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, August 31, 2021

The Contingency of the Present Moment

I’m ending the month with an extract from an essay by Joanne B. Freeman, professor of history at Yale and cohost of the Now and Then podcast, that recently appeared in The Atlantic.

Freeman’s book Affairs of Honor, about personal politics in early America, helped to inform the treatment of dueling in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton musical. Her more recent The Field of Blood examined violence in the ante-bellum Congress.

Naturally, Freeman dislikes the sight of elected officials encouraging, applauding, or excusing attempts to win political disputes through violence.

As to what’s at stake, she writes:
I also know that before the United States can move ahead, it has to reckon with its past. It has to acknowledge the often profoundly deep roots of modern injustices, and recognize the long-standing assumptions and traditions that have made us who we are, for better and worse. America’s national identity is grounded in a shared understanding of American history—the country’s failures, successes, traditions, and ideals. Shape that narrative and you can shape a nation.

During times of intense change, that narrative has more power still. Thus the current outrage over the telling of our history. The United States is having a full-fledged identity crisis, and given the high stakes, the ownership of national history has become urgent and immediate. Culture war doesn’t begin to do this struggle justice. It is a battle for the soul of America and the survival of democracy, as many Americans know all too well.

This is not a battle of abstractions. It’s a deeply personal fight about inclusion and exclusion. We’re determining whose history counts and whose voices get heard, and reckoning with the many ways in which injustices—and ideals, met and unmet—have made us who we are. The fury of this debate grows from its implications. It’s an argument over what we want the United States to be. . . .

As I’ve taught time and again in college classrooms, the founding generation didn’t know if it would win the Revolution or if the new nation would survive; Hamilton makes this abundantly clear. People were living in the moment, much like us today.

The lesson to be learned from this is vitally important. As much as we might like to, we can’t assume that all will be fine in the end. America’s long-standing faith in its exceptionalism is blinding people to the fact that our constitutional order is fragile, that democracy requires hard work, and that success isn’t a given.
The American Revolution laid the seed for modern democracy on this continent and around the world. It also provided the foundation for a society based for nearly two centuries on slavery and profound inequality. That both of those propositions are true shows how no outcome was guaranteed.

Monday, August 30, 2021

“Master Lawrence takes very striking likenesses”

In 1780 Thomas Lawrence arrived in the fashionable English resort town of Bath and set up a business producing portraits.

One important early step was to create and reproduce a self-portrait demonstrating his talent as well as letting potential customers know who he was.

Thomas Lawrence’s self-portrait is here, courtesy of the British Museum. He was eleven years old.

In 1781 Thomas’s father advertised his own services as a tutor in the Bath Chronicle and added:
Master Lawrence takes very striking likenesses of ladies and gentlemen for a charge of one guinea for an oval crayon.
Eventually the father realized where the real talent was in the family and turned to steering and living off the boy’s artistic career.

The Holburne Museum in Britain has just launched its first online exhibit, tracing Thomas Lawrence’s development from a pre-teen prodigy to an elected member of the Royal Academy, still only twenty-five.

Along the way Lawrence transitioned from pencil to pastels to chalk and oil paints. He was particularly skilled at capturing images of children, some only a few years younger than he was, and that provided for the theme of this exhibit, “Coming of Age.”

Here’s an article about the exhibit from Art UK. And Number One London shared Jo Manning’s four-part series of gossipy articles about Lawrence’s later life, starting here.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Spinning Bee Tableau in Lexington, 31 Aug.

On Tuesday, 31 August, LexSeeHer, an organization dedicated to recognizing women’s history in Lexington, will gather at the site of a spinning bee in 1769.

According to a report from Lexington in the Boston Gazette, on 31 August of that year:
Very early in the Morning, the young Ladies of this Town, to the Number of 45, assembled at the House of Mr. Daniel Harrington, with their Spinning-Wheels, where they spent the Day in the most pleasing Satisfaction: And at Night presented Mrs. Harrington, with the Spinning of 602 Knots of Linnen, and 546 Knots of Cotton.
Daniel Harrington’s wife Anna, who no doubt did much of the organizational work for this event, was from the Munroe family. There were lots of Harringtons and Munroes in Lexington, not to mention their like-minded neighbors.

Such spinning bees were a way for colonial women to support the manufacture of cloth in the province, thus aiding the non-importation strategy to end the Townshend duties. They demonstrated the broad popular base of that protest movement and, given women’s supposed freedom from profit-seeking and politics, lent a moral air.

Even 1,148 knots of yarn wouldn’t make a lot of cloth, and the thread these busy amateurs made probably wasn’t as fine as what professionals in Britain produced. But symbolically such public actions were important. This gathering took place next to Lexington’s common, so it was a visible event, and the newspaper report amplified the news.

LexSeeHer plans to stage “a tableau representing these brave, industrious women.” Eventually they hope to sponsor a monument dedicated to Lexington women's history nearby.

This gathering is scheduled for Tuesday, 31 August, at 6:00 P.M. at 3 Harrington Road.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Remembering the Work of Gary B. Nash

Gary B. Nash, a leading historian of the early America, died late last month just after turning eighty-eight years old.

This is from Carla Gardina Pestana’s obituary for Nash at the Omohundro Institute website:
Over the course of a very prolific career, Gary produced dozens of books: monographs both authored and co-authored, textbooks, edited collections. They were all written with flare and grace. His work ranged widely across the history of Quakers in early America; race, race relations, and African American history; and the American Revolution. . . .

Gary’s attention to race in early America has ranged widely but began with his path-breaking Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early America (1974). For younger scholars, it might be difficult to capture the shockwave that book generated, with its insistence that early American history can only be understood as the interaction among three groups, Natives, Europeans, and Africans. . . .

Gary’s contributions to the study of the American Revolution were varied, but his signature contribution was the 1979 The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness and the Origins of the American Revolution. Comparing three urban centers—Boston, New York, and Philadelphia—in the years leading up to and during the revolution, he showed how economic crisis helped to galvanize ordinary urban dwellers to engage in revolutionary politics. A signal contribution to New Left historiography, it continued a line of inquiry associated with scholars such as Jesse Lemisch and Al Young.

In addition to his research-based scholarship, Gary was a fierce advocate for history education. His involvement in the controversies surrounding the National History Standards, which pitted him against Lynne Cheney and all those who want history taught as a simple and patriotic tale of U.S. exceptionalism, are well known. Serving as the public face for maligned history educators was only one aspect of his commitment. In his retirement from UCLA, he oversaw the Center for History in the Schools which promoted U.S. history and World history education. He participated in curricular revision at UCLA and more widely. He hosted workshops for teachers for decades, for which he became well known and much beloved among K-12 teachers.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Thomas Seward and “the calms of domestic felicity”

At last we reach the thing that prompted me to look into the life of Continental Army artillery officer Thomas Seward: his gravestone in the Copp’s Hill Burying-Ground.

This stone is well preserved and has been written up and photographed many times. The photo here is by Ken Horn and appeared on Find a Grave.

