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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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 Charlestown, 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.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Profiling Owen Richards’s Attackers

Last night as I finished the posting about Owen Richards taking his attackers to court, I thought, “Who are those men he accused? Who would have more to say about them?”

And then I realized that researching bit players in Revolutionary Boston is what I do. It’s one of my signature moves. So I had to get cracking on that task.

The easiest accused man to find is Joseph Doble or Dobel. He was born about 1739, according to his reported age at death, and was one of the many children of John and Abigail Doble. John was born about 1703, reportedly in Somerset, England. Abigail was a Boston native. They married at the Presbyterian Meetinghouse in 1732.

John Doble was a sea captain who at some point retired from seafaring to become a merchant, selling Pennsylvania pork, pottery, glassware, wood, and other goods. He accumulated a wharf, at least three houses, and a shop on King Street—the Sign of Two Sugar-Loaves. Abigail Doble died in 1769. John Doble died, variously reported “in an advanced Age” and “very suddenly,” four years later. They were both buried on Copp’s Hill. Their son Joseph was the captain’s executor, and settling the estate took well over a decade.

Back on 8 Jan 1761, Joseph Doble and Mary Williams were married by the Rev. Andrew Eliot. Joseph was following his father’s career course, which is why he was legally labeled as a “mariner” in Richards’s writ. In the early 1760s, the Boston newspapers often reported on a captain named Doble sailing to or from Newfoundland and the cod fisheries. However, it’s usually impossible to know whether this was John Doble; an older son such as John, Jr., or William; or Joseph. The first definite sign of Joseph having his own command is a listing in the 18 July 1768 Boston Chronicle that he had cleared out the snow St. Joseph for Newfoundland. In August 1769 he was in charge of the brig Peggy.

None of the Dobles shows up on lists of politically active men in Boston, on either side. But John Doble’s status as a native of Britain makes it plausible that in late 1770 the Boston Gazette would sneer that Joseph’s “family Connections are among the better sort of folks, the friends of Government.” I therefore suspect he was the target of Owen Richards’s first reported writ that year, as well as the one dated January 1771 and preserved in the John Adams Papers.

Likely being involved in the attack on Richards wasn’t Joseph Doble’s only excitement in the year 1770. The 22 November Boston News-Letter reported:
Sunday Evening last about 6 o’clock, a Brig, Capt. Joseph Doble, from Newfoundland, ran on Egg-Rock near the Light-House, a Hole was beat in her Bottom, and she sunk: The Peoples Lives were saved, and the Rigging of the Vessell.
However, the 26 November Boston Evening-Post added that there were “about fourteen Hundred Quintals of Fish entirely lost.”

TOMORROW: Capt. Joseph Doble goes to war.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Owen Richards’s Lawsuits for Assault

When we left Owen Richards in May 1770, the magistrates of Boston were completely stymied in their inquiry into who had tarred and feathered him that month.

Richards, a Customs officer who had also been part of the disputes that led up to the Liberty riot of 1768, probably suspected those local officials weren’t really trying.

Eventually Richards took legal action himself. In On 24 Dec 1770 the Boston Gazette reported that he had
commenced an Action of Damage for Three Hundred Pounds lawful Money, against a young Gentleman of this Town, whose family Connections are among the better sort of folks, the friends of Government.

