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

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Friday, April 30, 2021

Col. Gridley’s Half-Pay

Last year I wrote two postings about Maj. Scarborough Gridley’s attempt to wring some money from the Continental government after he was cashiered from his own father’s regiment in September 1775.

In the same period Scar Gridley’s father, Col. Richard Gridley, was also seeking more pay.

Though promoted to the post of the Continental Army’s Chief Engineer in fall 1775, Col. Gridley had stayed behind in New England at the end of the siege of Boston. And Gen. George Washington was fine with that. He had lost respect for the colonel and preferred his new artillery commander, Henry Knox. Gridley finally retired at the end of 1780.

Back in April 1775, when Col. Gridley agreed to come out of retirement to work for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, he asked that rebellious legislature to make up for the likely loss of his half-pay pension from the Crown. Once he retired again, the colonel expected that the Continental Congress would start paying the equivalent of that pension since it had taken charge of the army raised in Massachusetts.

In February 1781 the Congress “recommended to the State of Massachusetts to make up to Richard Gridley the depreciation of his pay as engineer at sixty dollars per month…and charge the same to the United States.” It promised to pay the colonel “four hundred and forty-four dollars and two-fifths of a dollar per annum” as a pension. Samuel Huntington transmitted that news to Massachusetts governor John Hancock.

Two years later, however, Gridley reported to Robert Morris “that upon his application to the said State they granted and paid the depreciation by giving their notes, and also made him a grant for the sum of £182 10/ Massachusetts currency, being for eighteen months half pay; and that he had received a warrant on the Treasurer of the State for the said sum, but that he had not received any money upon it.” Gridley had received only government notes, which were rapidly losing their value.

At that time, lots of other retired officers were complaining about their pay as well. Legislators had made more explicit promises to Col. Gridley than the rest, “as he abandoned his British half pay on an agreement made by Congress to indemnify him therefor.” The Congress recognized that difference. But basically they couldn’t do much about it.

TOMORROW: Beating a dead horse.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Bahne on “Cradle of Liberty,” 5 May

For folks intrigued by Ens. Henry DeBerniere’s map of the Massachusetts countryside in early 1775, I hope you caught the comments from Charles Bahne about it—particularly sites I couldn’t identify.

In addition to being a practiced tour guide and teacher, Charlie has a degree from M.I.T. in Urban Planning and an interest in transportation routes and maps, so he’s just the guy to tackle mysteries like the “Nineteen Mile Tavern.”

Next week, Charles Bahne will teach an online class on the topic “Cradle of Liberty: How Boston Started the American Revolution” through the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

This is a single two-hour webinar, and the description says:
The first shots of the American Revolution, fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, were the culmination of a decade and a half of political unrest in and around Boston. Why was Massachusetts such a fertile ground for the seeds of rebellion? This class will explore how events and issues such as the Writs of Assistance, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, the Boston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party set the stage for the War for Independence. The roles of James Otis, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Thomas Hutchinson will all be discussed.
This online event will take place on Wednesday, 5 May, from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. Registration costs $50. Space is limited.

The Cambridge Center for Adult Education is the present owner of the house from which William Brattle launched Gov. Thomas Gage’s move against the provincial gunpowder storehouse on 1 Sept 1774 and, inadvertently, the “Powder Alarm” of the following day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Can America Rock Again?

Earlier this month the Washington Post pubished Prof. Paul Ringel’s essay about Schoolhouse Rock, A.B.C.’s interstitial Saturday morning cartoon, and how it handled the nation’s history.

Ringel wrote:
“Schoolhouse Rock,” the animated Saturday morning children’s television series that ran on ABC mostly from 1973 through 1979 (though there were also new episodes in 1995-1996 and 2009), has reached millions of viewers over the past half-century. . . .

Its history-centered season, “America Rock,” ran from September 1975 through July 1976, as the United States was celebrating its bicentennial. Not surprisingly, the show adopted a celebratory rather than a critical perspective on the nation’s past, focused almost exclusively on White people’s stories and predominantly on men. . . .

These interpretations were a product of “Schoolhouse Rock’s” limited budget and cautious ideological mandate. ABC launched the program in response to criticism from grass-roots organizations like Action for Children’s Television about the excessive commercialism of Saturday morning television, and then handed the project to its advertising firm with no funding for support from educators or historians. Any hint of ideological controversy made the network executives skittish; an episode titled “Three Ring Government” was shelved due to fear that its comparison of the U.S. government to a circus would offend the FCC.

The representations that emerged from this process also exemplified “America Rock’s” less obvious shortcoming: its broader pattern of presenting historical narratives of progress without conflict. These episodes relied on an outdated model of history that honored the past without investigating it. When “No More Kings” presented an American Revolution with no actual warfare, and “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage” explained that female suffragists “carried signs and marched in lines, until at long last the law was passed,” they overlooked the struggles required to bring about these transformative changes. Instead they suggested that people merely had to set their mind to the task and it was done.

The approaching 50th anniversary of “Schoolhouse Rock” offers a ripe opportunity to bring these sorts of lessons to television. The program’s three-minute format seems particularly suited to online viral culture, and to young viewers’ growing preferences for watching videos online.

As young people grow up in an era of heightened disinformation, amid a battle over the nation’s history, bringing them the best version of that history—one that teaches them to think critically—will be crucial to raising the next generation of U.S. citizens. A remixed “Schoolhouse Rock” that helped to achieve this goal could enhance the program’s already formidable legacy.
A longer version of Ringel’s article was published in The Public Historian. It also discusses Liberty’s Kids and The Time Warp Trio, two more recent attempts to explore history through television cartoons for kids.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

“A view or plan of the battle of Bunker’s hill”

On 10 May 1816, the Wilkesbarre Gleaner newspaper, published by Charles Miner, announced a discovery about the Battle of Bunker Hill, more than forty years earlier.

According to a reprint in Niles’s Weekly Register the following month, it said:
I stepped into the house of a friend the other evening, and he told me, that in rummaging over some old drawers he found a curiosity. It was indeed very interesting and curious, to me at least, I dare say it would be so to you, reader.

The thing referred to was a view or plan of the battle of Bunker’s hill, taken by a British officer at the time, who was in the engagement. The execution was in a style of uncommon neatness; and as far as it was possible for me to judge, extremely and minutely accurate.

The references were numerous and particular. The place of landing of the British was laid down—each regiment numbered—the artillery and light infantry particularly designated—the precise line of march pointed out—the situation of the American posts of defence, even to a barn, and the particular force that attacked the barn, laid down.

The place of the greatest carnage or loss of the British—the two vessels that were moored to annoy our people—the battery that played upon our fortifications—the line of retreat and the situation of the craft stationed to cut off our troops, the situation of the commanding officer of the British; and indeed every thing that could tend to give a full and clear idea of the situation and movements of the parties.

On looking over this map deep and strong emotions were excited—pride at the glorious defence made by our undisciplined American yeomanry, against the best regular forces of the old world—patriotism, by considering the spirit and devotion of our militia in defence of freedom and their country—pity for the suffering of the number who fell, and admiration of the dauntless spirit of the assailants and the assailed.

