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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Thursday, September 16, 2021

“Raid on Township #1” in Monterey, 18-19 Sept.

This weekend, 18-19 September, the Bidwell House Museum in Monterey, Massachusetts, will present “Raid on Township #1,” a two-day Revolutionary War living history event.

The event description says:
Visitors will experience a recreation of raids conducted by British Regular Forces along with Native and Loyalist allies in the Mohawk Valley after the Saratoga Campaign. From 1778 to 1783, battles were fought all over upstate New York and the “frontier” over control of land that had long been in dispute between the Native Americans and colonial settlers.
Visitors will be able to view:
  • two public battle reenactments (tactical demonstrations) 
  • American and British/allied camps 
  • Cooking and sewing projects, and talks on clothing 
  • Demonstrations of muskets, artillery, and other weapons
  • Sutlers (vendors) 
  • Military medicine and midwifery
  • The roles played by women and children who either followed the army or struggled on the home front
The schedules for both days start at 10:00 A.M. The tactical demonstrations will take place in the early afternoon. The camps will close to the public at 4:00 P.M. on Saturday and 2:30 P.M. on Sunday. Food will be available for purchase on the grounds.

People who wish to attend this event must buy tickets in advance for one or two days’ admission through Eventbrite. There’s limited parking, and thus limited attendance. A day’s admission for an adult who isn’t a member of the museum costs $20, but that daily price goes down if you buy a two-day ticket or join the museum. All kids under the age of twelve can get tickets for free. The museum asks that all visitors wear masks while on the site.

The Bidwell House Museum is set on 192 acres of forests and trails in what was once Housatonic Township #1 in the Berkshires. The oldest part of the house was built around 1760 for the Rev. Adonijah Bidwell (1716-1784), the first minister of that area. Back in 2012 I shared a news story about a museum intern cracking Bidwell’s cipher to understand one of his sermons.

The township’s original meetinghouse was located just to the south of the minister’s house, and both stood near the Boston Post Road. Later, the community split into the towns of Monterey and Tyringham, and then New England’s farm economy faded, leaving the house (expanded somewhat in the early 1800s) in sylvan isolation on the Boston Post Road.

In 1960 clothing designers Jack Harris and David Brush bought the Bidwell house, restored its exterior, and furnished it in late 18th-century style using the minister‘s probate inventory as a guide. After that couple’s deaths, their house opened as a museum in 1990.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Getting to Know the Prime Ministers

George Grenville was the prime minister of Great Britain in 1765, when he pushed Parliament to pass the Stamp Act.

The Duke of Portland was prime minister in 1783 when British diplomats signed the Treaty of Paris.

Between those two men, five others served as prime minister, one in two separate stints. Lord North held the job for longer than all the others put together, so he was the most important to the American Revolution. Even so, all those men led governments that made crucial decisions on Britain’s colonial policy.

It’s tempting to view Downing Street politics of that time through the model of today’s British government, but that would be a mistake. Changes in the British cabinet during the eighteenth century had more to do with personalities, the king’s preferences, and chance than with national party politics and majorities.

I’m therefore grateful to have found the Prime Ministers podcast. In each episode, the political journalist and former Conservative office-seeker Iain Dale interviews a historian about one person who served as Britain’s prime minister since Robert Walpole first defined the office. I’ve been picking out the episodes on the eighteenth century.

The podcast and Dale’s choice of interlocutors are based on his anthology of profiles The Prime Ministers: 55 Leaders, 55 Authors, 300 Years of History. It was published in the U.K. last year and is scheduled to come out in the U.S. of A. at the end of 2021.

One insight from those discussions was how experience in the House of Commons was usually important for a prime minister’s success, yet the system still favored candidates from the hereditary aristocracy. After Grenville the prime ministers included two dukes, a marquess, and two earls.

One of those earls, Chatham, had the best years of his career as William Pitt in the House of Commons. The other, Shelburne, never got to sit in Parliament as a young man and therefore, the podcast discussion suggests, he lacked the negotiating experience needed to win members over to his policies.

Lord North’s title was a courtesy; he wasn’t yet a peer but only the son and heir of the Earl of Guilford, so he was eligible for the Commons. That seat gave North lots of experience in party politics and legislation, leading to that long tenure as prime minister. In fact, less than two years after losing office because of Yorktown, North maneuvered himself back into being one of the real powers behind the Duke of Portland.

Another valuable lesson of these profiles is that events in America rarely played a role in changes at the top of the British government. Grenville lost favor with the royal family, depression led the Chatham ministry to crumble, and the Duke of Grafton left because of developments in Corsica. Only Lord North lost the post because of what happened on the far side of the Atlantic.

