for a farthing each & distributed to the men—
Ens. Eld wasn’t alone in seizing valuables for himself. Rees quotes Pvt. Johann Dohla of the Bayreuth Regiment, who was on this same raid:
My booty, which I had been fortunate enough to retain, consisted of two silver pocket watches, three silver buckles, one pair of women’s white cotton stockings, one pair of men’s summer stockings, two men’s and four women’s shirts of fine English linen, two fine tablecloths, one silver food and tea spoon, five Spanish dollars and six York shillings in money, eleven complete mattress covers of fine linen, and more than two dozen pieces of silk fabric, as well as six silver plates and one silver drinking cup, all tied together in a pack which, because of the hasty march, I had to throw away.
But I digress. Back to Ens. Eld:
after a tiresome pursuit, I rejoined Coll. H. who immediately retreated—On our return which was by a different route, we were joined by a detachment of the 42d. Regt. & Hessians & 43d.—

The Rebels now collected & began to harrass our rear—I had the Command of the rear Guard—Capn. [Francis] Dundass flanked—the road in which we marched was wide & walled on each side—the road being a continuation of sudden hills—the main Body was little annoyed—& afforded me an opportunity of disputing each heighth—

the rebels made three charges & each time were repulsed—their loss was as ten to one—Coll. Howards retreat was so precipitate that he never once detached a party to my support; fortunately for me, the rebels now changed their attack to the left of our line of march—they now flanked from behind trees, &ca with the greatest security—the road on that side being open & a narrow & impassable swamp immediately adjoining it; thus we retreated, annoyed by a constant fire, with great loss—which produced a general confusion, Coll. Howard neglecting to give any orders—
One gets the sense that Eld was not happy with Col. Howard (shown above later in life, after he had succeeded to the Earldom of Suffolk).

TOMORROW: Ens. Eld on the bridge.

Monday, March 22, 2021

A Pyrrhic Victory in the Printers’ Case

In Parliament, 250 years ago this season, there was a big step forward in press freedom to report about how English-speaking governments worked.

Back in 1731, Edward Cave launched the Gentleman’s Magazine, which among its features included detailed reporting on the debates in Parliament, going beyond the official House Journals record of motions and whether or not they were adopted. Cave had actually been jailed a few years earlier for publishing such reports. This time he issued his proceedings only during parliamentary recesses, which provided legal cover.

According to James Boswell, Cave passed “scanty notes” on the debates to a young writer named Samuel Johnson to turn into oratorical arguments. It’s not that surprising, therefore, that these reports were often distorted—or so the prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, complained.

In 1738, the House of Commons resolved:
That it is a high indignity to, and a notorious breach of the privilege of, this House for any news-writer in letters or other papers…to give therein any account of the doings or other proceedings of this House, or any Committee thereof, as well during the recess as the sitting of Parliament, and this House will proceed with the utmost severity against such offenders.
The London Magazine and Gentleman’s Magazine then started to report on the debates as if they had taken place in ancient Rome, Lilliput, or the Robin Hood Society, thinly disguising legislators’ names. Another trick was to replace some letters of the Members’ names with asterisks or dashes. Because of the magazines’ slow publishing schedule and upper-class audience, it appears, the government didn’t press its objections.

In the 1760s, however, John Wilkes brought more populist politics to London, with the business community and big crowds behind him. The capital’s newspapers increased their coverage of Parliament’s debates. That meant quicker reporting to a larger and closer readership.

The Houses responded by clearing all spectators out during debates, sometimes by force. At the end of 1770 the Whig M.P. Isaac Barré complained about how he’d been pushed out of the House of Lords as if by “a very extraordinary mob” headed by two earls.

On 5 Feb 1771, a Member named George Onslow asked for Parliament’s old rule against printing the proceedings to be read again. Onslow had started in Parliament as a Rockingham Whig, opposing the prosecution of Wilkes and the Stamp Act, but he’d become a strong supporter of Lord North’s government, and he didn’t like how printers were representing it.