The stone’s ornaments include an urn, a rising sun, and a cannon and pyramid of cannon balls to reflect Seward’s military service. The text reads:
Beneath this Stone is deposited,
the Remains of,
who gallantly fought
in our late revolutionary War,
and through
its various scenes, behaved
with Patriotic fortitude
& died in the calms
of domestic felicity, as becomes
a Universal-Christian,
Novr. 27th 1800 Ætat 60

“The lonely turf where silence lays her head,
The mound where pity sighs for hon’d dead,
Such is the grief where sorrow now doth sigh,
To learn to live is but to learn to die.”
I haven’t found a source for that verse, so it may have been composed expressly for the Seward grave.

Some webpages describing this stone question why it doesn’t mention the major’s wife. Nineteenth-century books about the cemetery reported that the stone has further lines, now buried in the ground:
Obiit March 14th 1800
Ætat 63
When I set out to research Thomas Seward, I hoped to find some dramatic story, the way probing the named attackers of Owen Richards led me on a round-the-world voyage and into colonial Boston’s system for managing poor children.

But recounting drama depends on finding personal details about a life’s inflection points, and the records of Seward’s life are stubbornly low-key. Very few personal papers survive. He rarely showed up in newspapers. Other people didn’t write much about him.

Over sixty years Thomas Seward maintained a business, married, and had children. He lived through the political turmoil of Boston in the 1760s and 1770s and then spent eight years fighting for American independence. During his final years he had a mild religious conversion, formed a political affiliation, and took on a new government job. At age sixty he lost his wife, and he died eight months later. His life must have contained drama. But it went with him to the grave.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

“A respectable and well-known Officer”

For Thomas Seward, his military service in the Continental artillery, rising from lieutenant to brevet major over eight years, remained an important part of his identity after the war.

Seward was an original member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati and served on its standing committee in the 1790s.

Like a lot of networked Continental Army officers, he eventually accepted a job in the federal government, becoming an officer of the United States Customs in Boston in 1796.

When Alexander Hamilton was vetting officers for the “Quasi-War” with France in 1798, Henry Knox apparently told him that Seward was “advanced in years & corpulent,” and would be best as a “Garrison Capt” rather than in the field, but there were “few better Officers.”

Thomas Seward’s namesake son, a merchant captain, married in 1799. The following year, the major’s wife, Sarah, died in March.

On 28 Nov 1800 the Massachusetts Mercury reported in its Deaths section:
Yesterday, Major Thomas Steward, aged 60. A respectable and well-known Officer in the revolutionary army of the United States. His funeral will be from his late dwelling at the bottom of Middle-street, near Winnisimet-Ferry, this afternoon, which his relations and friends are requested to attended, without further invitation.

[pointing hand] The Members of the Cincinnati are respectfully requested to attend the funeral.
The next day’s Jeffersonian Constitutional Telegraph repeated the sentence describing Seward as a “respectable and well-known Officer” and added a new line: “A firm and determined Republican.” The major had taken sides in the nation’s political divide.

Seward died without a will, so probate judge George R. Minot appointed his late wife’s sister Abigail Brett to work out the estate. The inventory she filed shows that Seward owned many artifacts of gentility: a silver watch, a Bible and seventeen other books, an angling rod, two canaries in a cage, a $35 desk, $100 worth of wearing apparel. The house contained twenty pictures of various sizes, including two of “Bounaparte & Lady”—reflecting early Republican admiration for France.

That inventory also confirms that Seward owned a pew in the Rev. John Murray’s Universalist meetinghouse. At some point he had moved from an orthodox Congregationalist meeting to this liberal new sect. Among other converts to Universalism was Col. Richard Gridley, the artillery officer Seward had served under back in 1775.

TOMORROW: Why we remember Thomas Seward.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Thomas Seward, Continental Artillery Officer

Thomas Seward (1740-1800) was born in Boston and grew up to be a hatter. He married Sarah Colter at the Rev. Andrew Eliot’s New North Meeting-House in October 1763, and they had five children between 1764 and 1773.

Seward also joined the Boston militia artillery company, or train, founded in the early 1760s and commanded for most of that time by Maj. Adino Paddock. As I described in The Road to Concord, Paddock remained a Loyalist while most of the company were Patriots. In September 1774 the train fell apart, and its four brass cannon disappeared from the militia armories under redcoat guard.

By May 1775, Seward was outside Boston. He joined Col. Richard Gridley’s new artillery regiment as a lieutenant and rose to the rank of captain-lieutenant at the end of the year. On 15 July 1776 Henry Knox wrote back from New York to his brother William in Boston:
Pay Mrs Sarah Seward wife of Capt Lt Seward 20 Dollars, and inform her that Cap Seward is well and gone up to the Highland Forts about 50 miles from this City up the river—he lives near [??] ferry—don’t neglect this
That summer Seward signed a petition to Col. Knox seeking better pay for artillery captain-lieutenants. At the start of 1777, Seward became a captain in charge of his own company in Col. John Crane’s Continental artillery regiment.

Seward shows up in the documents on Founders Online only once during the war, as Gen. George Washington considered ordering him to move from one spot of the lines around New York to another. There are some letters from, to, and about Seward in the papers of Gen. Knox. The Massachusetts Historical Society holds an orderly book he kept in late 1782 with some company returns. 

Seward remained in the army until June 1783, and he was given the brevet rank of major that September as a retirement gift, along with a warrant for land.

Seward returned to Boston, his family, and his business. On 7 June 1788 he advertised in the Massachusetts Centinel:
INFORMS the publick, and particularly his friends, that he has REMOVED from the Shop he lately occupied in Dock Square, to STATE STREET, adjoining Mr. Elliot’s Snuff-Store—where he continues to carry on the
Where any commands will be punctually executed—and every favour gratefully acknowledged.
This is the only advertisement I’ve found for Seward’s shop. Obviously he was able to keep customers without newspaper promotion. That orderly book also includes some of his personal accounts from the 1790s.

TOMORROW: Drawing on military connections.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Upcoming Online Book Events

Here are some book discussions coming to a computer screen near you in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, 26 August, 8:00 P.M.
History Camp
Kathleen DuVal, Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will discuss her prize-winning book Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution, which looks at the history of the American Revolution through the eyes of slaves, American Indians, women, and British loyalists on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Free.

Tuesday, 31 August, 7:00 P.M.
Harvard Book Store
Mike Duncan, host of the groundbreaking podcast The History of Rome and author of The Storm Before the Storm will discuss his latest book, Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution. He will be joined in conversation by Patrick Wyman, host of the Tides of History podcast. This is a ticketed event. A $35.25 ticket buys access to the event plus a signed hardcover copy of Hero of Two Worlds mailed afterwards.

Thursday, 9 September, 8:00 P.M.
History Camp
Jack Kelly, author and historian, on his new book, Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty, which covers the Revolutionary War battle on Lake Champlain, led by Philip Schuyler, Horatio Gates, and the heroic Benedict Arnold, that delayed British invasion until the following year. Free.