This Lad was taken by a single Writ and held to Bail—Upon his application to several of his near relations who are persons of fortune, to become sureties for him, we are told, they absolutely refus’d. But others had compassion upon him; for two Gentlemen were bound for his Appearance at Court.
The following 7 January an attorney—probably Samuel Fitch—wrote out a writ on Richards’s behalf, apparently aimed at another attacker:
Attach &c. Joseph Doble of Boston &c. Mariner, to answer unto Owen Richards of said Boston Yeoman, in a Plea of Trespass, for that the said Joseph, on the Eighteenth day of May last, 1770, Boston aforesaid, with Force and Arms an Assault on the Body of him the said Owen made and him did then and there violently beat, wound, bruise, and evil entreat, so that his Life was thereby put in great Danger, and He the said Joseph did then and there take and imprison him the said Owen, and him in Prison for a long Time, vizt. for the space of six hours, detained against Law, and the Custom of our Realm, and he the said Joseph then and there, did also grievously abuse the said Owen; forcibly took and placed him in a Cart, and stripped him naked to his Skin, and with Force as aforesaid, did tear off, from his Body, and take from him, his Hatt, Wigg, Coat, Waistcoat, and Shirt, and also a gold Sleeve Button, two Handkerchiefs, his Pocket Book, with sundrie Papers therein of the Value of [blank] vizt. an original Note of Hand, for seven Pounds, Ten Shillings, and Sundrie, original Receipts for Moneys paid, and other Papers of Value, also one Piece of Gold Money, called a Johannes, and two Spanish milled Dollars in Silver, being all of the Value of Thirty Pounds lawfull Money, none of which Things so taken from him the said Owen, have ever been returned to him again and He the said Joseph did then and there also cover and besmear the said Owen, Head, Face, and naked Body, with Tar and cover him over with Feathers, upon said Tar, and cruelly and inhumanly set fire to said Feathers; and then and there dragged said Owen in said Cart, through diverse Streets of said Town of Boston, and from one End of said Town to the other, for the Space of Six Hours, as aforesaid, and fixed a Label to his the said Owens Breast, with Writing thereon importing that he the said Owen was a common Informer, and in that Condition exposed him the said Owen to the Contempt and Resentment of our liege Subjects, and as a public Spectacle, thro said Town, and other Outrages and Enormities, on him the said Owen, He the said Joseph then and there committed, against our Peace, To the Damage &c. £1000.
Fitch filed that writ in April 1771, almost a year after the attack and 250 years ago this month. Richards sued two more men named Benjamin Jones and Joseph Akley (Aikley, Heakley) for assault. (That makes three or four suits, depending on whether either Doble, Jones, or Akley was the “young Gentleman” sued in December.)

Meanwhile, in February 1771 the Crown brought criminal charges for the same riot against a man named George Hamblin.

If that seems confusing, all I can say is that I’m not really clear on the whole situation myself. The colonial legal system is hard enough to understand already, few cases like these have left complete records, and I’m relying on mentions in the Legal Papers of John Adams.

TOMORROW: Tracking down the defendants?

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

“Strict Examination into the Affair of taring, feathering & carting Owen Richards”

Yesterday’s posting quoted two accounts of the assault on Customs employee Owen Richards on 18 May 1770.

Richards and a colleague had caught a ship’s captain from Connecticut trying to sneak in undeclared barrels of sugar. They refused a bribe and used their legal powers to confiscate the cargo and the ship.

That evening, a waterfront mob grabbed Richards, tarred and feathered him, paraded him through town, and threatened to do the same to the other Customs men.

This was a couple of months after the royal government had pulled soldiers from the center of town following the Boston Massacre. The first tar-and-feathers attack in Boston had occurred in October 1769, when the troops were still there, so there’s no guarantee a larger military presence would have protected Richards. But Customs officials certainly argued that withdrawing the regiments had turned the town over to the mob.

On 21 May, two of those officials—William Sheaffe, Deputy Collector, and Robert Hallowell, Deputy Comptroller—prepared a report on the incident for their superiors, the Commissioners of Customs. They gathered three accounts from lower-level officers called tidesmen:
  • John Woart, also attacked but more mildly.
  • Josiah King and Joshua Dutton, who had hidden from the mob in the captain’s cabin of the ship they were supposed to be patrolling.
The Customs service didn’t have the power to arrest anyone for assault; it could only seize property. So Sheaffe and Hallowell set about doing that. King and Dutton testified about hearing “a great noise of People on the Deck, Knocking with Sticks, or Clubs.” Sheaffe and Hallowell interpreted that as
such hideous noises & thumping of Clubs and handspikes that they durst not venture out for a great part of the night during which time it is violently suspected, that part of the sugars, with other goods were taken out, which is very much confirmed, by our going Early the next morning into the Hold, and finding a great Vacancy on the starboard side of the Vessell the Ceiling of the Hold maked with the drainings of the Sugar Casks and but one or two of those Casks marked with —> the day before by Mr. Richards. . . .

We found in the Vessell seventeen hogsheads four teirces & two barrells Sugar, which are in the Store at the Custom house, which with the Vessell will be Immediately prosecuted [i.e., seized].
I saw those documents in the Treasury Papers at the National Archives in London. In the long run they might have helped to influence royal policy in Boston, but they didn’t do much for Owen Richards. The only officials who could indict the rioters who assaulted him were the town’s justices of the peace.