Opposition members of the House disagreed with Onslow’s proposal. Charles Turner argued that “not only the debates ought to be printed, but a list of the divisions [i.e., votes] likewise.” Edmund Burke said he wished all debates were fully recorded in the House Journals.

Naturally, the press reported on that debate. John Horne, a radical clergyman, prefaced the coverage in the Middlesex Journal for 7 February with this line:
It was reported, that a scheme was at last hit upon by the ministry to prevent the public from being informed of their iniquity; accordingly, on Tuesday last, little cocking George Onslow made a motion, that an order against printing debates should be read.
Onslow took the bait on 8 February, rising solemnly to complain that the Middlesex Journal and another paper, the London Gazetteer, had misrepresented Parliament and brought it into poor repute. He demanded that the printers Roger Thompson and John Wheble be summoned to explain themselves. By a vote of 90 to 50, the House adopted Onslow’s resolution.

But those printers didn’t show up. They didn’t come to their front doors to accept warrants. On 8 March the Crown issued a proclamation offering £50 for apprehending the two men. Meanwhile, newspapers heaped more criticism on Onslow: “That little insignificant insect, George Onslow, was the first mover of all this mighty disturbance.”

On 12 March, Onslow demanded to hear from six more publishers who continued to run parliamentary reports. On the first vote the House supported him, 140 to 43. Another member suggested summoning not only the proprietor of each newspaper but “all his compositors, pressmen, correctors, blackers and devils,” which produced more argument over both legalities and language. The Whigs kept moving to cancel the discussion and adjourn; the majority kept voting to proceed.

One account said, “There were so many divisions, and such strong and personally offensive expressions used during the course of this debate, that the Speaker [Fletcher Norton, shown above] said, ‘This motion will go into the Journals—what will posterity say?’” After more votes Norton declared, “I am heartily tired of this business.” Barré spoke up: “I will have compassion on you, sir; I will move the adjournment of the House.” That motion produced another round of debate.

Of all the printers Onslow had named, two appeared in the House, ritually knelt in penance, and paid fines. The rest made excuses to stay away or just lay low. Some replied that they would come when the legal situation was resolved.

Wilkes orchestrated the next move. Wheble and Thompson let themselves be apprehended by fellow printers and brought before the aldermen of London—namely Wilkes and his political allies. Those officials demanded to know under what authority the printers had been seized. When the captors pointed to the proclamation, Wilkes declared such an order “contrary to the chartered rights of this city, and of Englishmen.”

The conflict between levels of government grew. The Crown arrested Alderman Richard Oliver and the Lord Mayor, Brass Crosby, for defying parliamentary authority. They remained in the Tower of London until the end of the legislative session, then came out to a twenty-one gun salute and a parade of carriages. Crowds hanged Onslow and Norton in effigy on Tower Hill.

Legally the “printers’ case” of 1771, as it was called, ended in a victory for the House of Commons. Courts upheld its authority to determine how its proceedings would be published. But politically everyone realized that the press and society were operating under new rules. British citizens now expected to read full reports of what their legislators were saying. Parliament never tried to exercise its authority so strictly again.

The only way legislative houses could regain control of the reporting process was to issue their own official or semi-official transcriptions of debates. John Almon and John Debrett launched the Parliamentary Register in 1775. William Cobbett began publishing more detailed Parliamentary Debates in 1802, and that became the modern standard Hansard Debates. That tradition transferred over to the U.S. of A., with the Congressional Record, the Capitol press galleries, and C-SPAN as the offshoots.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

“A good amount of the Franklin Papers”

For anyone who cares about preserving the papers of important Founders, Valerie-Anne Lutz recounted quite a heart-stopping adventure for the American Philosophical Society in January.