Monday, August 23, 2021

All Roads Lead to Windham County

There’s a lot still to learn about the Akley family from Boston. From genealogy websites I’ve picked up that descendants have some lore about other relatives besides the brothers I’ve been writing about.

One claim is that the father, Francis Akley, Sr., died at the Battle of Bunker Hill. His name doesn’t appear on any of the American casualty lists, however. He would have been about fifty years old at the time, and as of September 1772 he had been admitted to the Boston almshouse and designated “Lame.” So I’m skeptical.

Similar family tradition says that the youngest brother, William, born in 1769, was killed at the Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain in 1814. I haven’t found a casualty list to address that.

Rather, the big mystery about the Akley family that I’d love to be revealed, but doubt ever will be, was how they stayed in touch.

The Akleys fell on hard times in the 1760s. The Boston Overseers of the Poor largely split up the family, sending children to far-flung towns in the province. Then came the disruption of the war.

Eventually four of the brothers applied for Revolutionary War pensions from the federal government. None of those documents described their birth family, upbringing, or other relatives not directly germane to proving their military service or need. Only one brother even mentioned being born in Boston.

Nevertheless, those pension applications offer evidence of a bond still holding the family together. Namely, all four of those brothers ended up in the same southeastern corner of Vermont.

The first was Francis Akley, Jr. He was indentured to Edward Houghton of Lancaster from 1763 until he came of age in 1772. There were two Edward Houghtons in that town in the mid-eighteenth century, and I’m guessing Francis’s master was the Edward Houghton born in 1730 and married to Lucretia Richardson in 1760. He evidently moved to Holden around the time he took in Francis since the Boston Overseers of the Poor got a character reference from Lancaster but listed Houghton as coming from Holden.

In 1773 that Houghton family moved to Guilford, Vermont. This new community had had its first town meeting just the year before. It had charters from Gov. Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire in 1754 and 1764, but there was also a competing land grant from New York in 1771, and that conflict took decades to sort out. The initial slate of officials elected in 1772 included constable David Goodnough and clerk and assessor John Shepardson.

Edward Houghton died in Guilford in 1782, having achieved the militia rank of lieutenant. His widow Lucretia ran a tavern that was focus of fighting between ”Vermonters” and “Yorkers” two years later, and their sons, including another man named Edward, became prominent property-owners in the following decades.

According to Francis Akley’s pension application, he was living in Guilford, Vermont, when the war began. He had evidently followed the Houghtons north, either to continue working for them or to seek his own farmland.

In early 1776 Francis’s younger brother Thomas Akley also came to Guilford. He had grown up in Dedham and spent most of the preceding year serving in a Dedham-based company of the Continental Army. For a while that company was stationed in Roxbury. Had Thomas met Joseph Akley and his young family there when they were refugees from Boston or when Joseph was doing militia duty on the siege lines?

In any event, the only reason Thomas Akley would have traveled out to Guilford after his army service was to rendezvous with big brother Francis. In June 1776, Thomas Akley decided to go back into military service, enlisting under Guilford official John Shepardson.

Six months later, in January 1777, Francis Akley also signed up for the army. He recalled being recruited by David Goodnough, who in May 1775 had been elected as first lieutenant of Guilford’s militia company.

Thomas was in his New Hampshire regiment for a year. Francis did a longer stint as a ranger. He was at the surrender of Gen. John Burgoyne after Saratoga—and so was their younger brother John, by then drum major for a Massachusetts regiment. Did Francis and John Akley seek each other out around the surrender ceremony?

After the war all three of those brothers returned to southeastern corner of Vermont. I can’t find primary records about Francis’s family, but he was living in the town of Halifax, next to Guilford, when he applied for a pension in 1819.

Thomas settled in Brattleboro, also next to Guilford. He married Abigail Wilder in 1783, and they had several lots of children who remained in the region, spelling their surname Akeley. The photo above shows Thomas and Abigail Akley’s house when it was on the market last year.

Francis and Thomas’s younger brother John returned to the Springfield, Massachusetts, area after the war and married in Connecticut. At some point, however, he and his wife Miriam Ward joined his brothers in southeastern Vermont. According to a Ward family genealogy, they lived with their children in Brattleboro for a while before moving to Connecticut in the early 1800s.

Finally, brother Samuel Akley grew up, married, and had children in Topsham, Maine. Nonetheless, he was living in Halifax, Vermont, in 1827 when he first applied for a Revolutionary War pension. Quite possibly his older brothers’ success at getting such pay inspired him to try. Later Samuel moved back to Maine.

That pattern means these Akley brothers somehow kept in touch even though they grew up from fairly early ages in different corners of Massachusetts. Had they been able to make periodic visits back to Boston to see their parents and siblings remaining there? Were they writing back and forth the whole time? We’ll probably need to find private correspondence to know.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Samuel Akley, Continental Matross

The fourth Akley brother to serve in the Continental Army was Samuel.

He was baptized at the New South Meeting-House on 13 May 1764 and thus still only ten years old when the Revolutionary War began.

When Samuel had just turned four, the Boston Overseers of the Poor had indentured him to wheelwright John Merrill of Topsham, in the district of Maine, until 1785. But he didn’t serve that full term.

In February 1827 Samuel Akley, then living in Halifax, Vermont, applied for a Revolutionary pension. The text of that application can be read as an attachment to a later filing with the state of Maine, digitized here.

It says Samuel Akley
for the term of three years…Enlisted in the Company of Capt. [Thomas] Jackson and the Regiment of Col. [John] Crane. the first of March 1780, or 1781. enlisted in Topsham in the State of Mass: in the Mass: line—Passed Muster at Boston Mass. Joined the Army at West Point N.Y.
In 1848 Akley testified that he’d joined the army in April 1781. In 1855 he dated his service at West Point from 17 July 1780. He also said then that he was eighteen years old when he passed muster, which would mean the summer of 1782.

Samuel Akley of Topsham isn’t listed in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War. However, there is a listing for a man by the same name who received a bounty from Thaddeus Lovering of Holliston to serve three years in the army in his place.

Because no families named Akley (however spelled) appear in Holliston’s published vital records from that time, and because Lovering paid the bounty in Boston, I wonder if that farmer crossed paths with Akley while he “Passed Muster at Boston.” The receipt is dated 17 June 1782, which would match the latest indicator for when Akley enlisted.

In any event, Akley became a matross in Crane’s Continental artillery regiment, the equivalent of a private on a gun crew. He served “till the Army was disbanded, and was discharged at West Point.”

Samuel Akley made his way back to Topsham, Maine. On 18 Nov 1791 he married Elizabeth (Betsey) Moody there; she appears to have been around age twenty. According to a descendant, they had at least six children together. Three of those children, ages seventeen to twelve, were still living with their parents in 1827.

In 1831, the Akleys moved to Rumford, Maine. Betsey died in 1842. Six years later, Samuel applied to the government for an increased pension as an artillerist. Seven years after that, at the age of ninety-three, he put in the paperwork for a land grant from Maine.