The Massachusetts Council was scheduled to meet on 23 May, but acting governor Thomas Hutchinson called those gentlemen together on the same day Sheaffe and Hallowell made their report. They agreed that “it does not appear that the Justices of the Peace within the Town of Boston have made any enquiry, or taken any notice of such disorder.”

The Council therefore advised Hutchinson to send for the justices. The Boston Post-Boy reported how the governor
enjoined them to meet, and make strict Examination into the Affair of taring, feathering & carting Owen Richards, as mentioned in our last, and to bind over such Persons, as shall appear to have been active in it, to answer the same in due Course of Law; and that in all Respects they pursue the Steps of the Law, in order to bring the Offenders to Justice.
But the result?
The Same Day and the Day following His Majesty’s Justices met at the County Court-House, and sent for several Persons as Evidences, but could obtain no Intelligence of any one that was concerned.
Even though parts of the attack on Owen Richards had taken place on King Street in the center of town, no one would identify any of the men involved.

TOMORROW: Owen Richards goes to court.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Looking Back on the Owen Richards Attack

Last December, starting here, I wrote about the tar-and-feathers attack on a Customs employee named Owen Richards in May 1770.

The fallout from that event lasted for years, so I’m going to resume the story.

But first, for review, here’s the merchant John Rowe’s summary of the attack in his diary for 18 May:
Just as I was going to bed there was a very great Hallooing in the street & a mob of upwards a thousand people—it seems they had got an informer & put him in a Cart, covered with Tar & Feathers & so exhibited him thro’ the Streets.
For a more detailed description, we can turn to Esther Forbes’s Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, quoting the merchant Samuel Salisbury (shown above, decades later):
I perceived candles in a number of windows,

what, thinks I, is there an illumination tonight?

Getting home I was informed that an Informer had been carted through the streets, Tarred and feathered.

After I had been to the Barber’s my Curiosity led me to the point at New Boston [the western tip of the peninsula] where I found the Informer in a Cart before Capt [John] Homer’s door surrounded with a great number of People

he had his shirt taken off & his bare skin tarred & Feathered. Sometimes they would make him say one thing sometimes another. Sometimes he must hold the Lanthorn this way, sometimes that, then he must hold up a glass Bottle & Swear he would never do so agin & let the bottle fall down & break & then Huzzah—

from thence they carried him into King Street Let him get out of the Cart made a lane down the street where 3 or 4 carried him off from the multitude in safety, being about nine o’clock.
The mob that attacked George Gailer, another man accused of helping the Customs service, in October 1769 also made him “carry the lantren in his hand & calling to all the inhabitince to put Candles in their Windoes.”

I can’t find a precedent for making Richards swear an oath and drop a bottle, though. It looks like a folk ritual of some sort, with the extra appeal of breaking stuff.

As Salisbury reported, the crowd eventually let Richards’s friends pull him away and get him home safely.

TOMORROW: Going to court.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Commemorating Patriots Day 2021 Safely

Here in Massachusetts we’re still in a race to vaccinate people against the Covid-19 virus even as cases are rising again. The end of the pandemic is in sight, but we need to minimize casualties.

Wisely, the local organizations that lead the commemoration of the Battle of Lexington and Concord are offering online events and discouraging crowds.

On Tuesday, 6 April, the Concord Museum is hosting a “Virtual April 19, 1775, Community Night,” as described here:
Local communities answered the alarm on April 19, 1775. Now, we muster again to commemorate the towns that responded to Paul Revere, William Dawes, and additional alarm riders and converged on the British Regulars in a fight that began an eight-year war for independence.

Join us for a virtual evening with Curator, David Wood, Peggy N. Gerry Curatorial Associate, Erica Lome, and historian and author of The Minutemen and Their World, Robert Gross, for an inside look at the roles Provincials from communities across Massachusetts played in the events now celebrated on Patriots Day.

Get an inside look at the Museum’s new April 19, 1775 exhibition including animations and signature artifacts including the signal lantern hung in the North Church that began the events of that faithful day.
Other organizations involved are the Acton Historical Society, Arlington Historical Society, Bedford Historical Society, Billerica Historical Society, Cambridge Historical Society, Lexington Historical Society, Lincoln Historical Society, Maynard Historical Society, Medford Historical Society, Sudbury Historical Society, The Historical Society of Watertown, and the Edmund Fowle House & Museum.

The community event is scheduled to take place from 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. It’s possible to register and tune in for free, but a $5 donation is requested from those who can afford it.