For the record, the prime ministers during America’s Revolution were:
  • George Grenville (1763-1765)
  • Marquess of Rockingham (1765-1766, head of a coalition initially dominated by the Duke of Cumberland, the king’s uncle)
  • Earl of Chatham (1766-1768)
  • Duke of Grafton (1768-1770)
  • Lord North (1770-1782)
  • Marquess of Rockingham again (1782)
  • Earl of Shelburne (1782-1783)
  • Duke of Portland (1783, figurehead of a coalition dominated by Lord North and Charles James Fox)
Then came William Pitt the Younger, who held onto the office for eighteen years and then came back for more.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Portrait of a Wealthy Lady

Last week the Guardian reported on an upcoming exhibit of the art of William Hogarth at the Tate Britain museum in London.

One item in the exhibit is Hogarth’s 1742 portrait of Mary Edwards of Kensington, which doesn’t get out of the Frick Collection much. This fall will be the first time it’s been shown in London for more than a century.

The newspaper profiled the sitter’s life:
Born in about 1704, Edwards inherited the fortune of both her rich parents in her early 20s. Her investments, which are believed to have been founded largely on the profits of land reclamation schemes in Holland and on property ownership, brought her in £50,000-£60,000 a year.

In her late 20s she secretly married Lord Anne Hamilton, so named because he was the godson of Queen Anne. Although he was from a wealthy background, as the third son in his family he was not deemed a suitable match. The couple had a son, Gerard, but Mary quickly discovered that her husband was busy spending her fortune.

In an extraordinary move for the times, she then asserted her own freedom by refusing to acknowledge him, describing herself as a spinster. This meant she could retain her estates and fortune, but also effectively declared her own son illegitimate. He grew up using her surname.
Other interpretations of the record say that Edwards and Lord Anne never legally married, though they did live together as a family. Hogarth painted father, mother, and baby son shortly before the separation.

Edwards remained a friend and patron of Hogarth, commissioning his paintings Southwark Fair and Taste in High Life. She also supported other artists and institutions in Georgian Britain.

In 1742, Hogarth produced his portrait of Mary Edwards, conveying her worldly power as the richest woman in Britain. She appears wearing a red dress and white diamonds. Beside her is a large and loyal hunting dog. Behind her are pictures of the national rulers Alfred the Great and Elizabeth, plus lines from Joseph Addison’s play Cato.

Edwards died the following year, not yet forty. Her son inherited a great fortune and married the daughter of an earl. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Yanks Abroad

I don’t want to leave the topic of early Americans in Paris on a down note, so I’ll share this link to Michael K. Beauchamp’s review of A View from Abroad: The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe by Jeanne E. Abrams.

Beauchamp writes:
The book begins with John Adams’s initial journey to Europe to serve as part of the US diplomatic mission to France, where he served alongside Arthur Lee and Benjamin Franklin. Adams arrived after the Treaty of Amity and Commerce had been signed and ended up doing much of the grunt work of keeping accounts and records while mediating between Franklin and Lee, who were often at odds. While Adams appreciated aspects of French art and culture, he found himself horrified by the decadence of the aristocracy, the futility of court ceremony, the superstitious Catholicism of the lower orders, and the Deism of so many members of the French elite.
Well, maybe John was more impressed on his second long-term posting, in Holland.
Though a Protestant country and one in which Adams secured diplomatic victories, here, too, Adams criticized elements of Dutch society such as the absence of hospitality, the lack of public spirit, and an obsession with accumulating wealth. He also wrote of a growing American oligarchy, which he linked to his opponents in Congress.
Perhaps when Abigail Adams joined her husband she saw more to like.
Abigail’s arrival in 1784 resulted in an analysis of France that mirrored her husband’s judgments. Abigail proved highly critical of Americans like Anne Bingham, whom she believed had become too enamored of French culture, though Abigail praised French women like Adrienne de Lafayette due to her husband’s service to the United States, her knowledge of English, and her elegant but simple dress.
And then the family moved to London.
As in France, the Adamses proved critical of British society, with Abigail particularly shocked by the degree of poverty: “She insisted that the English elite were occupied with the pursuit of enjoyment and pleasure and that they suffered from depraved manners. Moreover, she was grateful that American society did not exhibit the extreme social divides she witnessed in England” (p. 167).
Ironically, John Adams’s political opponents in America would later point to his years in Europe and say he’d become too enamored of Old World societies and too aristocratic in his thinking. However much Adams distrusted popular politics, he consistently criticized European countries for being too dominated by aristocracy and feared America would produce a new aristocracy of wealth.