At the same time it was impossible to repress the smile, half in anger and half in mirth at the repetition of the word “Rebels” which occurred so often in the delineation. It brought to our minds the battle of the kegs, where the frequent use of the odious and contemptible expression is so handsomely ridiculed.

This probably is the only accurate plan of that memorable battle, in existence. It ought certainly to be engraved, and the copies multiplied, together with a correct account of the engagement, and to be in the possession of every friend to the liberties of the country.
Publishers were intrigued. Some made inquiry and discovered the man who possessed the hand-drawn map was Jacob Cist of Wilkes-Barre, a postmaster, artist, naturalist, and promoter of anthracite coal (shown above).

A man named I. A. Chapham copied Cist’s map and brought it to Philadelphia, where an engraving firm produced prints for the February issue of the Analectic Magazine. Here’s a digitized image from the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

The next month, the Port Folio published a second engraving copied from the competing magazine with red marks overlaid to show corrections by Gen. Henry Dearborn, a veteran of the battle. Here’s an image of that map. Dearborn’s accompanying article ignited a feud with descendants of Gen. Israel Putnam and others that lasted for years.

The publication of the Analectic engraving revealed the name of the British officer who had sketched the map: Lt. Henry DeBerniere, misidentified as an officer of the 14th (rather than 10th) Regiment.

The manuscript sketch doesn’t survive. Neither does any clue about how DeBerniere’s sketch came into the hands of Jacob Cist. He was born in Philadelphia in 1782, and we know DeBerniere was in that city with the British army in 1777-78. Had the officer left the sketch behind, just as he had left his written manuscripts in Boston?

Cist also worked for the U.S. Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., from 1800 to 1808 before settling in Wilkes-Barre. Did he collect the map as a curiosity? Was he really just “rummaging over some old drawers” when he realized what it was?

The provenance will remain a mystery. Similarly, we have no idea how the historian Peter Force came by DeBerniere’s map of the Massachusetts countryside now in the Library of Congress collection. But Lt. DeBerniere’s map has been one of the main sources for every printed map of the Battle of Bunker Hill since 1818.

COMING UP: The post-Revolutionary career of Henry DeBerniere.

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Lost DeBerniere Manuscripts

On 30 June 1775, Ens. Henry DeBerniere was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the 10th Regiment of Foot.

Nine months later, on 17 March 1776, he evacuated Boston with the rest of the British military.

That departure was rushed enough that Lt. DeBerniere left behind some of his papers, which locals eventually found. Exactly which locals remains a mystery.

In 1779 the printer John Gill issued a collection of those documents, described on the title page as “Left in town by a British Officer previous to the evacuation of it by the enemy, and now printed for the information and amusement of the curious.”

That title page (shown here) rendered the ensign’s name as “D’Bernicre.” Which is only one of the many ways it was spelled at the time.

The documents in that booklet were:
  • Gen. Thomas Gage’s orders to DeBerniere and Capt. William Brown to scout the countryside—thus giving the publication the title General Gage’s Instructions.
  • DeBerniere’s detailed and dramatic narrative of how he and Brown visited Worcester, Framingham, Marlborough, and Weston, barely making it back home in a snowstorm.
  • A much shorter report on the officers’ similar trek to Concord.
  • DeBerniere’s account of the expedition to Concord and the return to Boston under fire on 19 April.
  • A list of the casualties from that action, naming each killed or wounded officer but giving simple body counts for the enlisted men.
The Massachusetts Historical Society has shared scanned and transcribed pages here.

The year before Gill published, the Massachusetts General Court had passed laws banishing Loyalists and empowering the state to confiscate their property. Citizens who read DeBerniere’s narratives could easily recognize the Loyalists who offered them assistance. Most had left the country, but Isaac Jones of Weston was still at the Golden Ball Tavern. By then, though, he had apparently worked his way back into his neighbors’ graces.

The Massachusetts Historical Society reprinted the text of John Gill’s booklet in a volume of its Collections series in 1815, which is how it shared material before the internet.

That reprint was probably the source for another version of the story told in the voice of Brown and DeBerniere’s servant and published as The Journal Kept by Mr. John Howe While He Was Employed as a British Spy; Also, While He Was Engaged in the Smuggling Business by Luther Roby in 1827.

There was a young printer named John Howe working in Boston in 1775. A Sandemanian and partner of Margaret Draper in the last months of the Boston News-Letter, he evacuated Boston at the same time as Lt. DeBerniere. Eventually he settled in Nova Scotia, and his son became an important figure in early Canadian politics. So he wasn’t the “John Howe” narrating that “Journal.”

In fact, the “Journal” was just a hyped-up version of DeBerniere’s original report, using all the dramatic bits and adding to them, eventually reaching the point of implausibility. Nonetheless, extracts can seem credible, and many authors have been fooled into thinking that 1827 publication is an authentic historical source.

TOMORROW: Another DeBerniere manuscript, and another mystery.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Ens. DeBerniere’s Last Trip to Concord

Ens. Henry DeBerniere went back to Concord on the British army expedition of 18-19 April.

Indeed, DeBerniere probably served as a close advisor to the mission’s commander, Lt. Col. Francis Smith (shown here). The young officer had been to the town the previous month, had learned about the cannon at James Barrett’s farm, and was in Smith’s own 10th Regiment.

After the column reached central Concord, DeBerniere led Capt. Lawrence Parsons of the 10th Regiment with “six light-companies” farther across the North Bridge to Barrett’s. The ensign wrote afterward, “we did not find so much as we expected, but what there was we destroyed.”

The serious action, DeBerniere came to learn, was back at the bridge, where Capt. Walter Sloane Laurie of the 43rd, whom he called “Capt. Lowry,” and three companies “were attacked by about 1500 rebels.” (As usual, people tended to overestimate the enemy’s numbers.)

In that fight, “three officers were wounded and one killed” along with three soldiers DeBerniere didn’t name. He counted Lt. Edward Hull of the 43rd as “killed.” In fact, Hull was merely wounded at the bridge but wounded again while riding in a carriage to Boston. He finally died in provincial custody on 2 May, which suggests that DeBerniere wrote his account at least two weeks after the battle.

During that exchange of fire at the bridge, Parsons, DeBerniere, and those six companies were still up at Barrett’s farm, searching. The ensign wrote of the local militia:
they let Capt. Parsons with his three companies return, and never attacked us; they had taken up some of the planks of the bridge, but we got over; had they destroyed it we were most certainly all lost; however, we joined the main body.
Actually, Laurie’s men had taken up planks of the bridge. But it’s true that those provincial companies didn’t try to cut off the search party, waiting until all the British forces had left the center of Concord before attacking. (Parsons reported that at least one of the soldiers killed at the bridge was “scalped,” but DeBerniere said nothing about that.)

Elsewhere in Concord, Ens. DeBerniere noted, that “Capt. [Mundy] Pole of 10th regiment…knock’d the trunnions off three iron 24 pound cannon and burnt their carriages.” These guns were the only provincial artillery left in Concord, possibly because they belonged to the town and possibly because they were just too darn big to move.