The town of Lexington is offering similarly safe activities for families and individuals through the 19th. These include online talks by John U. Rees, Carol Berkin, Alexander Cain, and other historians through the Cary Memorial Library. The Lexington Historical Society’s historic taverns are open on a limited basis.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Lexington has put up an online exhibit of a copy of Joseph Palmer’s letter reporting on the first fighting carried by Isaac Bissell and other riders.

The staff and volunteers of Minute Man National Historical Park have prepared many videos to share for a “Virtual Patriots’ Day” experience through Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms. The Friends of Minute Man webpage explains the offerings. In addition, the park’s main visitor center is now open at limited capacity seven days a week, there are staff outside the North Bridge visitor center Wednesday through Sunday, and the park grounds remain open for outdoor exploration.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

History Camp America 2021 and Other Conferences to Enjoy

I’ve been presenting at and enjoying History Camp Boston since 2014 (as shown here). Last year the pandemic stopped this conference from happening. This year, the prospect of traveling and gathering is still uncertain, though the situation is looking better and better rather than worse and worse.

History Camp is therefore going online live and national on 10 July, with presentations from 8:45 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Eastern time.

The organization has just issued an invitation to people interested in presenting live talks about historical topics to propose sessions. There’s no limitation by theme, geography, period, or methodology. Talks in the past have covered historical people and events, research methods, challenges in managing historic sites, and more.

The organizing schedule is:
  • Presenter applications due by Tuesday, 1 June
  • All presenters informed of status by Thursday, 10 June
  • All presenters must register for the conference by Tuesday, 15 June
  • Speakers supply final titles, descriptions, bios, and headshots by Thursday, 17 June
  • Training and testing of people’s connections and graphics begin Thursday, 1 July
  • History Camp America 2021 on Saturday, 10 July!
As at the Boston and other regional History Camps, anyone with knowledge about a historical topic is welcome to propose a presentation. Because of the limited number of slots, however, I expect the choice of sessions will be strict and narrow. The organization offers detailed guidance about presenting for people not used to the format.

Meanwhile, History Camp is still producing its weekly online discussions with historical authors and experts every Thursday at 8:00 P.M. Eastern. All those videos are available for viewing.

In other news about non-academic history conferences, the Fort Plain Museum has announced new, later dates for two of its events in central New York:
  • Annual American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference, 6-8 August
  • First Annual Sir William Johnson and the Wars for Empire Conference, 15-17 October
Regrettably but understandably, the American Revolution Conference organized by America’s History, L.L.C., at Colonial Williamsburg in recent years has been cancelled for 2021. All of us who enjoyed that gathering hope to see it return in some way in a healthy new year.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Locating “Revolution Happened Here”

Here’s a digital public history project to keep an eye on the coming years: Revolution Happened Here: Our Towns in the American Revolution, from the Pioneer Valley History Network.

This website invites local history organizations from western Massachusetts to upload pictures of Revolutionary-era items and the stories behind them.

As the project description says:
This website will become a place where visitors can discover how the American Revolution, while globally seismic in its consequences, was at its heart intrinsically local and intensely personal.
To be sure, there’s some regional rivalry or healthy resentment involved:
In the conventional, top-down history of the Revolution, western Massachusetts towns simply reacted to the ideas, decisions and actions of elites from Boston, the presumed hub of Revolutionary activity. Revolution Happened Here will enrich and complicate this narrative by sharing the debates and experiences in our towns.
Because of the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers, many towns in western Massachusetts had more business and other interaction with the colonies of Connecticut and New York than with Boston. Plus, the issues of import tariffs and military occupation that roiled Boston from 1767 to the start of the war had less direct impact on farming communities.

That makes the developments at the end of summer 1774 all the more striking. While Bostonians chafed under the return of troops, most other communities were free to organize and protest against the Massachusetts Government Act. The westernmost county began the court-closing movement in August, and it spread eastward.

Western Massachusetts returned to that tactic after the war, “regulating” courts again in protest of what the region’s small farmers saw as economic and legal hardships. The Boston trading class responded by dubbing that movement “Shays’ Rebellion” and raising funds for a militia force to put it down.

Some of the interesting artifacts on display on the Revolution Happened Here site include:
And this online collection should grow as the Sestercentennial proceeds.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Monumental Events, Upcoming and Recorded

Here are links to four events, two upcoming and two already recorded, about how we preserve and commemorate American history in concrete forms.