Samuel Akley finally died on 17 July 1861, as shown on his gravestone above. By then he and his family believed he was just short of his hundredth birthday; in fact, he was ninety-seven. He had served in the last months of the Revolutionary War and lived to see the first months of the U.S. Civil War. On his gravestone is this memento mori:
Stop traveler as you pass by
As you are now so once was I.
As I am now so you must be.
Prepare for death and follow me
TOMORROW: Wrapping up the Akely family.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

John Akley, Continental Drum Major

The next Akley brother, after Francis, Joseph, and Thomas, was John, baptized in September 1757.

In October 1764 John had just turned seven, and the Boston Overseers of the Poor sent him all the way out to Springfield.

Samuel and Lucy Williams promised to teach the boy to “Read Write & Cypher” and give him £13.6s.8d. when he came of age in 1779.

Before that date, war broke out. In April 1775, at the age of seventeen, John Akley marched with the town militia company. That unit got as far as Brookfield before the officers realized the emergency had passed and marched everyone home again. John served only three days that year.

In early 1776, however, John Akley enlisted in the Continental Army. In his pension application filed in May 1818 from Norwich, New York, he recalled that he had then lived in Longmeadow, a part of Springfield that didn’t formally become a town until 1783. Akley reported that he was a drummer and his first company commander was Capt. Silvanus Walker of Brookfield.

With that unit “he was in the battle at Trenton at the taking of the Hesians.” When his year was up, Akley recalled, he was discharged in Newtown, Pennsylvania. He then reenlisted for three years in the company of Capt. Asa Coburn of Sturbridge, regiment of Col. Icahbod Alden of Duxbury. Based on his experience, he was immediately made the drum major. He was nineteen.

During his second stretch, Akley stated, “he was in the Battle at the taking of Burgoin [Saratoga], and at Cherry Vally in the State of New York where the Col. was killed.” On 11 Nov 1778 Crown forces under Joseph Brant and Maj. Walter Butler attacked that settlement, catching Col. Alden and many other officers outside the fort. That defeat with civilian casualties became known to Americans as “the Cherry Valley Massacre.”

On 1 Feb 1780, John Akley was discharged from the regiment, now led by Col. John Brooks, at West Point. He went home and became close to Miriam Ward of West Springfield, then about sixteen years old.

In 1839 Miriam Akeley applied for a pension as John Akley’s widow. The law providing such pensions offered more money to women who had married soldiers while they were still in service. That might have influenced how Miriam Akeley described their nuptials on 29 Oct 1781:
John Akeley (or Ackley as the name is some times spelt) was at home on furlo and could not remain at home a sufficient time to be published according to the laws of Massachusetts, and that they went from West Springfield to Suffield in Connecticut and was there married (without being published) on the day where written by Rev. Mr. [Ebenezer] Gay Minister of said Suffield.
Suffield’s town clerk verified that marriage date. According to his widow, John Akley returned to the army in late 1781, then came home for good a year later.

Nonetheless, John Akley mentioned no such additional year in the army in his 1818 pension application. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War records his last army service in February 1780.

Massachusetts also listed a man named John Ackley serving on board the Continental frigate Hague under Capt. John Manley in 1783. However, that’s probably another man of the same name. John Akley’s 1818 application didn’t mention fighting at sea, either.

Another wrinkle appears in Charles Martyn’s The William Ward Genealogy (1925). It states:
Miriam Ward married John Ackley of Brattleboro, Vt. They resided for a time in Brattleboro, then he disappeared and was never heard of again. She afterwards lived in Wethersfield, Conn.
That book lists two children for the couple, including Polly Ackley, who married a man named Flint in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Polly and John Flint appear in the Akleys’ pension file, so clearly it’s the same family.

According to the 1790 U.S. Census, “John Akeley” was then living in Guilford, Vermont, with one white boy and two white females—no doubt his son, wife, and daughter. That was close to Brattleboro. By 1800 that family may have moved to Hartford County, Connecticut, where a John Ackley and relatives appear on the census.

According to John Flint’s 1838 affidavit, he had known John Akley personally, Miriam Akley had lived at the Flint house in Wethersfield since about 1808, and John Akley was absent from that house “about eighteen or twenty years since.” Around that time, Polly Flint destroyed her father’s drum major warrant, “not supposing it to be of any value.”

Putting the dots together, that suggests John Akley left his extended family in Connecticut and went to central New York before 1818. He applied for a federal pension in Norwich that year. The government paid Akley that pension until he died on 1 Apr 1819.

Eventually word of John Akley’s death got back to his family in Connecticut, though Flint never knew the exact date, thinking it was in June 1820. Almost two decades later, the U.S. government approved a widow’s pension for Miriam Akeley. She was still signing for those payments (albeit with a mark) in 1848 at the age of eighty-five. Miriam Akeley finally died on 8 May 1850, and her gravestone, mentioning her long departed husband by name, appears above.

TOMORROW: An Akley artillerist.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Thomas Akley and “a military Road over the Green Mountains”

The third Akley boy was Thomas, baptized at King’s Chapel on 25 May 1755. When he was nine years old, the Boston Overseers of the Poor sent him to live with the Rev. Jason Haven in Dedham.

In 1832 Thomas Akley applied for a Revolutionary War pension. He was then living in Brattleboro, Vermont. He said he was 77 years old and had been “born in Boston, Mass. in the year 1755,” confirming the match.

Thomas Akley testified that he marched in Dedham’s minuteman company on 19 Apr 1775, and:
A few days after Lexington Battle I inlisted for eight months under Capt. [Joseph] Gild and Col. [John] Greaton. . . . Served that term of eight months, at Roxbury, Dorchester and Cambridge, and was dismissed at Cambridge at the end of the term, without any written discharge.

also served one month more in the same company after the said eight months had expired, to supply the place of some recruits who did not arrive in camp as expected.
When asked about officers he recalled serving under, Akley said that from that year he “remembers Col. [John] Patterson’s regment, remembers General [Artemas] Ward.”

Akley moved to Vermont in 1776, and in the middle of that year he joined another unit alongside Phinehas Mather:
we enlisted into a company to go & open a military Road over the Green Mountains from Charlestown (N.H.) or No. 4. to the Lake, so that the New Hampshire & other eastern militia could march over to Fort Independence & the Lake

I enlisted at Guilford, Vt. on or about the first day of June AD 1776 and marched thro’ Brattleboro’, Dummerston, Putney, Westmoreland & Walpole, to said Charlestown, under Capt. [Samuel] Warriner & Maj. John Shepardson.

From Charlestown, I went to Springfield (Vt.) to Col [John] Barrets, who provided for us. Thence to Cavendish, where we were encamped awhile & employed on said Road, the bridges &c.

We repaired or opened the Road over the Green Mountains & when we got to Rutland, were billetted out some time, working upon the said Road & bridges. We made a Bridge at Rutland, over Otter Creek River.