DeBerniere’s report continued with a description of the British withdrawal under fire; “there could not be less than 5000…rebels,” he now guessed.
we at first kept our order and returned their fire as hot as we received it, but when we arrived within a mile of Lexington, our ammunition began to fail, and the light companies were so fatigued with flanking they were scarce able to act [as flankers], and a great number of wounded scarce able to get forward, made a great confusion;

Col. Smith (our commanding-officer) had received a wound through his leg, a number of officers were also wounded so that we began to run rather than retreat in order—the whole behaved with amazing bravery, but little order; we attempted to stop the men and form them two deep, but to no purpose, the confusion increased rather than lessened:

At last, after we got through [into] Lexington, the officers got to the front and presented their bayonets, and told the men if they advanced they should die: Upon this they began to form under a very heavy fire
Finally Col. Percy arrived with fresh troops and two field-pieces. That changed the balance of power, and the regulars resumed withdrawing east in more orderly fashion. But there was heavy fighting in Menotomy:
out of these houses they kept a very heavy fire, but our troops broke into them and killed vast numbers; the soldiers shewed great bravery in this place, forceing houses from whence came a heavy fire, and killing great numbers of the rebels.
Around seven o’clock, DeBerniere wrote, the army column reached Charlestown. There the soldiers “took possession of a hill that commanded the town,” the soon-to-be-famous Bunker’s Hill. The town’s selectmen, who were strong Whigs but didn’t want their homes consumed by fire and sword, sent a message to Col. Percy saying
if he would not attack the town, they would take care that the troops should not be molested, and also they would do all in their power for to get us across the ferry;

the Somerset man of war lay there at that time, and all her boats were employed first in getting over the wounded, and after them the rest of the troops; the piquets of 10th regiment, and some more troops, were sent over to Charlestown that night to keep every thing quiet, and returned next day.
Thus ended Ens. DeBerniere’s third and last journey into the Massachusetts countryside.

COMING UP: DeBerniere’s papers.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Concord “fit for ENCAMPMENTS”

When Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere first ventured out into the Massachusetts countryside in civilian clothes, from 23 February to 2 March 1775, their focus was Worcester.

Gen. Thomas Gage’s spy on the provincial congress’s committee of safety and supplies, Dr. Benjamin Church, had told him that the Patriots were collecting most of their cannon in Worcester.

Brown and DeBerniere confirmed that. They also confirmed that the people of Middlesex and Worcester Counties were on high alert, with multiple people suspecting correctly that they were army spies.

During that first trip the officers also visited Weston, Framingham, and Marlborough. It wasn’t until their next scouting mission starting on 20 March that they visited Concord. That was after some local person started sending Gen. Gage secret messages about James Barrett gathering cannon for the congress in that town, as I relate in The Road to Concord.

Because Concord is such a prominent feature on the hand-drawn map from the Library of Congress collection that I’ve been discussing, DeBerniere must have drawn it after the second foray.

The map is also notable for what its text says about Concord, as shown above:
This Town is well Inhabited and on an entire plain

a Shire Town and great thorough-fare, the roads wide and fit for
That label indicates that some officers in the British army in Boston were thinking about occupying Concord for at least one night.

In the end, of course, Gage decided on a one-day expedition, in and out, using a road not on this map.

TOMORROW: Ens. DeBerniere’s second visit to Concord.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Dots on the Ensign’s Map

Yesterday I started to discuss a hand-drawn map from the Library of Congress that Ed Redmond has identified as likely coming from British army spy Ens. Henry DeBeniere weeks before the march to Concord.

That map marks several individual homes. Some of those are places where DeBerniere and his fellow scout, Capt. William Brown, visited on their two treks into the Massachusetts countryside in early 1775.

Others aren’t mentioned in the officers’ report but were the estates of Loyalists, and therefore potential safe houses or places for troops to camp.

Here’s a list of all those marked properties:

“Hatch’s”: Nathaniel Hatch of Dorchester, Loyalist.

“Davis’s”: This site is a bit of a mystery. My best guess is that this is Dr. Jonathan Davies, who bought half of the old Auchmuty estate in the 1750s. Unlike almost all the other homeowners named on the map, Davies wasn’t a Loyalist. Another possibility is that this is the house of Aaron Davis, which ended up on the front lines of the siege.

“Auchmuty’s”: Robert Auchmuty of Roxbury, attorney and Vice Admiralty Court judge, Loyalist.

“Hollowel’s”: Benjamin Hallowell, Jr., in Jamaica Plain, Commissioner of Customs.

“Comm. Loring”: Joshua Loring, Sr., in Jamaica Plain, Loyalist. His mansion remains as the Loring-Greenough House.

“Mr. Fanuil”: Benjamin Faneuil, merchant, Loyalist.

“Mr. Greenleaf”: I’m guessing this home was managed by Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf, who normally lived in Boston. In 1765 his daughter Hannah married John Apthorp, who inherited his father’s Little Cambridge mansion. John and Hannah Apthorp sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, for his health in late 1772, but their ship was lost at sea. Sheriff Greenleaf became the guardian for their young children, and thus probably the custodian of the Apthorp property. Sheriff Greenleaf was seen as a stalwart of the royal government before the war, but he remained in Boston after the siege.

“Brewers”: Jonathan Brewer’s tavern on the Watertown-Waltham line. Unlike the other people named on the map, Brewer was a Whig, as DeBerniere wrote in his report. But the officers did make a memorable stop there, so it was worth mapping.

“Major Goldthwaits”: Joseph Goldthwait of Weston, Loyalist.

“Colonl: Jone’s”: Isaac Jones of Weston, a Loyalist before the war and a supporter of the Continental Army during it. Brown and DeBerniere used his Golden Ball Tavern as a base, and it’s still standing.

“Doctor Russell”: Dr. Charles Russell of Lincoln, Loyalist. His house survives in altered form as the Codman House.

“Nineteen Mile Tavern”: This establishment appears to be in Sudbury, but I haven’t found any mention of such a place. The most famous surviving tavern in Sudbury is the Wayside Inn, but this appears to have been closer to the center of town.

TOMORROW: The map’s proposition.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Ensign’s Map of a Road to Concord

In 2016, Ed Redmond of the Library of Congress’s Geography and Map Division shared an interesting discovery about an item in that collection.

Redmond wrote:
Several years ago, I stumbled across an unsigned manuscript map with the supplied title of “Roxbury to Concord. Roads & distances, &c.”

This unique map was acquired by the Library of Congress in 1867 as a part of the Peter Force Collection, which includes more than 750 Revolutionary era printed and manuscript maps transferred to the Geography and Map Division. . . .

According to General Gage’s Instructions printed by Boston publisher J[ohn]. Gill in 1779, General Thomas Gage, the commander of all British troops in North America at the time, ordered two British soldiers, Captain [William] Brown and Ensign [Henry] De Berniere, to discretely survey the roads in the vicinity of Boston.