Last November, historian Judy Anderson gave an online talk about “The History of Fort Sewall.” Marblehead built a fortification on a rocky point overlooking its harbor in 1644 and then rebuilt and strengthened the structure in several stages through the end of the eighteenth century.

Today the town uses the site as a public park. Anderson spoke about how changes at the fort reflected shifts in Marblehead and the broader Atlantic world.

That illustrated talk can now be viewed on YouTube.

On Wednesday, 7 April, the Paul Revere House and the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum in Arlington will host an online presentation about Cyrus Dallin, the sculptor who spent more than half a century working to see his statue of Paul Revere installed in the North End. In the meantime, Dallin created some other iconic sculptures, including the Angel Moroni on the Salt Lake Temple and the “Appeal to the Great Spirit” in front of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

“A 57-Year Ride: Cyrus Dallin’s Quest to Raise his Iconic Paul Revere Statue” will start at 6:30 P.M., and folks can register here.

On Thursday, 8 April, Revolutionary Spaces will host a panel discussion on the theme “A New Space for Our Ideals: Revolutionary-Era Buildings As Monuments.” The event description says:
Many Americans visit Revolutionary Era sites to connect to our national founding story and ideals. These places were not built as monuments, but previous generations turned them into just that: Iconic places that venerate the past to create a collective American identity. Yet the stories embedded in these sites are often of white founding fathers with ideas that continue to inspire us, and actions that fall well short of their rhetoric.

“A New Space for Our Ideals” asks us to reckon with the role these Revolutionary sites play as monuments in our society, and how we might view them as an invitation to a contemporary conversation about our national values.
The panelists for that discussion will be:
  • Gary Sandling, Vice President of Visitor Programs and Services at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
  • Nathaniel Sheidley, CEO of Revolutionary Spaces
  • Kyera Singleton, Executive Director of the Royall House & Slave Quarters
  • Karin Wulf, Professor of History at William & Mary and Director of the Omohundro Institute
  • moderator Cristela Guerra, arts and culture reporter for WBUR’s The ARTery
That online event will start at 5:30 P.M., and here’s the registration link.

Finally, for a more light-hearted look at the same themes, Revolutionary Spaces also offers an installment of its Tea Party Tonight! “history-themed comedy talk show” with Rob Crean on the theme of “Monuments and Historical Memory.” This episode features as guests the artist and activist Tory Bullock and the historian Jacqueline Beatty. It can be viewed here.

All these online events are free to the public, so donations to the Marblehead Museum, Paul Revere House, Cyrus Dallin Art Museum, and Revolutionary Spaces are welcome.

(The photograph above shows Cyrus Dallin’s statue “Memory” in Sherborn.)

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Not a Podcast Recommendation

I recently stumbled across the podcast “The American War: Britain’s American Revolution,” which is not actually a podcast.

It’s the recordings of five sessions of a conference at the Huntington Library years ago. But those are handily available through Apple Podcasts and other podcast apps.

The overall description says:
America’s Revolution was Britain’s American War. In this conference held at the Huntington Library in September 2012, international scholars considered the events of 1763 to 1783 from the perspective of Britain and its “other” colonies, focusing on the many ways the American War reshaped society, politics, and culture at home and abroad.
The organizers of the conference, Edward G. Gray and Jane Kamensky, had just edited The Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution.

In particular, I recommend the session titled “A Third Way Lost: The City States of Boston and Kingston, the Parameters of Empire, and the American Revolution.” It was led jointly by Trevor Burnard, then professor of history and philosophical studies at the University of Melbourne, and Mark Peterson, then professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.

Along with some epic humblebragging from Prof. Burnard, there’s eye-opening discussion about whether to include Kingston among the biggest ports in British North America; about the regional influences and economic autonomies of Caribbean Jamaica and Puritan Massachusetts; and, once the audience gets involved with comments more than questions, whether Philadelphia was similarly dominant.

Burnard is now the Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull and the Director of the Wilberforce Institute. Since this conference he published such works as Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650-1820, The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica with John Garrigus, and Jamaica in the Age of Revolution.

Peterson has become the Edmund S. Morgan Professor of History at Yale. His book The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630–1865 came out in 2019, and makes the case that Bostonians tried to be a “self-governing Atlantic trading center” until their success at bringing on independence led to their New England fief being subsumed into the larger United States, with cultural dominance being the only hegemony they could retain.