While there there was an Alarm or Two by the movements of the Enemy on the Lake, and we marched thro’ Castleton & Hubbardston to Mount Independence. Genl [Benedict] Arnold was on the Lake about this time, and being compelled to retreat & leave the lake, is said to have burnt his ship before he gave up.

As near as I can recollect, our time expired the first of December 1776 & we returned thro’ Cavendish, Springfield, & so down the River as we went, to our homes. We were then under New York State, & probably called New York troops. . . . We were armed with Guns & tomahawks.
Several documents in Akley’s pension file are arguments that this road-building was an army project, not a civilian effort, and thus should count toward his military service.

Thomas Akley settled in Brattleboro and married Abigail Wilder in 1783. They had fourteen children between 1783 and 1808. Abigail died in 1840. Thomas survived until 28 Feb 1850, dying at ninety-four. Shown above, courtesy of Find a Grave, is Thomas Akley’s gravestone in the West Brattleboro Cemetery.

TOMORROW: More Akleys.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Francis Akley, Continental Ranger

When I started to focus on Joseph Akley, I also introduced his brothers: Francis, one year older, and Thomas, John, Samuel, and William, from three to seventeen years younger.

Samuel and William were so much younger, in fact, that Joseph never lived in the same household with them, being indentured out before he was born. (Joseph and William both grew up in Boston, so they might have known each other at least.)

The Boston Overseers of the Poor sent the other five brothers to new masters all over the province, as far west as Springfield and as far north as Topsham, Maine.

Those Akleys were young men and teenagers during the Revolutionary War. In 1775 only Joseph had married and started a family. Francis, Thomas, and John came of age before or during the war, meaning their apprenticeships ran out. They had no doubt built some personal ties in the communities where they grew up, but they didn’t have any relatives or property.

In sum, those Akley brothers were just the sort of young men the Continental Army was looking for. Just the sort of young men that towns were happy to grant a little bonus money and send off to fill draft quotas.

Indeed, all four of those Akley brothers joined the army, and, remarkably, all four survived long enough to apply for pensions in the early 1800s. By that time they had scattered across the northeastern U.S. of A. None of their applications described their family background or life in Boston before enlisting, but they stated their ages and the towns from which they enlisted, confirming that these are the right guys.

Francis Akley, Jr., baptized on 19 May 1751, was indentured to a cooper in Lancaster. After turning twenty-one in 1772 he moved to Guilford in what would be Vermont. In January 1777 he enlisted under Lt. David Goodnough in “an independant corpse of rangers mostly from New Hamps. at Tyconderoga commanded by Major [Benjamin] Whitcomb—and Capt. [George] Aldrich Company.”

Aldrich’s company fought in the Battle of Bennington on 16 Aug 1777. The only event Akley specifically recalled, however, was being “at the taking of Burgoyne” after Saratoga. He said he was discharged at Haverhill, New Hampshire, “I think in 1783.” Whitcomb’s Rangers actually disbanded at the start of 1781.

Francis Akley applied for a pension while living in Halifax, Vermont, in 1819. The following year he testified that he was seventy years old and his property consisted of “two Pigs—1 Jacknife & 1 old Pocketbook.” At that time, the law required veterans to show need before receiving any support.

The federal government granted Akley a pension. In 1829 he moved to Connecticut, and then in 1838 back to Vermont. Akley appeared on the U.S. government’s pension list in 1840, the year he turned eighty-nine.

The Vermont Mercury for 26 Mar 1841, published in Woodstock, carried a notice from the men commissioned to settle “Francis Akley’s Estate,” he being “represented insolvent.” They invited creditors to meet “at the dwelling-house of Lyman Akley in Plymouth,” most likely a descendant the veteran had been living with at the end of his long life.

TOMORROW: More Akley brothers’ service.

(The drawing above comes from the website of the reenacted Whitcomb’s Rangers and shows a soldier like Francis Akley.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Joseph Akley as an Adult

Being sued for tarring and feathering a Customs officer wasn’t the only big event in Joseph Akley’s life in the spring of 1771.

On 16 May, still aged only nineteen, Joseph wed Margaret Durant, according to Boston’s list of intentions to marry.

I can’t find a record of what church the couple married in or anything more about Margaret Durant. But there’s no record of a child coming quickly.

Instead, the couple’s first recorded children were baptized at King’s Chapel:

  • Joseph on 5 May 1773.
  • Margaret, 12 Mar 1775. [Transcribed “Skeley” in some publications.]
Later there was Sarah, baptized 25 Oct 1778 at Trinity Church, when that was the only functioning Anglican church in town.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War lists only one “Joseph Akeley.” He did twenty-one days active service in Capt. Hopestill Hall’s company of Col. Lemuel Robinson’s Massachusetts militia regiment. That was in February 1776, when Gen. George Washington was desperate for any men to shore up the siege lines.

That “Akeley” was recorded as enlisting in Roxbury. But that would be consistent with the Akely family having left Boston after the war started. It’s also understandable that Joseph Akley, father of young children, didn’t go into the Continental Army full-time.
By the 1790s we see Joseph Akley listed as a hairdresser in the Boston directories. He owned real estate, having overcome the poverty of his early years.

Indeed, the Akley family seems to have gained a little stature. When Joseph’s mother, Tabitha Akley, died in 1790 at the age of seventy, her death was noted in newspapers across the state. Only twenty years earlier she had been in the Boston almshouse.

On 13 Nov 1794 the American Apollo reported this death:
At Point-a-Petre, Guadaloupet Mr. Joseph Akely, jun. of this town—a worthy young man, whose death is much lamented by his most cursory acquaintance, Æt. 22.
Presumably the Akleys’ oldest child was on some sort of mercantile voyage when he died.

On 1 Nov 1808, the New-England Palladium reported that the barber Joseph Akley had died the previous day at the age of fifty-six. His widow Margaret was appointed executrix.

The 1810 U.S. Census lists Margaret Akely living alone on Hanover Street in Boston. That could be the widow or her eldest daughter, unmarried.

TOMORROW: The Akely brothers at war.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

“Informed against for his participation in the destruction of the tea”

In the late nineteenth century, the Boston historian Francis S. Drake collected lore about the Boston Tea Party from lots of families.

Drake published those stories, along with many documents, in the book Tea Leaves (1884). One entry read:

A barber, was informed against for his participation in the destruction of the tea, and committed to prison. The Sons of Liberty supported him while in confinement, and also provided for his family. He was finally liberated, and the person who informed against him was tarred and feathered, and paraded through the town with labels on his breast and back bearing his name, and the word “informer” in large letters.
Some books on the Tea Party repeated this information without adding to it. No one has brought forward more evidence to corroborate this oral tradition, even from places we should expect to find it.

People don’t get “committed to prison” for long enough to need outside support without getting put on records. We know royal authorities in both Boston and London were very eager to find out who organized the destruction of the tea. Gen. Thomas Gage and Adm. John Montagu even secretly transported Samuel Dyer across the Atlantic because they thought he had useful information. But no source at the time mentioned this barber or the dismissal of his case.