Lutz wrote about Benjamin Franklin’s surviving papers:
When Franklin left for London in 1764 1776, he left his papers with his friend and fellow Pennsylvania Assembly member Joseph Galloway. Galloway kept the papers in his vault, a stone building on his property, along with some of his family’s papers and early Bucks County records.

By the time of the American Revolution, Galloway, a Loyalist, believed that the colonies should remain under British rule. This led to his departure for England in 1778 and the confiscation of his estate in 1779. The property was raided by either British or Continental forces, or both, who broke into Galloway’s vault, stole some of the papers, and left others scattered about the grounds. . . .

The letterbooks were, unfortunately, never found. For this reason, most of Franklin’s papers consist of letters to Franklin, rather than letters from Franklin. However, [son-in-law Richard] Bache was able to rescue a large amount of materials, which represent a good amount of the Franklin Papers that eventually found their way to APS.

In his will, Franklin left his papers to his grandson, William Temple Franklin, known as Temple. Intending to publish his grandfather’s papers, Temple set off for London with a portion of them, but left the largest portion with family friends, the Fox family, near Philadelphia. . . . In 1840, Charles Pemberton Fox and his sister Mary Fox gave the collection to the American Philosophical Society, where they have been ever since. . . .

A somewhat smaller collection of Franklin Papers held by the Fox family was overlooked for another 25 years. During the Civil War, the family sold some old papers from their barn to a paper mill. A house guest, identified as Mrs. Holbrook, noticed that some of the papers bore Franklin’s handwriting. She rescued them and left the papers to her son, George O. Holbrook, who, with the encouragement of physician S. Weir Mitchell, sold the collection to the University of Pennsylvania in 1903.

As for the papers that William Temple Franklin took to London, they were discovered in the 19th century in a tailor shop below where Temple had lived, where they were being used as clothing patterns. They were rescued, and after a series of legal issues, eventually were donated to the Library of Congress.
The Papers of Benjamin Franklin project built from these collections and added documents saved elsewhere to create as full a picture of the man’s correspondence and writings as possible. And we can enjoy the result through Founders Online.

Also recommended, though not as adventure reading: Jack Hitt’s article “In the Franklin Factory,” about the Papers of Benjamin Franklin as it operated about twenty-five years ago, published in Quick Studies: The Best of Lingua Franca.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Aftermath of the Second Boston Tea Party

Yesterday I discussed the political effect of the second Boston Tea Party in London. Today I’ll wrap up this topic with a look at the ripples from the event in Massachusetts.

Five local men were linked to the shipment of tea on the Fortune. All of them insisted that they hadn’t expected the tea to cause such trouble and wanted to send it back. How did the public accept those assurances?

The captain of the Fortune was Benjamin Gorham. Alas, not only were there other men of that name in Massachusetts, but two had the title “captain” from either maritime or military service. One was born in 1715, died in 1788, and is buried in Barnstable.

According to genealogists, though, this ship’s captain was the Benjamin Gorham born to Shubael and Mary (Thacher) Gorham in Barnstable on 5 June 1726. As of the late 1760s he commanded coasting vessels, bringing in the Hannah in 1769. In 1773, the owners of the Fortune sent him to London with a cargo and instructions to sell the ship there. Instead, Capt. Gorham came back with a range of goods, including those 28 1/2 chests of tea.

Nonetheless, Boston merchants continued to regard Gorham as reliable. On 18 April the Boston Post-Boy announced that he would soon sail the brig Leopard back across the Atlantic, carrying its owner, Jonathan Williams, Jr., and passengers in “genteel Accommodations.”

Gorham was back in Boston that fall; he married Nancy Hinckley in Boston on 28 Nov 1774 at the Rev. Samuel Stillman’s Baptist church. Eventually they had five children.