“We set out from Boston on Thursday night, disguised like Gentlemen in brown clothes and reddish handkerchiefs round our necks; at the ferry of Charlestown we met a sentry of the 52nd regiment but Capt. Brown’s servant, whom we took along with us, bid him not to take any notice of us so that we passed unknown to Charlestown. From that we went to Cambridge, a pretty town with a college built of brick. We next went to Watertown and were not suspected. A little out of this town we went into a tavern, a Mr. [Jonathan] Brewer’s, a whig, [and] we called for dinner…”

All of the towns mentioned in the text, including “Brewers” tavern, appear on the manuscript map. The two British “surveyors” then sent their various large scale surveys back to Boston with their servant and returned separately to avoid being discovered as spies.

A few weeks later, on March 20, 1775, roughly one month before the events of April 18-19, 1775, Captain Brown and Ensign De Berniere received additional instructions from General Gage to survey the road to Concord:

“We went through Roxbury and Brookline, and came into the main road between the thirteen and fourteen mile-stones in the township of Weston; we went through part of the pass at the eleven mile-stone, took the Concord road, which is seven miles from the mainroad. The town of Concord lies between hills that command it entirely; there is a river runs through it, with two bridges over it.” . . .

Following their reconnaissance of Concord and vicinity the spies continued on [actually back] to Lexington:

“We dined at the house of a Mr. [Daniel] Bliss, a friend to government; [who] told us he could shew us another road, called the Lexington road. We set out and crossed the bridge in the town. The road continued very open and good for six miles, the next five a little inclosed, (there is one very bad place in this five miles) the road good to Lexington. You then come to Menotomy, Cambridge, and so to Charlestown…”

Once again, all of the towns mentioned in the text (with the exception of Lexington) appear on our map. Additionally, the distances between the towns are laid down on the map and correlate with the figures given in the text, even though the map is not drawn completely to scale.
All that said, this map does not show the road from Cambridge to Concord that the British expedition followed on 18-19 April. Though the officers reported returning from Concord on “the Lexington road [through] Menotomy, Cambridge, and so to Charlestown,” they didn’t add that route to this chart.

Did that affect the British expedition’s level of preparation in April 1775? 

TOMORROW: More on this map.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Case Study of a Wounded Provincial

At Historical Nerdery, Alexander Cain just shared an essay by Joel Bohy and Douglas D. Scott, who have been studying musket balls and the damage they can cause.

In this particular posting, that damage was to the body of John Robbins, who was standing in the front line of the Lexington militia company that the 10th Regiment’s light company fired on at dawn on 19 Apr 1775.

Bohy and Scott write:
After April 19 and the Battle of Bunker Hill a few of the wounded men began to ask the state for help. Their wounds, in some cases, made them unable to work and make a living. Medical bills were also growing and with no income how could they pay the bills and provide for their families? Many of these petitions for a pension, or after December 1775 for lost and broken material, are in the collection of the Massachusetts State Archives spread through numerous volumes. The earliest petition for Robbins is from 1776. It gives a description of his wounds:

“To the Honorable the Colony Counsil & the Honorable the House of Representatives in general Court assembled The Petition of John Robbins of Lexington Humbly Sheweth, That your Petitioner was on the memorable 19th of april 1775 most grievously wounded. by the Brittish Troops in Lexington, by a musket ball which passed by the left of the spine between his Shoulders through the length of his neck making its way through and most miserably Shattering his under jaw bone, by which unhappy Wound your Petitioner is so much hurted in the Muscles of his shoulder, that his Right arms is rendered almost useless to him in his Business and by the fracture of his under jaw the power of Mastecation is totally destroyed and by his, low Slop diet, weakness, and total loss of his right arm, and the running of his wound, his Situation is rendered truly Pitiable being unable to Contribute any thing to the Support of a wife and five small Children but is rather a Burden upon them, & has no Encouragement from his Surgeon of his being Materialy better He therefor is under the disagrable Necessity of begging relief & assistance of this Honrrable Court by a Pension or other wise as your Honors Great wisdom & compations may suggest, and your Petitioner as in duty bound will Ever pray Lexington 14th June 1776 John Robbins”
This request for support echoes the public collections of funds for Christopher Monk and then Robert Patterson after they were wounded in the Boston Massacre.

To see details of Robbins’s life after his wound, including how long he lived, check out Historical Nerdery.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Lexington Lectures, 22-24 April

The Lexington Historical Society isn’t resting after a busy Patriots Day weekend. It’s offering four online presentations this week.

Thursday, 22 April, 7:00 P.M.
The Will of the People
Prof. T.H. Breen delivers a special Cronin lecture discussing how the ordinary people of New England reacted to war in their backyards. Based on his book The Will of the People, Breen’s talk will explore how debates raged throughout the country about the fate of the new nation when the outcome of the war was far from certain, while fiery Patriots like the Rev. Jonas Clarke continued to keep the dream alive.

Friday, 23 April, 10:00 A.M.
The Right to Liberty
African-Americans, both enslaved and free, grappled with what becoming part of a nation where all men were theoretically created equal meant, and often took matters into their own hands when the liberties they were owed did not come to fruition. Professional storyteller Valerie Tutson shares the heroic tales of James Forten, who as a teenager fought against the British navy and later worked to abolish slavery, and Elizabeth Freeman, who in 1781 successfully sued for her freedom, citing the Massachusetts constitution. This program is suitable for all ages.

Friday, 23 April, 2:00 P.M.
April 19th Collections Spotlight
The Lexington Historical Society’s museums hold many relics of the first day of the Revolution. Objects that witnessed bloody battle live in situ in our historic houses or rest in exhibit cases, and still more spend their time behind closed doors in our archives. Join Collections and Outreach Manager Stacey Fraser for a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most treasured, but least seen, relics of the Revolution in our museum collection.

Saturday, 24 April, 4:00 P.M.
Noble Volunteers
Author Don Hagist has spent years studying the demographics and personal stories of British soldiers. Far from nameless killing machines, these men came from a variety of ages, ethnicities, and occupations. Many had far more in common with the Americans than we remember, and most never expected to one day be waging war with their own people when they took the King’s shilling. Hagist shares surprising insights from his latest book.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Tay, Hayward, and the Massachusetts Government

On 19 Apr 1775, William Tay, Jr., of Woburn helped to storm a house along the Battle Road, kill two redcoats, and capture the third. He claimed that man’s arms for his own.

The only problem, as Tay saw it, was that Lt. Joseph Hayward of Concord came along and took those weapons for himself.

For his part, Hayward told his descendants that he had fought the redcoats and captured that prisoner. And at the end of the day, he had the gun.

Tay didn’t take that lying down. He appealed to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety, which oversaw the first two months of the war. That body took the time to issue this resolution from its Cambridge headquarters on 24 May:
Whereas Mr. William Tay of Wooburn did on the 19th of april past make prisoner a Sergent of the greniders in the 52th Regiment of the Ministerial Troops and while he the sd Tay had the sd sergent in custody some person known did take the arm of the sd man by him taken and as sd arms are found in the hands of Lieut. Joseph Howard of Concord it is in the opinion of this Comm that as the said Tay can prove he too the abovementioned prisoner that the arms are fairly the property of the Mr. Jay and that they be returned to him accordingly.
That was signed by Benjamin White, a member of the committee from Brookline.