“Abrams does an excellent job of interweaving the official diplomatic duties of Adams and the personal family dynamics at play,” Beauchamp writes in his review. “Just as importantly, Abrams writes well and the text has a strong narrative, which should allow it to reach a more popular audience than most university press monographs.”

Sunday, September 12, 2021

“After what is past, a reconciliation is impossible.”

By the first anniversary of his marriage to Marie Anne Lavoisier, Count Rumford was calling her “a female Dragon.” (Though, as quoted yesterday, he insisted that was a “gentle name.”)

We have only a couple of samples of what Madame de Rumford called her husband. The Countess de Bassanville wrote that Rumford’s “conversation was largely made up of his own experiences,” rather than anyone else’s concerns. His wife would whisper to her guests that he “was a veritable sample card.”

But that wore thin. The count’s daughter Sally, of all people, reported her stepmother saying, “My Rumford would make me very happy could he but keep quiet.”

Around the second anniversary of the marriage, in October 1807, Rumford sent his daughter this story:
A large party had been invited I neither liked nor approved of, and invited for the sole purpose of vexing me. Our house being in the centre of the garden, walled around, with iron gates, I put on my hat, walked down to the porter’s lodge and gave him orders, on his peril, not to let anyone in. Besides, I took away the keys.

Madame went down, and when the company arrived she talked with them, she on one side, they on the other, of the high brick wall. After that she goes and pours boiling water on some of my beautiful flowers.
By April 1808, Rumford was looking for someplace else to live. But he didn’t leave. It appears the couple disagreed over the financial terms of a separation, which probably meant the count wanted more money. He wrote, “I have the misfortune to be married to one of the most imperious, tyrannical, unfeeling women that ever existed, and whose perseverance in pursuing an object is equal to her profound cunning and wickedness in framing it.”

Madame de Rumford’s many friends, however, felt the count was behaving like “a domestic tyrant” while she remained “the most amiable woman in the world.”

As of late 1808, Count Rumford was taking most of his breakfasts and dinners in his room, his only companion Mary Sarah Aichner, the little servant girl he’d brought from Bavaria, who ate at a sideboard. But Madame was still entertaining regularly, as the count complained:
Three evenings in the week she has small tea-parties in her apartment, at which I am sometimes present, but where I find little to amuse me. This strange manner of living has not been adopted or continued by my choice, but much against my inclinations. I have waited with great, I may say unexampled, patience for a return of reason and a change of conduct. But I am firmly resolved not to be driven from my ground, not even by disgust.

A separation is unavoidable, for it would be highly improper for me to continue with a person who has given me so many proofs of her implacable hatred and malice.
But still he continued to live in the Lavoisier mansion.

By 1809 the strain of fighting with his wife and not winning had made Rumford ill. The couple finally separated with a legal agreement on 30 June. The count declared those last six months to be “a purgatory sufficiently painful to do away the sins of a thousand.” He continued to complain about his ex:
  • “that tyrannical, avaricious, unfeeling woman.”
  • “Never were there two more distinct beings than this woman (for I cannot call her a lady) before and after marriage.”
  • “She is the most avaricious woman I ever saw, and the most cunning—things which I could not possibly know before marriage.”
Rumford moved to a rented house in the Auteuil neighborhood of Paris. In one letter he told his daughter, “Madame de Rumford is well. I see her sometimes, though very seldom. After what is past, a reconciliation is impossible. She now repents of her conduct, but it is too late.” I’m not convinced that’s reliable.

All this time, Rumford had continued to report on his scientific investigations into heat and light. He became convinced that white clothing retained heat better than dark, so in the winters he dressed head to toe in white. He equipped his carriages with wheels six times wider than usual, again on scientific principles. In 1813 he fathered another child out of wedlock, a son.

Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, died in Paris in 1814, sixty-one years after his birth in Woburn. Among the witnesses to his will was Lafayette; the two men had fought on opposite sides in the Revolutionary War. Rumford left an annuity to his daughter, on top of the pension she was receiving from Bavaria, and a larger bequest to Harvard College, where he had sat in on lectures as a curious teenager.

Far from being avaricious, Madame de Rumford signed over the count’s London mansion, which came to her under their marriage contract, to his daughter Sally. She provided Mary Sarah Aichner with a wedding present of twenty thousand francs. She continued to host friends and notables in her salon, and everyone remembered her as charming.