Early in the war, Gorham carried hatter Nathaniel Balch back to New England from London. In 1776 he became commander of a privateer named the Lizard, but that appears to have been his only military venture. In 1782 the Gorhams bought a house on North or Fore Street; four years later they sold it to John Hinckley, probably a relative of Nancy. In 1785 Capt. Gorham had the license for the Pine Tree Tavern in Dock Square. According to the Columbian Centinel, Gorham was widowed at the start of the year 1793, and genealogists say he died two years later.

The merchant who was supposed to receive most of the tea on the Fortune was Henry Lloyd (1709-1795). In its first report on the cargo, the Boston Gazette accused him of ordering forty chests. A week later, evidently after Lloyd showed them his letterbook, printers Edes and Gill ran a correction:
Better information obliges us to inform the public that Mr. Lloyd on the fifth and seventh of November last wrote to his correspondent to send him no tea on any account whatever, till further orders. . . .

Mr. Lloyd directly contrary to his order and expectation has been drawn into view in a light very disagreeable to himself, and wishes nothing more ardently than to have his conduct truly represented to his Country, with whom his highest ambition is to stand fair and agreeably.
In his politics, religion, and extensive property outside Massachusetts (family manor in Huntington, New York, shown above), Lloyd had many reasons to align with the royal government. As the political split widened in 1774, he signed the address welcoming Gen. Thomas Gage to Boston. Later he supplied the army. A niece he raised, Elizabeth, married royal appointee Joshua Loring, Jr., and also became mistress to Gen. William Howe. In 1776 Henry Lloyd joined the evacuation to Halifax. Though he made one return visit to Boston in 1785, Lloyd didn’t end up standing “fair and agreeably” with most of the people there.

Also among the Loyalist refugees was the brazier William Bowes, who in March 1774 loudly if unreliably stated that the owners of the Fortune had brought in tea for themselves. Although Bowes later claimed to have supported from the Crown from early on, in August 1769 he was among the many Boston men dining with the Sons of Liberty. Bowes’s father was a Congregationalist minister and his mother was a Hancock, so it would have been natural for him to be a Whig. Instead, after 1774 he declared his Loyalism by signing all the addresses to royal governors and then leaving the province.

As for those three owners of the Fortune, I still can’t trace William Thompson. Thomas Walley and Peter Boyer were, as I wrote before, solid Whig merchants up to 1774. Like Lloyd, they insisted that they had told their London contacts they didn’t want any tea and were completely surprised at what Capt. Gorham brought back.

Unlike Lloyd, Walley and Boyer remained trusted Whigs after the second Tea Party. Indeed, they became more politically active.

According to John W. Tyler’s Smugglers and Patriots, Walley was a documented smuggler, and he remained firmly in the center of the Boston business community. He served in the Massachusetts General Court during the war, and from 1786 to 1797 the town chose him as a selectman.

Meanwhile, Boyer served on Boston’s committee to help the poor after the Boston Port Bill and on the committee of correspondence, safety, and inspection in 1776. The following year he signed Massachusetts money along with John Scollay and Ezekiel Price. In 1782 David Jeffries resigned as Boston’s treasurer after many years, and the town meeting elected Boyer to that office, which he held until 1791. The community couldn’t have demonstrated any more trust in him. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

“What natural right, whether that of smuggling, or of throwing tea overboard?”

The second Boston Tea Party on 7 March 1774 made a smaller splash than the first on the preceding 16 December.

There was much less tea involved—fewer than thirty chests as opposed to more than three hundred.

The tea was much less valuable. It was the Bohea variety, an everyday black tea rather than a more expensive blend or a green tea.

The destroyed tea wasn’t owned by the highly connected East India Company but by the private firm of Davison & Newman, consigned to the Boston merchant Henry Lloyd. It had less financial importance for the Crown.

In response to the first Tea Party, Parliament passed the Boston Port Bill, declaring it illegal for Boston to receive goods (with a few exceptions, like firewood) from any other colony. It took only a few days in mid-March for that bill to become law. News of the second action was still making its away across the Atlantic.