My thanks to Joel Bohy for spotting this document in the Massachusetts state archives and sharing his transcription with me.

The committee’s decree had no effect. So Tay went to a witness who might be deemed neutral: the captured sergeant himself. On 13 June that man deposed:
This may certify, whom it may concern, that I Mathew Hayes, a sergeant of the 52nd Regiment of the Ministerial troops, was taken prisoner on the 19th of April last past by Mr. William Tay Junr. of Woburn—further saith not.
Hayes was then in the jail at Concord alongside other prisoners of war. The local justice of the peace who took down his testimony was Duncan Ingraham, whom neighbors had actually considered a friend of the royal government just four months earlier.

Again, thanks to Joel Bohy for sharing that document.

Months passed, and Tay still didn’t have his gun. This wasn’t just a matter of a trophy and bragging rights. There was monetary value involved. With a war on, good military firelocks were a hot commodity.

Above is a blank printed certificate that the committee of safety issued on 17 June (even as a certain battle raged), as shown on the Library of Congress website. The rebel government was buying people’s guns for the army.

In the summer of 1775, the Massachusetts Patriots decided to return to their regular form of government, acting as if the royal governor and lieutenant governor were simply unavailable. They held elections for a new Massachusetts General Court and chose a new Council, now unencumbered by writs of mandamus or the gentlemen who had previously supported royal policy.

Tay took his case to that legislature late in 1775, restating his claim for the gun and concluding (as transcribed by Richard Frothingham):
all which your petitioner informed the committee of safety for this colony, who, on the 24th day of May, 1775, gave it as their opinion that these arms were fairly the property of your petitioner.

Nevertheless, the said Joseph (though duly requested) refuses to deliver the same, under pretext of his own superior right.

Wherefore your petitioner earnestly prays that your honors would take his cause under due consideration, and make such order thereon as to your honors, in your great wisdom, shall seem just and reasonable, which that he may obtain he as in duty bound shall ever pray, &c.
On 21 September, the Massachusetts House took up Tay’s claim. The published record is garbled, saying that “William Tayie…lost certain Fire Arms” during the battle. But the disposition was clear: “Mr. Tayie has Leave to withdraw his Petition”—a polite and formulaic no.

But Tay still didn’t give up. During the next legislative session he appears to have redirected his petition to the Council. On 14 December those gentlemen took up the matter and issued an order summoning
Joseph Hayward by serving him with an attested copy of the petition and order that he may have opportunity to show cause (if any he hath) on the 26th day of this instant December why the prayer of this petition should not be granted
That’s what the document in the archives says, as transcribed by Joel Bohy. The published House records give the date of 21 December for hearing Hayward’s side of the story.

And there the official record appears to end. What effect did the Council’s summons have? Was there any legal follow-up? Did the two men reach a compromise? All I can say for sure is that in 1835 the sergeant’s gun was in the hands of Joseph Hayward’s son.

COMING UP: The further adventures of Sgt. Matthew Hayes.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Joseph Hayward Comes Home from the Fight

Yesterday we heard William Tay, Jr., of Woburn describe the opening of the Revolutionary War and finally get to the point of why he was petitioning the Massachusetts General Court in September 1775.

Tay was part of the loosely organized Massachusetts militia force chasing the British troops back east along what we now call the “Battle Road.” In or near Charlestown he and “several others” came across a house with three redcoats firing from inside it. They stormed the house, killed two of those men, and captured the third with his weapons.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.
But so it happened, that while your petitioner was busied in securing his prisoner, others coming up and rushing into said house, those arms were carried off by some person to your petitioner unknown, which arms are since found in the hands of Lieut. Joseph Howard, of Concord;…
A rival claimant!

We actually have the other side of this dispute in Lemuel Shattuck’s 1835 history of Concord:
Lieutenant Joseph Hayward, who had been in the French war,…observing a gun pointed out of the window of a house by a British soldier, he seized it, and in attempting to enter the house found it fastened. He burst open the door, attacked and killed by himself two of the enemy in the room, and took a third prisoner. One of their guns is still owned by his son, from whom I received this anecdote.
Hayward thus passed on much the same story as Tay, except his son got the impression that he had singlehandedly killed two soldiers and captured the third.

We also have a contemporaneous record of Lt. Hayward grabbing a horse and carriage back from British army officers racing to Boston. He had returned the carriage to Reuben Brown and was offering to return the horse to its owner.

But the captured gun? Hayward kept that. He was more senior than Tay. He had just turned sixty years old and held the rank of lieutenant since the last war. Tay was eleven years younger and wouldn’t become a lieutenant until later in the year. But he wanted the gun back.

How can we resolve this 1775 chapter of Grumpy Old Men?

TOMORROW: A third voice, and government action.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

William Tay, Jr., Enters the Fight

Here’s a first-person account of the opening day of the Revolutionary War from William Tay, Jr., of Woburn.

There was a long sequence of William Tays in Woburn, and the “Jr.” suffix suggests this account came from the middle of the three then living, born in 1726 and thus in his late forties.

The picture above, which comes courtesy of the Middlesex Canal Association, shows the house where Tay grew up and his father still lived in 1775. It gained the name of the Samuel Tay Homestead after his little brother, who inherited it.

In late 1775, William Tay submitted a petition to the Massachusetts General Court describing his actions on 19 April. Richard Frothingham printed that document in his History of the Siege of Boston. Joel Bohy located the original in the Massachusetts Archives and shared a transcript with me, showing that Frothingham regularized Tay’s spelling, capitalization, and punctuation but didn’t add or remove any words. I’m using Frothingham’s version because tonight I’m too busy to fight autocorrect to reproduce the original.

Here’s what Tay would have written had he followed mid-nineteenth-century standards:
…on the 19th day of April, 1775, being roused from his sleep by an alarm, occasioned by the secret and sudden march of the ministerial troops towards Concord, supposed to intend the destruction of the colony’s magazine there deposited,—to prevent which, your petitioner, with about 180 of his fellow-townsmen, well armed, and resolved in defence of the common cause, speedily took their march from Woburn to Concord aforesaid, who, upon their arrival there, being reinforced by a number of their fellow-soldiers of the same regiment, smartly skirmished with those hostile troops, being deeply touched with their bloody massacre and inhuman murders in their march at Lexington, where we found sundry of our friends and neighbors inhumanly butchered on that bloody field;

and other salvage cruelties to our aged fathers, and poor, helpless, bed-ridden women under the infirmities of child-bearing; together with their horrible devastations committed on their ignominious retreat the same day, (shocking to relate, but more so to behold,) to the eternal infamy of those British arms so frequently and so successfully wielded in the glorious cause of liberty through most of the European dominions, now made subservient to the ambitious purposes of a very salvage cruelty, inhuman butchery, and tyrannical slavery.
Tay appears to have been trying to make a political point there, wouldn’t you say? He was also echoing the Patriot government’s official take on the events of the day, aligning himself with that stance. The petition continued:
These shocking scenes continually opening to view, served to heighten resentment, and warm endeavors to reap a just revenge upon those inhuman perpetrators, and to risk our lives in defence of the glorious cause, as the heroic deeds of our troops through the whole series of the tragical actions of that memorable day abundantly testify.