To tar and feather someone and parade him through town was also a highly public act. When a Boston mob abused John Malcolm that way in January 1774, it was widely discussed in both New England and Britain. That same period offers no record of a tarring and feathering connected to the Tea Party like this.

Here’s my theory: This is a distorted memory of Joseph Akley’s dispute with Owen Richards in 1770-71, attached to the Tea Party because by the mid-1800s that was Boston’s most famous and respectable Revolutionary protest, the one families wanted to have an ancestor participating in.

This lore reversed the order of events, and probably exaggerated Joseph Akley’s tribulations, but we can recognize those events from the story of the mobbing of Owen Richards.

First, we know Richards was tarred, feathered, and paraded around town. People called him an ”informer.“ He recalled, “they also fix’d a paper on my breast, with Capital Letters thereon, but [I] cannot Recollect what it contained.”

The tradition referred to “ECKLEY…A barber.” Joseph Akley, whose name was spelled many different ways, was a barber later in life, after the peruke wigs he was first trained to make went out of style.

There’s no evidence Akley was accused of helping to destroy the tea or locked up, but Owen Richards did accuse him of a crime and haul him into court in 1771. Boston’s Whig leaders, including John Adams, John Hancock, and newspaper writers, did get involved in fighting against Richards’s accusations.

I suspect that some stories about that documented dispute, overshadowed by bigger Revolutionary events, got passed down in the Akley family or circle. Over time they faded until people in the late 1800s didn’t even remember the barber’s name precisely. But they remembered something about tarring and feathering, and legal jeopardy, and help from the Sons of Liberty. They hung those baubles of memory off the larger story of the Tea Party, and Francis S. Drake conglomerated the “Eckley” story with the rest.

TOMORROW: Joseph Akley in the war.

Monday, August 16, 2021

When Owen Richards Sued Joseph Akley for Assault

My last posting about Joseph Akley argued that despite being indentured away from his impoverished family at the age of ten and seeing his master die five years later, Akley turned out okay.

But, Boston 1775 readers might ask, we started looking into young Joseph only because Owen Richards sued him for being part of a tar-and-feathers attack in May 1770. Might that suggest the teenager ran wild and got into trouble?

That’s still a possibility, but today I’ll argue that Akley’s relationship to his master’s family played into both how he got sued and how he got out of that jam.

To start with, let’s go back to the attack on Owen Richards. He was a tide waiter for the Customs service, involved in that department’s disputes with John Hancock in 1768. On 18 May 1770, Richards confiscated a Connecticut ship for smuggling, and that evening a mob came to his house.

It makes sense to assume that most of the people in that mob were sailors, waterfront workers, and others with a grudge against the Customs service. The most prominent person Richards sued for assaulting him was Joseph Doble, a sea captain and son of a sea captain.

A teen-aged wigmaker like Joseph Akley could have joined that crowd, but he wouldn’t have led it. Why, then, did Owen Richards single out Joseph as another of only three people he sued for assault?

My answer starts in 1758 when peruke-maker Timothy Winship’s daughter Margaret, aged twenty-three, married John Gregory at King’s Chapel. Nine months later the couple returned to that church for the baptism of their first child, John.

There were three sponsors at that baptism. One was the mother’s older sister, Sarah. Back here I guessed that she was helping to manage the Winship household and her younger siblings after her mother’s death.

Another sponsor was Owen Richards.

Thus, Richards was close to members of the Winship family. He may well have met the indentured boy who arrived in the peruke-maker’s house in 1762, seen him grow up at church, and even attended the master’s funeral.

I theorize that Richards sued Joseph Akley not because that teenager was a leader of the tar-and-feathers mob but because he recognized the kid’s face.

We don’t have many records of that lawsuit, but we know who represented Akley and his fellow defendants in court: John Adams. He collected fees of 12s. and 48s. for defending the teen, more than twice what he charged Joseph Doble.

Beside the second payment Adams wrote: “at Elizabeth Winship’s Instance.” That was Timothy Winship’s widow, who had raised Joseph Akley since 1762 and was evidently still looking after him.

TOMORROW: A barber at the Tea Party?

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Sir George Collier and the Digital N.D.A.R.

Last month I wrote about a Royal Navy commander named George Collier and his capture of the U.S.S. Hancock.

In the late nineteenth century the Dictionary of National Biography published an entry on Collier that said:
In 1775 he seems to have been sent to North America on some special service, the circumstances of which have not been chronicled, but which obtained for him the honour of knighthood.
That’s intriguing! Of course I want to know what Collier’s special mission was.

More Than Nelson states that King George III knighted Collier on 27 January, indicating he’d sailed to North America in 1774. But still no clue about why.

I held out hope that the Naval Documents of the American Revolution project, launched in 1964, dredged up the answer. The first volume even starts in 1774. But alas, Collier doesn’t come on board until December 1775 when the Admiralty gave him command of H.M.S. Rainbow.

But some good news: Looking for that source led me to the Naval Documents of the American Revolution Digital Edition, which offers fully searchable files of the existing thirteen volumes. (In addition, the Naval History and Heritage Command Center offers P.D.F. files of those same volumes.) This is an excellent resource for researchers.

And now for the bad news: Volume 13 of the N.D.A.R., published in 2019, leaves off on 15 Aug 1778. The French fleet has barely entered the fray, and the Spanish are yet to appear.

The process of assembling, transcribing, annotating, and editing sources related to the war at sea continues. The first five volumes of the N.D.A.R. were published over a span of seven years (1964-1970) while the last five took forty-two years (1977-2019). Since information technology improved tremendously in those same decades, the volumes could be coming out more quickly if the project had the same level of staffing as in its earliest years. And that’s a matter of the federal budget.

There are still five years of the Revolutionary War to get through. Indeed, the last phases of the war after Yorktown were primarily fought at sea between the navies of the European great powers. Would it be possible for the N.D.A.R. volume covering the Battle of the Saintes to appear by the Sestercentennial of that event in 2032?

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Call for Papers on the Long End of H.M.S. Gaspee

The Rhode Island Historical Society and Newport Historical Society have issued a call for submissions for a combined issue of their journals on the theme of “The Bridge: The Gaspee Affair in Context.”

The call says:
Prior to the end of the Seven Year’s War in 1763, the British colonies had enjoyed what historians often called “salutary neglect,” which had enabled economic and political development with little interference from the crown for nearly a century. After 1763, the British government took advantage of a period of European peace to overhaul the empire, seeking tighter control and more revenue, especially from North America. The late 1760s saw a series of acts which sent shock waves through the colonies and sparked various forms of colonial opposition. One such instance in Rhode Island was the Gaspee Affair.

On June 9, 1772, the British customs schooner HMS Gaspee ran aground on a sandbar at what is today known as Gaspee Point, Warwick, Rhode Island. The Gaspee had been chasing the Hannah, a packet vessel that had evaded the empire’s customs duties at Newport. At Providence, the Hannah’s captain Thomas Lindsey notified merchant John Brown of the Gaspee’s compromised position.