Once news of the second Tea Party arrived in London in April, Davison & Newman and their insurers sent a petition to Parliament, reproduced on this website and on tins of “Boston Harbour Tea,” asking that they, too, be compensated for their lost property just as the East India Company would be. (Of course, Boston never paid back the East India Company.)

But the second Boston Tea Party still had an impact in London. On 28 March, prime minister Lord North (shown above) opened formal discussion in Parliament about a plan to change the constitution of the Massachusetts province. He advocated three changes:
  • giving the governor more power so he didn’t depend so much on support from the Council.
  • limiting town meetings to once each year to elect town officials unless the governor allowed otherwise.
  • an unspecified way of regulating the choice of jurymen.
Some Members of Parliament advocated stronger measures. Lord George Germain immediately raised the idea of making the Massachusetts Council an appointed body, as in most other North American colonies, rather than elected.

A smaller number of M.P.’s argued to preserve Massachusetts’s system. Former governor John Pownall described Americans as “a conscientious, good, religious, peaceable set of people.”

Lord North brought in his bill on 15 April, now including the appointed or “mandamus” Council. Soon he added the Administration of Justice Act, empowering the governor to send people charged for actions they had taken to enforce the laws away to another colony or Britain if he felt they couldn’t receive a fair trial in Massachusetts.

Strong Whigs like Isaac Barré and Charles Fox spoke against those bills. They complained about Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, who was being replaced (he didn’t know it yet). They moved to repeal the entire Tea Act. Edmund Burke made a very long speech that went all the way back to the first Navigation Acts and the Stamp Tax. Generally these members argued that while the destruction of the tea in December was wrong, the Crown had to give time for the Boston Port Bill to work before making permanent changes to the Massachusetts government.

On 21 April, Lord North opened another day of debate with a speech that included:
Sir, there is a ship arrived, I think her name is the Fortune, captain Goreham; she arrived in Boston harbour the latter end of February, or beginning of March 1774, I cannot say which; she was loaded with tea; the inhabitants came immediately and unloaded her, and emptied the contents of her cargo into the sea.

Is this, Sir, seeing their error? Is this, Sir, reforming? Is this making restitution to the East India Company?
Sir Thomas Frankland rose to confirm Lord North’s news based on a letter from Boston. Word of the second Boston Tea Party thus arrived just in time to confirm the worst impressions of the first.

Debate continued, but Massachusetts looked harder to defend. On 2 May, Lord North declared:
I am sorry to hear a charge thrown out, that these proceedings are to deprive persons of their natural right. Let me ask, of what natural right, whether that of smuggling, or of throwing tea overboard? Or of another natural right, which is not paying their debts?
He lamented the province “being in a distempered state of disturbance and opposition to the laws of the mother country.”

The Massachusetts Government Act went to a vote that day. The Commons divided 239 in favor of the law, only 64 against. Four days later, there was a vote on the Administration of Justice Act: 127 for, 24 against.

TOMORROW: What happened to the merchants who imported this cargo of tea?

Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Portrait of Thomas Oliver?

Speaking of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver, here’s a painting that in 1929 was sold to the Museum of Fine Arts for $2,500 as a portrait of Oliver by Joseph Blackburn.

The picture was signed “I Blackburn Pinxit 1760.” Oliver’s name was penciled on the stretcher.

According to the dealer, Frank W. Bayley, this portrait of Thomas Oliver and another of his wife Elizabeth went into the custody of Penelope Vassall, Elizabeth’s aunt by marriage, after the Revolution.

I imagine that could have happened in the fall of 1774, after the Olivers left Cambridge, or after the war, when Penelope Vassall returned to her home there. Bayley provided a line of inheritance for the portraits from Penelope Vassall ending with “Elizabeth Degan of Brooklyn.”

Bayley was the author of a big early study of John Singleton Copley and another book on five other portrait artists in colonial America. He was also an art dealer heading the Copley Gallery in Boston, which sold a lot of eighteenth-century portraits.