Marie Anne Paulze Lavoisier de Rumford died in 1836 at the age of seventy-eight. Born under Louis XV, she had outlasted France’s Revolutionary governments, Napoleon’s Empire, the senior branch of the House of Bourbon, and her second husband.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

“Never ought to have thought of marrying”

Only three months after marrying Marie Anne Paulze de Lavoisier, Count Rumford told his daughter in America there were problems in the marriage.

The first bone of contention was: “Already I am obliged to send my good Germans home—a great discomfort to me and wrong to them.” In another letter Rumford elaborated on those servants:
Aichner and his family have returned to Munich. I was obliged to hire a place for them some time before they went away. They did not agree with Madame de Rumford’s servants, though mine were not in the least to blame, for never were there more honest people than Aichner and his wife. It would have been a great comfort to me to have kept them to the end of my life.
Obviously there was some sort of dispute between Rumford’s Bavarian servants and Lavoisier’s French staff, but was one side really blameless?

Earlier the count had described one of the Aichners’ daughters, Mary Sarah, as “very small of her age, considered a dwarf. But she is very clever and interesting, and excites universal attention. Madame seems to take quite a fancy to her, allowing her to dine with us at a sideboard when we have no company.” That little girl stayed on in the Paris household. So whatever happened seems more complex than Rumford’s complaint about the French servants driving his away.

We have the count’s side of the story in letters to his daughter, but few equivalent remarks from Madame. We therefore need extra work to imagine her side. For example, Rumford was very proud of making improvements to the Lavoisier house as soon as he moved in, and later emphasized how much he had spent on those. But had she asked him to change her house? Did the results benefit her?

In the marriage arrangements Lavoisier had specified that she could keep her first husband’s name, becoming Mme. Lavoisier de Rumford. Some observers later suggested that was a cause for friction. However, the couple’s friends were soon calling her Mme. de Rumford, and she used that name for the rest of her life, so that couldn’t have been a lasting issue.

Probably the best diagnosis of the problem came from Count Rumford himself, in a letter he sent to his daughter in October 1806, one year after the marriage:
I am sorry to say that experience only serves to confirm me in the belief that in character and natural propensities Madame de Rumford and myself are totally unalike, and never ought to have thought of marrying. We are, besides, both too independent, both in our sentiments and habits of life, to live peaceably together—she having been mistress all her days of her actions, and I, with no less liberty, leading for the most part the life of a bachelor. Very likely she is as much disaffected towards me, but I call her a female Dragon—simply by that gentle name! We have got to the pitch of my insisting on one thing and she on another.
Even though the couple had known each other for almost four years before their wedding, and had discussed and prepared for their marriage for years, they hadn’t lived together in Paris during that time. Instead, they had been traveling in the German states or Switzerland.

Once they settled in Mme. Lavoisier de Rumford’s house, she returned to living the way she had before, with crowded dinners, afternoon teas, and soirées. But the count had decided that he was done with social climbing and wanted to spend all his time on scientific investigations of heat.

One might think that work could have brought the couple together. After all, Marie Anne Lavoisier had worked closely with her first husband—taking notes on experiments, sketching equipment and set-ups, preparing work for publication. Instead, Count Rumford kept his wife out of his laboratory. So naturally she spent even more time with her friends.

TOMORROW: From bad to worse.

Friday, September 10, 2021

“I have the best-founded hopes”

By the middle of 1804, as I recounted yesterday, Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (shown here), and Marie Anne Lavoisier had agreed to marry.

But under the new emperor Napoleon’s new law code, the fifty-one-year-old count had to secure certificates from America attesting to his birth, his first wife’s death, and his mother’s permission for him to marry. That took a while.

In the meantime, international affairs swirled around them. France and Britain had been at war for more than a year. In 1804 British prime minister William Pitt started signing up allies. Eventually this coalition included Sweden, Russia, the Holy Roman Empire/Austria, Naples, and Sicily.

France was also seeking allies. The Elector of Bavaria decided that Austria was being too pushy and elected to side with Napoleon.

That made it possible for Rumford to easily return to Bavaria in August 1804 and consult with the Elector—son of the man he’d worked for in the 1780s and ’90s—about setting up a Bavarian Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Rumford had helped to establish a similar organization, the Royal Institution, in London in the late 1790s. But by this time he had quarreled with most of his colleagues in that enterprise and, by living in France while it threatened Britain, made himself generally unpopular with his own countrymen. So it was time for something new.

The count was in Munich for about a year, returning to Paris by September 1805. He brought with him a longtime servant named Aichner, his wife, and four of their children. Rumford declared, “I succeeded in so winding up my affairs in Bavaria as in the future to be able to live where I please.” 

That same month, France (and Bavaria) attacked Austria. Napoleon won a major victory at Ulm in October and another an Austerlitz in December.