In which your petitioner, by the joint testimony of all his fellow-soldiers, lent, at least, an equal part through the whole stretch of way from Concord to Charlestown aforesaid, where your petitioner, with several others, passing by an house, were fired upon by three of the ministerial troops planted within, who, returning the fire, killed two of them; thereupon your petitioner rushed into the house, seized the survivor, a sergeant, in his arms, gave him sundry cuffs, who then resigned himself and arms to your petitioner, none others being then within said house.
But then, Tay said, a thief came along!

TOMORROW: A rival claim.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Thomas Gage Papers to be Digitized

The Clements Library at the University of Michigan just announced that it has received
a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize…over 23,000 items related to Thomas Gage, a famed British commander-in-chief in the early days of the American Revolution who was also the governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1774 to 1775.
This collection was one of the major sources for The Road to Concord and every worthwhile book published in the last century about the start of the Revolutionary War in Massachusetts.

I visited the Clements Library years ago, before pocket digital photography changed the experience of visiting an archive. Back then, we had to type out manuscript transcripts in the reading room. And choose what pages to ask the staff to photograph while staying within our research budgets. And we liked it!

After this three-year project, there will be high-quality photographs of Gage’s correspondence and othe files for researchers to study. To test out the interface, look at how the library already shares the papers of New Hampshire colonel Jonathan Chase.

Not so incidentally, the Clements Library is having an “Adopt a Piece of History” fundraiser, inviting people to give money for particular projects. Articles range from nineteenth-century books to scanners and a 1758 letter from Gen. James Wolfe. Along the way are several volumes of the papers of Gen. Henry Clinton which need to be prepared for another digitization project.

For another look at the resources that archive digitization projects can bring to public view, check out “A Closer Look at Colonial North America Across Harvard Library,” the video recording of an online event in March. Representatives of several Harvard libraries’ staffs share notable colonial-era objects and documents from the university’s vast collection.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Online Lectures about Maps, Soldiers, and Constitutions

This month I’ve listed online events to commemorate the 19th of April, and then more of those, and then another along with two events about tavern culture.

And yet here are three more online historical events scheduled in the next week.

“Mapping and Placing 18th Century Roxbury, New England and the Imperial Atlantic”
Saturday, 17 April, 6:30 P.M.
The Shirley-Eustis House Association

Explore how eighteenth-century maps were vital to governing and expanding the British Empire, starting at Governor William Shirley’s Roxbury mansion. Garret Dash Nelson, curator of the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center explores just how Boston, New England, and the historic Shirley-Eustis House were suited in the British Empire’s Northern Atlantic ambitions. Beautifully rendered and detailed historic maps from the 1700s reveal how Governor Shirley and others tried to shape those ambitions.

Free through the sponsorship of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Society of Cincinnati. Currently filled out, though it’s possible some slots will open up. Information and registration here.

“Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution”
Tuesday, 20 April, 12 noon
The Boston Athenaeum

Dispelling long-held myths about the Revolutionary War, Don Hagist shines light on the diversity of the British soldiers—many of whom had joined the army as a peacetime career, only to find themselves fighting a war on another continent in often brutal conditions.

$5, or free for members. Registration starts here. Don Hagist’s book.

“The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern World”
Wednesday, 21 April, 6:00 P.M.
The Boston Athenaeum

Tracing the global history of written constitutions from the 1750s to the twentieth century, Linda Colley focuses on how constitutions crossed geographical boundaries and aided the rise of empires as well as nations, illuminating their intimate connections with print, literary creativity, and the rise of the novel.

$5, or free for members. Registration starts here. Linda Colley’s book.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

From the Long Room to Online Group Tours

Here are a couple more online events coming up this week that caught my eye.

On Thursday, 15 April, the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York will offer “The Long Room: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers”, featuring former guest curator Kym S. Rice.

Back in 1983, Rice organized an exhibition on ”Early American Taverns” that became one of the biggest research projects in the museum’s history and produced an illustrated book of the same name.

In conversation with Education & Public Programs Coordinator Mary Tsaltas-Ottomanelli, Rice will discuss the roles taverns played throughout the eighteenth century, paying particular attention to urban taverns and their largest spaces, often called “the long room.” [Long-time Boston 1775 readers know to be wary of descriptions of the pre-Revolutionary “Long Room Club,” however.]

This online event is free. People must register by 3:30 P.M. on the afternoon of the 15 April to receive the link, and the event will start at 6:30. Later the recorded conversation will be released through the Fraunces Tavern Museum’s podcast.

On Saturday, 17 April, and closer to home (not that it matters much online), Boston By Foot is observing Patriots Day with an “Online, On-Site, On Foot” event.

As the event description says, “It's a story that involves a spy network, a secret alert system, a ‘minuteman’ militia, a tense standoff with the most powerful army in the world, and of course, a legendary midnight ride.”

To create a special Patriots’ Day virtual experience, Boston By Foot guides will be on location from Old North Church and Boston's city limits to Lexington and Concord to take viewers on a journey examining how the Revolutionary War began.

This event will start at 11:00 A.M. on the 17th and last for about an hour. The suggested donation for watching is $10.12 (which includes a $2.12 fee for Eventbrite), but viewers can choose less or more. Register here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

More Ways to Celebrate Patriots Day 2021 Safely

As I’ve both marveled at and lamented before, it’s hard to find a truly comprehensive list of commemorations of the 19th of April because so many historical sites, towns, and organizations have their own. Some of those organizations group together in coalitions, but not all in one coalition.

This year we’re once again sticking to our houses, but people have had time to prepare online events, videos, and exhibits to illuminate the start of the Revolutionary War. Which means there are a lot of different links to hunt down!

I can’t promise this is a complete list of resources to enjoy in the upcoming week, but it will keep you busy.

Minute Man National Historical Park is already rolling out new videos on YouTube and Facebook. These include a series titled “April 19, 1775: Our Tangible Past,” about museum objects and the stories they tell, and individual shorts on “A Nervous Night at Buckman Tavern,” “Preparing for War,” “The Enemy at the Door,” and more.

On Saturday, 17 April, the park will premiere a series of video talks and demonstrations through those channels:
  • 10:00 A.M., “The Minute Men: Neighbors in Arms”
  • 1:00 P.M., “The British Light Infantry”
  • 3:00 P.M., “Caught in the Storm of War: Civilian Stories from April 19, 1775” with Ranger Jim Hollister and author Alexander Cain
On Sunday, 18 April:
  • 7:30 P.M., “The Patriot Vigil,” a candlelight tribute at the North Bridge battlefield
On Monday, 18 April:
  • Throughout the day starting at 8:00 A.M., “Voices of 1775,” with reenactors and staff reading the words of people who experienced the events of April 19th
Finally, follow the hashtag #RevolutionInRealTime on Facebook and Twitter from 10:00 P.M. on the 18th through 7:00 P.M. on the 19th for regular updates on what happened on those dates in 1775.