In 1931 Oliver Elton shared a paper about Thomas Oliver with the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. About this painting, Elton said:
It is an excellent half-length pastel by Joseph Blackburn. Thomas appears as a well-favored youth, clean-shaven, with brown hair worn long; with brown eyes, arched eyebrows, wide forehead, and well-cut lips. He wears a blue coat with glimpses of gold lining, and a white stock. He also wears an expression, rather engaging, of modest complacency and inexperience; but not, I think, of weakness.
Around the same time, Bayley authenticated a portrait of George Washington as painted by Gilbert Stuart, helping a New York gallery to sell it to a Boston collector for $25,000.

When the new owner became suspicious, he sent the canvas to the Museum of Fine Arts for another look. According to Robert C. Vose, Jr., writing in the Archives of American Art Journal in 1981, conservators “removed a lining canvas and found, on the back of the original, the signature of a female art student who had made it as a copy at the Museum three years before.”

Bayley killed himself in 1932.

The Colonial Society published the Oliver picture with Elton’s article the next year. However, other scholars began scrutinize all the portraits Bayley had sold in his final years. In April 1936, the American Antiquarian Society published an article by John Hill Morgan and Henry Wilder Foote (P.D.F. download) newly identifying many paintings by Joseph Blackburn and reappraising the identification of others.

In particular, they looked at the portrait said to show Thomas Oliver. They agreed that Blackburn was not known to have worked in pastels and the painting did not fit his style, no matter if his name was painted on it.

Morgan and Wilder also found that though there was a Degen (spelled slightly differently) branch from the Vassall family, neither genealogy nor local directories could locate Elizabeth Degan of Brooklyn or her supposed father, the people who had allegedly owned this canvas.

Likewise, that article cast doubt on the picture of Elizabeth Oliver and portraits said to show Gov. Frances Bernard, his wife, and Gov. Thomas Hutchinson—all signed “I Blackburn Pinxit 1760” and sold by Bayley.

In 1981 Vose wrote about his family’s gallery:
My father bought nine “Colonial” portraits from [Bayley]. Most were accompanied by certificates stating that they were likenesses of Governors or other important American personages. All have proven to be eighteenth-century English paintings whose documentation was expertly forged. Mr. Bayley bought them from a Mr. [Augustus] Deforest in New York and the certificates were contrived in New York by a Mrs. Winter.
And that is why the Museum of Fine Arts doesn’t display this painting, and why it’s no longer used as a portrait of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Evacuation Day Lecture Now Online

I’ve put “The End of Tory Row,” my Evacuation Day talk for Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters, online at YouTube.

Because this was an online talk, I loaded my PowerPoint up with more graphics. I hope those survive my clicking while speaking, the Zoom recording, and finally the compression for YouTube.

One thing I said in the talk is that no one could figure out why the Crown chose Thomas Oliver to be Massachusetts’s new lieutenant governor in 1774. At forty years old, he was hardly a senior figure among supporters of the royal government, and he hadn’t been active in politics. The best explanation seemed to be, I said, that bureaucrats in London got him mixed up somehow with the family of his predecessor, Andrew Oliver.

After the talk, John W. Tyler, currently editing The Correspondence of Thomas Hutchinson for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, sent me the text of Gov. Hutchinson’s letter to the Earl of Dartmouth on 29 Mar 1774. That document shows that I wronged Thomas Oliver—at least one person in Massachusetts thought he could be a capable lieutenant governor.

This letter shows that after Andrew Oliver’s death Hutchinson sent four names of possible stand-ins to the Secretary of State’s office. The governor wanted someone who could back him up, not knowing that he would soon be superseded by Gen. Thomas Gage.