Mobilizing other merchants including Simeon Potter, Joseph Tillinghast, Ephraim Bowen, and Abraham Whipple in protest of the empire’s customs duties, Brown instigated a mob, including artisans, merchants, and several enslaved people, to attack the beached Gaspee. At dawn on June 10, the rioters boarded the Gaspee, shot the vessel’s captain, forced its crew to abandon ship, seized the vessel’s documents, and set the vessel ablaze.

Since the Revolution, Rhode Islanders have commemorated the Gaspee Affair as one of the earliest watersheds of the movement toward American independence.

We seek article submissions which re-contextualize the Gaspee Affair within the broader imperial crisis of its era, with a focus on such topics as other acts of colonial resistance to the crown prior to the Boston Tea Party; a better understanding the Gaspee Affair within the development of global capitalism; situating the role of enslaved and indigenous people in forms of colonial resistance in Revolutionary War period; examining the ways in which the Gaspee has been remembered, reconstructed and recast in various moments of American history; and a better understanding of how communication about pre-war acts of resistance helped to form regional identities that carried into the New Republic period.
Articles should be 5,000 to 7,000 words long with citations in the Chicago style. Deadline for submission is 15 Jan 2022. Articles will go through peer review and revision before being published in the spring. For other details on how to submit, see the call webpage.

Friday, August 13, 2021

“Play up the Yankee Doodle tune”

This series started with a letter from three of Boston’s wardens reporting an incident of martial music played on Sunday, 11 June 1769.

As I’ve been quoting, the Boston Whigs complained about that noise disrupting church services almost since army regiments arrived in town the previous October. That incident wasn’t the only conflict.

The Whigs’ “Journal of the Times” addressed the event the wardens wrote about, but not until the dispatch dated 24 July 1769, or six weeks afterward. That dispatch said:
Some Sabbaths past, as the guards, placed near the Tavern-House, were relieving, there was a considerable concourse of people, chiefly boys and Negroes to partake of the entertainment given by their band of music;

the wardens having by their laudable exertions dispersed the rabble, soon perceived that Mr. John Bernard, our Governor’s second son, had made one among them, and still kept his standing; upon which they very civilly accosted him desiring that he should walk off, lest his being suffered to remain, should give occasion for their being taxed with partiality in the execution of their trust;

Mr. Bernard then seemed to be walking away, when Capt. M—s—h, who commanded the guard, called to him, desiring that he would come into the square, where he should be protected from the wardens; the young man accepted of so pressing and polite an invitation; but the wardens called to him as he was going into the square, praying him to desist, as they would otherwise be put to the disagreeable necessity of returning his name to a magistrate, the Monday following;

upon that the officer of the guard, in a sneering manner, called upon the musicians to play up the Yankee Doodle tune, which compleated the conquest of the military, and afforded them a temporary triumph.

The wardens made good their promise, and discharged their duty, by entering a complaint with a magistrate, against Mr. Bernard, for breach of Sabbath, when he was convicted, and punished agreeable to law.
The wardens’ letter referred to “a Young Gentleman an Inhabitant of the Town,” but this newspaper item makes clear that man was John Bernard (1745-1809), son of Gov. Francis Bernard. He had served as his father’s personal secretary and then set himself up in business. In early 1770 he was one of the handful of merchants who defied the nonimportation agreement.

The wardens spelled out the name of “Capt. M—s—h,” letting us identify him as Ponsonby Molesworth of the 29th Regiment. In April he had eloped with fifteen-year-old Susannah Sheaffe, beautiful daughter of a Customs official, but then they came back to town to start life as a married couple.

The wardens’ letter said Molesworth ordered the regimental musicians to play “the Yankee tune.” The Whigs’ article confirms Lance Boos’s guess that meant “Yankee Doodle.” However, in his essay on the letter for the Massachusetts Historical Society’s blog, Boos interpreted the tune as intended to insult the “Young Gentleman.”

The “Journal of the Times” item shows that in fact the officers saw themselves as protecting Bernard’s right to enjoy the army music, and they called for “Yankee Doodle” as a way to defy and insult the wardens. In Boston’s political conflict, the governor, Customs officials, the army, and their family members were allies.

On the other side, wardens Thomas Walley, John Joy, and Henry Hill had the responsibility to ensure people observed the Sabbath, a reflection of Boston’s Puritan traditions. They couldn’t order the army to keep quiet; they and the selectmen could only make requests of the army commanders. But they could charge “an Inhabitant of the Town” like young Bernard with violating the Sabbath by not going home when they asked him to.

It’s interesting to note that in 1774 warden John Joy (1727-1804) became a Loyalist, probably inspired by his past military service to the Crown. His namesake son returned to Boston after the war and gave his name to Joy Street on Beacon Hill.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

“Opportunity of hearing NANCY DAWSON”

As I described yesterday, in late 1768 Boston officials became concerned about the army regiments in town playing music on Sundays.

That music was a normal aspect of changing the guard. The garrison’s main guard was at the center of town, near the Old Brick Meeting-House.

By early December, that dispute nearly led to violence as soldiers chased away local youths who “behaved so as to displease the officer” in charge.

At the end of the year, the town’s highest elected officials complained directly to the officer commanding the four regiments:
Yesterday the Selectmen, waited upon General [John] Pomeroy, to acquaint him that the music of the fife, &c. on the Sabbath, was very disagreeable to the inhabitants, and might have an ill effect upon the younger and more thoughtless part of the community, with respect to the observance of that day; and as they apprehended it contrary to law, they expressed their hopes and desires that it might be omitted for the future, as they had taken notice it had sometimes been in stormy weather…
The selectmen also used the occasion to complain about sentries challenging civilians who passed their guardhouses and stations, as soldiers were ordered to do. Why did a British town at peace need sentries? Mostly to stop men from deserting from the army.  

The selectmen’s request had no effect according to the Whigs’ “Journal of the Times” dispatch for 1 Jan 1769.
The soldiery are obliged, the Lord’s day not excepted, to attend twice or thrice a day at the calling of the rolls. . . . The noise of the fife was this day more general and offensive than it has been upon any Sabbath, since the troops came among us.
But then the “Journal of the Times” didn’t mention military music again for over four months. (Or rather, the writers confined their complaints to a reportedly violent officers’ ball and the 29th Regiment’s black drummers.)

The issue of music on Sundays returned on 15 May:
Yesterday, but before divine service began, part of the town had opportunity of hearing NANCY DAWSON from a most elegant band of music, the French horns certainly were inimitable.—

It is some time since we have had such a Sunday morning’s regale, the drums and fife, being the common entertainment, and ‘tis uncertain to whose taste we owe this: Some think it the fancy of Madam G——m, while others think that the Justice himself conceived it might be an agreeable relief to the wardens under the burthen of their duty.
While fifes and drums were standard instruments for military musicians, many regimental bands had indeed expanded into French horns and oboes.