The Lexington Historical Society’s events page is here, and that town’s community celebration is described here. These include the movie “The First Shot,” an outdoor scavenger hunt, and recordings of past reenactments which one can watch with good views and without having to wake up hours before dawn.

The Old North Church’s annual lantern ceremony will feature music, a reading of Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and a ceremony to honor Dave McGillivray, long-time Race Director for the Boston Marathon. This is a benefit for Old North, and tickets can be purchased here.

The Paul Revere House is adding new episodes to its Revere House Radio podcast, which started with a series on “Revisit the Ride.”

The Concord Museum has a new permanent exhibit on the “Shot Heard Round the World,” and that includes a dedicated website people can enjoy at home.

Finally, check out additional book talks and podcast interviews listed on the Revolution 250 calendar.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Joseph Dobel “very unfavorably represented”

Capt. Joseph Dobel, veteran of a Boston riot, the Continental Navy, and the East India trade, was discussed at the highest levels of the U.S. government in 1799.

President John Adams was then beefing up the United States Navy. Having had the U.S.S. Constitution built in Boston, the federal government appointed Silas Talbot (1751-1813, shown here), a former officer in both the Continental Army and the Continental Navy and a former Congressman, to command it.

As with the Continental Navy, commissioning officers who could work together on board proved to be a challenge. On 17 June, the first U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert, wrote to President Adams about two candidates to serve under Talbot on the Constitution:
Capt. Peleg Talmen, and Capt. Dobell were both in service last war—The latter I have seen, and he appears to be a well qualified man—The former lost an arm in an action, in which he distinguished himself. They are both recommended from Boston, in strong terms—and I beleive they will both be wanted by Talbott—and perhaps [Samuel] Parker, who was lately appointed, also.

I enclose Letters, enclosing Commissions for these Gentlemen—to be forwarded to them, should they meet with your Approbation—
The President wrote back on 28 June:
I yesterday sent to the post office your letter to Capt Talman, of whose intelligence, activity, bravery & property I receive very handsome accounts. The letter to Capt Dobell I have not yet sent. In truth I have not yet heard a good character of him. On the contrary he is very unfavorably represented.
The next day, before receiving that Presidential message, Stoddert repeated his endorsement: “Doble I saw—He appeared to be a fit man to be a Lt.—and he also has had experience on board of armed Ships.”

On 3 July Capt. Silas Talbot weighed in from the Constitution itself, writing to President Adams:
In obedience to what I conceived to be your wish, when last I had the honor of seeing you, I have made such enquiry— with respect to the Characters of Captain’s Tallman, and Double, as my circumstances would admit of—

Being closely confined to the Ship, I have not had that oportunity to gain a very general knowledge respecting them. But from all I have learned; I was confident that they would not suit me, or be usefull as Officers on board the Ship I now command—

Capt. [George] Little of the Boston informed me, (but somewhat confidentially) that he was most perfectly acquainted with Capt. Tallman and says that he possesses the worst of dispositions, tho’ at first acquaintance he seems pleasing: that no man ever carried worse command, or made more confusion with a crew than he did in common on board his own Ship. That he could had him as a sailing Master, on board the Boston—But knowing him well, he did not choose to have him, and said that he lost his Arm last War, when he was a Midshipman, and that he was never higher in rank.

And that as to Doble he knew nothing.—

Captain [James] Sever informed me that he knew Doble personally, and that by common report he was a very dissipated man, that he was lately mate of an India-man, commanded by Capt. [John] Kithcart in the employ of Tommy Russel deced., that the Capt. died outward bound: and the business of the Voyage devolved on Double, who spent nearly the whole Cargo, and ruin’d the Voyage.—

Something like the same information, I have had from others, respecting Capt Double these accounts from so good Authority, made such an impression on my mind, that I did not wish to have them on board the Ship with me
On 7 September, Secretary Stoddert gave Lt. Talman permission to resign his commission if “your private business compels your absence for six or eight months.” Talman left the navy on 20 September.

As for Joseph Dobel, he never received the U.S. Navy commission that Stoddert had written out for President Adams to sign. He probably never got another big merchant vessel to command, either, given his reputation in Massachusetts.

Capt. Dobel lived in Boston until 1810, dying on 19 March at the age of seventy-one. His second wife Susanna had died the previous year. He was buried in the Copp’s Hill Burying-Ground under the same stone as his first wife with the inscription:
Here rest the dead, from sin and sorrow free
They are gone to heaven, O God, we trust to thee,
Their bright examples may we make our own,
in Christ as they themselves were known.
COMING UP: Back to Owen Richards’s lawsuits.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Capt. Dobel at Home and on the Far Side of the World

Except for several months as a Continental Navy lieutenant under Capt. John Manley, which ended badly, Joseph Dobel appears to have spent the Revolutionary War ashore in Boston. Certainly when he was in charge of confining suspected enemies of the state he was at home.

After peace came, Dobel resumed work as a merchant captain, commanding a three-masted ship called the Commerce in 1789. Newspapers indicate he made regular trips to Liverpool and also sailed to Cadiz, Spain.

In December 1790, Dobel’s first wife, Mary, died at age fifty-five. I haven’t found mention of any children from this marriage. A little less than three months later, Capt. Dobel married “Mrs. Susanna Joy,” who was about forty years old.

In the early 1790s, the Boston town meeting started to elect Capt. Dobel as a culler of fish (or dry fish). That was one of several minor offices tasked with making sure that particular goods sold in town met quality standards. Dobel’s election shows what his neighbors felt he was expert in. With his colleagues he periodically advertised in the newspapers warning against unofficial fish-culling.

In 1793 Capt. Dobel was living “in Bennet-Street, opposite the North-School.” Early in that year he dissolved a business partnership with Thomas Jackson. I can’t find any earlier advertisements from this firm, so I have no idea what they dealt in.

In those years, American merchants and captains were seeking new business outside the British Empire—beginning the new nation’s “China Trade” and “East India Trade.” One distant destination was the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, then called “Isle-of-France.” In March 1792, after a full year away from Boston, Capt. John Cathcart brought in the Three Brothers from Mauritius “with a cargo of Sugars” for the merchant Thomas Russell. In May 1795 the Massachusetts Mercury ran a report that Cathcart was back at Mauritius.

Cathcart returned to Massachusetts again that year and oversaw the construction of a new ship, the Three Sisters, in Charlestown. It was about 340 tons burden, “Copper Bolted and sheathed.” Soon he took it out on its maiden voyage to Asia.

And then in May 1796 the Boston newspapers reported that Capt. Cathcart had died “two days sail from St. Jago”—Santiago, the largest island in the country of Cape Verde. The merchants who invested in that cruise and the families of all the crew must have worried about what would happen next. But all they could do was collect snatches of news brought back by other ships’ captains.