The four names Hutchinson proposed were:
  • William Browne of Salem. As of 29 March, he asked to be considered for a seat on the Massachusetts Superior Court instead, and was indeed appointed to that bench just in time for the courts to be shut down.
  • William Burch, a Customs Commissioner born in England and based in Massachusetts since 1767—Hutchinson’s top choice.
  • Thomas Flucker, the provincial secretary.
  • Thomas Oliver.
About the last, Hutchinson wrote:
There is a gentleman of the same name with the late Lieut. Governor but of another family Thomas Oliver Esq. of Cambridge, now Judge of the Provincial Court of Admiralty which he must quit in case of his appointment. He has a handsome Estate, is a very sensible man & very generally esteemed. He is Cousin German to Mr. [Richard] Oliver the Alderman and City Member. I know not how the Alderman stands affected to Government but this Gentleman has been steady in his opposition to all the late measures and I think the Administration in case of the absence of the Governor may be safely trusted with him.
Lord Dartmouth’s office thus had a little information about Thomas Oliver and knew that he wasn’t from the same family as Andrew and Peter Oliver. His distant cousin Richard Oliver was about to speak out against the Boston Port Bill in Parliament, but the government didn’t hold that against Thomas.

Hutchinson was anxious to have a lieutenant governor in place because if he died, became ill, or left the province without one, the power of acting governor would fall to the Council, led by its senior member, and the Council was more and more ranged against him. Again, Hutchinson didn’t know that in August that elected Council would be replaced with one appointed from London.

Thus, I was mistaken in saying no one in Massachusetts considered Thomas Oliver to be lieutenant governor material. He was at the bottom of Hutchinson’s short list, but he was on the list.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Call for Papers for “The Meaning of Independence,” October 2021

The David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society has issued a call for papers for a conference on “The Meanings of Independence” scheduled for 21-22 October in Philadelphia.

The call says:
The conference aims to convene leading and emerging scholars of the era, museum and library professionals, leaders of cultural institutions, teachers at all levels, public intellectuals, and engaged members of the public for two days of discussion about the meaning and import of the American Revolution in the twenty-first century.

We invite proposals from scholars and professionals at all levels of their careers whose work can contribute to this conversation. Conference organizers hope to highlight new scholarship on the causes, course, and consequences of the American Revolution; the lived experience of the Revolution; its place within a global context; innovative plans for commemorations in 2026; and compelling digital and new media scholarship that presents the era in a new light and to a wide audience.
What Revolutionary topics fall within the purview of this conference? Nearly everything, it seems, but that’s not how calls are written. They have to include an explicitly non-exclusive list of possibilities, as in:
  • Origins
  • New interpretations of the cause of the American Revolution
  • Examinations of overlooked events and individuals that cast new light on the Revolution’s cause
  • Experiences
  • The role of warfare on society and its lasting significance
  • The meanings and consequences of independence, for the various peoples affected by war and political upheaval—including loyalists, enslaved men and women, Indigenous peoples, and non-combatants
  • Perspectives from the top-down and bottom-up, and their interplay throughout the course of the Revolution
  • Global Contexts
  • Papers that place the Revolution within the Age of Atlantic Revolutions
  • The effects of the American Revolution around the globe within its own time and after it, including to the present day
  • Other comparative frameworks that help elucidate elements of the Revolution
  • Legacies
  • The changing meaning of the Revolution for those who lived through it
  • Research that interrogates the idea of a founding moment or moments, including papers that provide a comparative perspective from other countries
  • Legacies of independence in shaping lives, institutions, and ideals of citizenship and patriotism
  • Examinations of past commemorations as well as plans for future ones
  • Teaching the Revolution, past, present, and future
  • Innovative digital and archival projects that provide new access to study of the era
  • Approaches
  • Historical
  • Literary
  • Religious
  • Environmental
  • Legal
  • Political
  • Material culture
  • Gender
  • Native American and Indigenous studies
  • Public history
  • Digital scholarship
  • Otherwise
Now the big question for any event in 2021: How close will participants be to one another? The society says, “In order to maximize the opportunity for informal and formal discussion and collaboration, conference organizers plan to hold this gathering in-person. Should travel in October be unadvisable, the conference will be rescheduled for Spring 2022.” All presenters will receive travel subsidies and hotel accommodations.