As for the allusions in that passage, Nancy Dawson (shown above) was a British actress and dancer who died in 1767. The hornpipe titled “The Ballad of Nancy Dawson” became very popular in the British Empire. That melody was also known as “Piss on the Grass,” and is now most easily identified as “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.” (Boston’s youth also referred to the boys who dressed in women’s gowns and danced around the effigies during Pope Night processions as “Nancy Dawsons.”)

Finally we come to “Madam G——m” and “the Justice himself.” Dr. Samuel Gillam was a justice of the peace in Surrey, England. In May 1768 he authorized soldiers to disperse a crowd gathered to support John Wilkes, killing six or seven people. Whigs across the Empire viewed that “Massacre at St. George’s Fields” as an example of tyranny. Gillam was even tried for murder, but acquitted.

Earlier in their “Journal of the Times” the Boston Whigs had reported that ”the G——r had nominated and appointed the J—s M——y already noticed in this Journal, as one of his Majesty’s justices of the peace.” That is, Gov. Francis Bernard had made the Scottish-born merchant James Murray a magistrate. The Whigs warned, “the G——r will not now want a Justice Gillam.” In other words, Bernard now had an appointee willing to read the Riot Act and unleash troops on civilians.

The Whigs’ reference to “Madam G——m” and “the Justice himself” thus meant James Murray and his second wife, the former Margaret (Mackay) Thompson. According to Patricia Cleary’s biography of James’s sister, Margaret Murray was known in the family for enjoying the social whirl. That might be why the Whigs dragged her into this little controversy.

TOMORROW: Confrontation in June.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

“Martial music on the Sabbath”

Back in December 2019 Lance Boos, working on a fellowship at the Massachusetts Historical Society, shared and analyzed a 17 June 1769 letter from Boston’s wardens to Col. Alexander MacKay, senior army officer in town.

The letter concerned an incident the preceding Sunday, six days before. A military band was playing that morning around the time of church services (which of course extended over most of the day).

More specifically:
a Young Gentleman an Inhabitant of the Town, appeared at ye relieving of ye Main Guard who being desired by one of ye Wardens to retire showed a willingness to Comply, but Capt. [Ponsonby] Molesworth of ye 29th Regiment, who was Capt. of ye Guard that was to be relieved, & an other officer Came to him & Insisted upon his tarrying to hear the Musick, Saying he would protect him, & Immediately ordered the fifes to play (in derision, as we Suppose,) what by them is Commonly Called ye Yankee Tune.
The three town officials who signed this letter—Thomas Walley, John Joy, and Henry Hill—then asked Mackay to order the troops not to play music during guard changes on Sunday any longer. As wardens, they had civic responsibility to keep the peace on the Sabbath.

We can find more context for this incident in the “Journal of the Times” reports that Boston’s Whigs dispatched to newspapers in other colonies to complain about the army presence in their town. The historian Oliver Dickerson collected and published those articles with the title Boston Under Military Rule.

The Whigs complained about martial music on Sundays starting soon after the regiments landed, with the first complaint dated 6 Nov 1768:
This being Lord’s day, the minds of serious people at public worship were greatly disturbed with drums beating and fifes playing, unheard of before in this land—What an unhappy influence must this have upon the minds of children and others, in eradicating the sentiments of morality and religion, which a due regard to that day has a natural tendency to cultivate and keep alive.
Yes, think of the children! About a month later, as of 4 December, the army seemed to accommodate the local authorities’ wish for peace and quiet:
It is observed with pleasure that the guards are now relieved on Lord’s day morning one hour earlier than on other days, which allows the soldiery to attend public worship in season; that there is now much less martial music on the Sabbath then has been heard since the first arrival of the troops.
But within a couple of weeks, the problem came to be martial music when the meetinghouses let out, and once again children were at risk:
Last evening after church service, there was a considerable gathering of children and servants, near the Town House, drawn by the music of the fife, &c. which is again heard on the Sabbath, to the great concern of the sober and thoughtful inhabitants; some of the youth’s having behaved so as to displease the officer, orders were given the guard to clear the parade; they marched up with bayonets presented,—one of the lads was pursued by a soldier to some distance, who made a thrust with his bayonet, which passed thro’ his coat, and had he not thrown himself on the ground that instant, its thought he would be run thro’ the body: He has entered a complaint against said soldier, with one of the magistrates of the town.
This passage repeats a common Whig trope, blaming disorder on “children,” “servants” (i.e., enslaved people), and “youth’s,” as opposed to “the sober and thoughtful inhabitants” who truly represented the town.

On the one hand, the dispatch said, young people lacked the judgment to resist gathering for the music. Even when they expressed their opposition to the soldiers, they did so through misbehavior instead of, say, formal complaints to the army and newspaper essays.

The result proved the Whigs’ main message: the presence of soldiers in the crowded town led to violence, and the London government should have foreseen that. And of course, when describing military abuse, a child was always a useful victim.

TOMORROW: This conflict continues.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Remembering Another John Paul Jones

It recently came to my attention that a lot of quotation websites list the following under the name of John Paul Jones of the Continental Navy:

If fear is cultivated it will become stronger. If faith is cultivated it will achieve the mastery. We have a right to believe that faith is the stronger emotion because it is positive whereas fear is negative.
Jones might indeed have spoken about fear, I thought, but where would he have recorded his ideas about faith? Why would he express himself in such short, twentieth-century sentences? And what eighteenth-century thinker would refer to faith as an emotion?

Some tactical Googling revealed the answer. These words appeared in Forbes Magazine in 1952, attributed to “John Paul Jones, D.D.”—no doubt the longtime minister at the Union Church at Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

The Rev. Dr. Jones previously made Time magazine with a dramatic anti-Nazi sermon in 1939. In the year after the quotation’s appearance in Forbes, Jones had prompted a controversy over “the social gospel” by preaching on “Religion, Patriotism, and Communism.”

That prompted some grumbling in the congregation, and in June 1954 Jones suddenly announced his resignation. At first he told the New York Times in June that the kerfuffle over his sermon had nothing to do with his decision, but the next month the newspaper reported the minister had rescinded his resignation after the congregation “cleared up” just that situation by a vote and letter in his favor.

As Jones then described it, the controversy was whether Union Church “should be a ‘liberal’ church, whose minister and program represent a social as well as a personal gospel, seeking to interpret spiritual principles and obligations in relationship to the economic, political and human relations problems in a controversial age and society; or should ‘stick to the Bible’ and avoid controversial matters such as, to quote one letter, ‘your racial equality.’”

The Union Church at Bay Ridge now remembers Jones this way:
Dr. John Paul Jones (1931) was a man ahead of his time, who often spoke on labor and other seminal issues that defined the first part of the century. He sometimes exchanged pulpits with a minister from Bedford-Stuyvesant and with a rabbi. He was a dramatic, gripping preacher and one of the first civil rights activists.
Jones finally left the pulpit in 1956 after a quarter-century.

Just to confuse matters, Bay Ridge has a John Paul Jones Park, but that’s named after the Continental Navy commander. It includes a 1916 monument to “the first resistance made to British arms in New York state” in August 1776 and a 1980 flagpole honoring Capt. Jones.