As of August, the first report to reach the newspapers said, the Three Sisters was at Mauritius, its next stop uncertain. Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser stated that in February 1797 it was at Bengal. In May the Boston Price-Current said that the ship was at Manila. By this time the principal investor, Russell, had died.

I mention all that because Joseph Dobel had signed on as Cathcart’s next-in-command. He had the responsibility of completing the voyage. Most of those dispatches listed Cathcart as the Three Sisters’ captain, adding that he was dead, while a couple gave Dobel’s name. Meanwhile, the ship was still lingering on the far side of the world. The Massachusetts Mercury reported that “The Three Sisters, Doble, of Boston, sailed from Calcutta for N. York Sept. 19 [1797], sprung a leak, and returned.”

It wasn’t until that spring of 1798 that the Three Sisters was back in the north Atlantic. In late March there were two reports of it being spotted in or near Delaware Bay. Finally, on 27 June, Capt. Dobel brought the ship into New York harbor. That was more than two years after the news that Cathcart had died.

On 31 July a notice in the New-York Gazette announced that the Three Sisters “will be sold reasonable, with all her stores as she came from Calcutta, and the terms of payment made convenient.” Another advertisement, noting that the ship was built “under the superintendence of the late Capt. JOHN CATHCART,” appeared in Russell’s Gazette in Boston the next month.

Those ads promised that the Three Sisters was “a remarkable fast sailer” and only two and a half years old. But the expense of the extraordinarily long voyage meant the ship’s owners needed cash fast.

TOMORROW: Capt. Dobel and the U.S.S. Constitution.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Joseph Dobel in the Continental Navy

Yesterday I discussed the early career of Joseph Doble, who followed his father in becoming a ship’s captain sailing out of Boston. Today I’ll skip over Owen Richards’s lawsuit and discuss Doble’s record in the Revolutionary War.

I’ll also switch from “Doble,” the spelling that the family used before the war, to Joseph’s preference of “Dobel.”

At least one of the Dobel brothers moved out to Braintree before the war. A man named Joseph Dobel enlisted in the Massachusetts army from that town in May 1775 and served most of the year as a private. It’s possible that was the sea captain, having moved out of Boston because of the Port Bill and the siege. But I suspect it was a younger relative.

The earliest I can definitely pick up Capt. Dobel’s trail is on 16 June 1776 when the Continental Congress commissioned him as second lieutenant on the warship Hancock, commanded by Capt. John Manley (shown here). During the siege, Manley had commanded one of the schooners that Gen. George Washington commissioned. He had streaks of cunning and good luck that let him capture several British ships and become America’s first naval hero. In April the Congress made Manley a captain in the Continental Navy.

Continental Navy officers spent as much time squabbling with each other as engaging the enemy. When the Congress issued a list of its captains ranked by seniority in October, Manley (number two) complained about being “under the Command of one man, whose Ability I had reason to doubt.” Meanwhile, Hector MacNeill (number three) called Manley “totally unequal to the Command with which he has been intrusted, he being ignorant, Obstinate, Overbearing and Tyranical beyond discription.”

By the spring of 1777 Dobel had risen to be first lieutenant on the Hancock, then docked in Boston. Also, in fine Continental fashion, he and Manley hated each other. Dobel laid out his side of the rift in a 2 July letter to another of Manley’s rivals, John Paul Jones:
…the 22d of april which day Capt Manley told me he had no further service for me without giving me any reason or making any enquirey into my conduct

all the reason I Can Assign is on that day he sent for to his house as soon as I enter’d the room he said to me God Damn you I order you on board the ship in half hour

the ship laying in congress road I told him I could not possibly get on board in the time

he replied that was all the time I should have

I told him I Could not go on board unless my Acct was settled as we was so near sailing and that I would be oblig’d to him to do it

he then replied God Damn you I will not pay you one farthing he then repeated the above order for my going on board

I then told him I did not understand the meaning of the words god damn you I order you on board

this answer and asking for a Settlement is all the reason of his behaveour to me that ever I knew of or ever heard, I then ask’d him if he would please to tell me where the ships Tender lay

he replied with an Oath that if I wanted her I Might go look for her, which I did and found her in order to go on board,

Capt Manley was along side of her[.] after walking on the Wharfe half an hour he said Mr Dobel, I have no further Orders for you on board the ship

I ask’d him if I was Clear of the ship

he replied no without you’ll give me your commission for which he said he would pay my wages and if not he would Try me by a Court Martial and that he would either disgrace me or I should him and still further he says he has taken Several Methods to Affront me and make me leave the ship but that he could not do it till now.
In a postscript Dobel added, “I Could Insert a great many more Abuses that I have met with but must Omitt them they being so Lengthy.” Which suggests that he and Capt. Manley had been feuding for a while and he couldn’t really have been surprised at his commander’s anger.

True to his promise, two days later Capt. Manley assembled “a Court Martial on my first Lieut for his continual neglect of Duty & possative Disobedience of Orders.” In fact, Manley was so determined to exert his authority over Dobel that he asked even Capt. MacNeill to serve on this board. I don’t know how that process worked out, but Dobel wasn’t on the Hancock when it sailed out of Boston harbor in June.

Instead, the Massachusetts board of war stepped in and gave Dobel a new assignment on 10 July:
You are hereby appointed to the command of the Guard Ship Adams now in this Harbour, by us provided agreeably to an Act of this State for the reception of all Persons convicted of being inimical to this & the other united States, & whose Residence in this State may be dangerous to the Public Peace & Safety; . . .

You are to receive Six Pounds per Month as Wages, & three Rations pr Day Subsistence…
Dobel thus got the rank of captain and his own ship to command—except the ship wasn’t supposed to leave the harbor. And his crew consisted only of a mate and four sailors. (If it was any consolation, that same July three British warships captured the Hancock, and Capt. Manley spent several months as a prisoner.)

In November, the board of war decided that the Adams would be better used as a trading ship, and better commanded by Capt. Isaac Phillips. It ordered Dobel to take his prisoners off. On 1 Jan 1778 he placed an advertisement in the Independent Chronicle:

RAN away from the House of the Subscriber, last Thursday, one CHARLES WHITWORTH, a noted Villain, who has for some Time, been confined for being an Enemy to the Thirteen United States of AMERICA; he is about five Feet 8 Inches high, light Complexion, long black Hair; had on when he ran away, a light coloured Coat and Jacket, black Breeches, a Pair light broad rib’d Stockings, and a light French Wrapper.

Whoever will take up said Run-away, and secure him in any of the Continental Goals, shall have the above Reward, and all necessary Charges paid by

N.B. It is supposed he is gone towards Newport.
(Whitworth and his family settled in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in 1782.)

Dobel kept his title of “Captain,” but his military service drained away on land. He witnessed the signing of papers for a Massachusetts privateer in 1777 but never commanded or owned one himself. Dobel appears as an inhabitant and property owner in the 1780 tax records of Boston. (Awkwardly, one of the properties he’d inherited from his father abutted the Boston home of John Manley.)

TOMORROW: Capt. Dobel in postwar Boston.