Papers should be no longer than 15 double-spaced pages. Scholars hoping to present should submit a paper title, 250-word proposal, and curriculum vitae to the organizers by 15 April 2021 via the Interfolio website. Decisions will be announced in June. Papers will be due in September, one month before the conference, to be pre-circulated to registered attendees. Some presenters might be invited to revise their papers for publication in the A.P.S.’s Transactions, one of the longest running scholarly series in America.

For more information, see the A.P.S. website.

Monday, March 15, 2021

“Whereas Tea is an Indian Plant…”

Yesterday I quoted a couple of press reports and a diary entry showing how Bostonians used the trope of “Indians” to discuss the men who dumped tea in the harbor, both in December 1773 and March 1774.

Another document of that sort was printed in facsimile in Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves (1884). In 1901 it came to the Bostonian Society as part of the collection of the late Jeremiah Colborn.

According to Drake, the document was in the handwriting of Edward Procter or Proctor (1733-1811). Procter was a middling merchant, a militia officer, and a member of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons.

He was also a confrontational Whig, quarreling with Ebenezer Richardson during the protest that led to the death of Christopher Seider and being the first volunteer to patrol the docks when the tea ships arrived.

The document reads:
Abrant Kanakaratöphqua
Chief Sachem of the Mohawks,
King of the Six Nations and
Lord of all their Castles, &c. &c. &c.
To all our liege Subjects—HEALTH.

Whereas Tea is an Indian Plant, and of right belongs to the Indians of every Land and Tribe: and WHEREAS, our good Allies the English, have in lieu of it, given us that pernicious Liquour RUM, which they have pour’d down our Throats, to steal away our Brains, and WHEREAS the English have learn’d the most expeditious Way, or Method, of drawing an Infusion of said TEA without the Expense of Wood, or Trouble of Fire, to the Benefit and Emolument of the East India Trade as vastly greater Quantities may be expended by this Method, than by that heretofore practiced in this Country, and therefore help to Support the East India Company under these present Milancholly Circumstances—

We of our certain Knowledge, Special Grace, and Meer Motion, permit and allow any of our liege Subjects to barter for, buy, or procure of any of our Said English Allies, TEAS of any kind: PROVIDED always each Man purchase not less than Ten, nor more than One hundred and fourteen Boxes, at a Time, and those the property of the East India Company, and PROVIDED also that they pour all the Said Tea into the Lakes, Rivers and ponds, that while our Subjects in their Thirsting instead of Slakeing their Thirst with Cold Water, as usual, may do it with Tea.

Of all which our Subjects will take Notice, and govern themselves accordingly— By command
1st. Moon
The phrase “One hundred and fourteen Boxes” refers to the tea chests carried by each of the ships Dartmouth and the Eleanor in December. As Charles Bahne noted here, the official accounting submitted to the House of Lords said the Beaver held only 112 chests, though the Boston press had said there were 342 in all.

A bigger question is when this document was created. If “1st. Moon,” meant January, then it was dated a month after the famous Boston Tea Party. This might thus be the earliest example of putting words about the tea into a supposed Indian chief’s mouth, elaborating impromptu disguises into a parodic royal decree.

This document addresses only tea that was “the property of the East India Company.” The second Boston Tea Party in March 1774 dumped tea sent by an independent mercantile firm. Procter evidently didn’t anticipate that the tea boycott would expand to cover all imported tea. Then again, neither did that mercantile firm.

Another notable detail is that this ersatz proclamation came from the fictional “Chief Sachem of the Mohawks” and “King of the Six Nations” far to the west of Massachusetts, not the Narragansetts from Rhode Island that other people wrote about. But of course it wasn’t really about Indians.

COMING UP: Fallout in London.