From Paris, Count Rumford announced to his daughter on 25 October that he and Mme. Lavoisier had finally married the day before. “I have the best-founded hopes of passing my days in peace and quiet in this paradise of a place, made what it is by me—my money, skill, and directions.” Of course, that place was Lavoisier’s home.

Two months later, on 20 December, the count wrote:
You will wish to know what sort of a place we live in. The house is rather an old-fashioned concern, but in a plot of over two acres of land, in the very centre and finest part of Paris, near the Champs Elysées and the Tuileries and principal boulevards. I have already made great alterations in our place, and shall do a vast deal more. When these are done I think Madame de Rumford will find it in a very different condition from that in which it was, that being very pitiful with all her riches.

Our style of living is really magnificent. Madame is exceedingly fond of company, and makes a splendid figure in it herself. But she seldom goes out, keeping open doors; that is to say, to all the great and worthy, such as the philosophers, members of the Institute, ladies of celebrity, &c.

On Mondays we have eight or ten of the most noted of our associates to dinner. Thursdays are devoted to evening company, of ladies and gentlemen, without regard to numbers. Tea and fruits are given, the guests continuing till twelve or after. Often superb concerts are given with the finest vocal and instrumental performers.
That doesn’t sound like “peace and quiet” at all.

On 6 January, two and a half months after the wedding, Count Rumford told his daughter:
Between you and myself, as a family secret, I am not at all sure that two certain persons were not wholly mistaken, in their marriage, as to each other’s characters. Time will show.
TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Thursday, September 09, 2021

“To complete in a legal manner some domestic arrangements”

In late 1801, as I’ve been relating, Woburn native Benjamin Thompson, now a knight of the British Empire and Count Rumford of the Holy Roman Empire, traveled to Paris and made the acquaintance of the widow Marie Anne Lavoisier.

At the time, his country of Britain and hers of France were at war but talking peace. In March 1802, the two governments signed the Treaty of Amiens, ending the wars that had started with the French Revolution.

By that point Napoleon Bonaparte was firmly in control of France, and a bit more beyond. In August the country adopted a new constitution and made him First Consul for life.

In May 1803, however, Britain declared war on France again. Bonaparte quickly invaded Hanover, George III’s other kingdom. International affairs once again made Rumford and Lavoisier’s personal affair awkward.

Late in 1803 their friend Sir Charles Blagden (1748-1820, shown above) wrote to a colleague:
Count Rumford has sent me a letter from Mannheim dated the 13th of September. He had applied for leave to pass through France to England, but was refused. I suppose the French Government thought that he…would act the spy.
Rumford had indeed spied for the British army back in 1775.

In December 1803 Blagden told Rumford’s daughter Sally Thompson in New Hampshire:
Your father had applied to the French Government for leave to come to England through France, but was refused. In consequence he remained at Mannheim till the middle of October when, having by some means, I do not know how, induced the French Government to change their resolution, and allow him to travel in France, he set out for Paris; and I know that he was in that city on the 1st of November.

In the last letter I received from him, which was written the day before he set out from Mannheim, he said that he had great hopes of being in England before the end of this year. Since that time I have heard nothing from him.
This was the same letter in which Blagden told Sally Thompson that her father planned to “marry the French lady.” In January 1804 the count told her himself, as I quoted back here.

But of course the lady had a say in the matter. Blagden’s next letter to Sally was dated 12 Mar 1804:
The last account I received of your father was dated the 19th of January. He was then at Paris very assiduous in his attentions to the French lady, with whom, indeed, he spent most of his time. But I believe she had not then determined to marry him, and I am still inclined to think she never will.

In the meantime he is entirely losing his interest in the country [i.e., his standing in Britain]. His residence at Paris this winter, whilst we were threatened with an invasion, is considered by everyone as very improper conduct, and his numerous enemies do not fail to make the most of it. He has quarrelled with Mr Bernard and others of his old friends at the Royal Institution, and they do all they can to render him unpopular.
The fact that Lavoisier had turned down a proposal from Blagden himself may be one reason he believed she’d never remarry. He was also in the process of falling out with the count.

Unknown to Blagden, in February Count Rumford and Mms. Lavoisier had begun to spell out legal arrangements for a marriage. She ensured her financial independence by establishing an annuity for herself of 6,000 livres per year. She put another 120,000 livres in an interest-bearing account to go to whoever lived longest—herself, the count, or Sally in New Hampshire. Her house in Paris and his near London were likewise to go to the surviving spouse.

But then Napoleon Bonaparte came back into the picture. On 21 Mar 1804 he instituted a new Civil Code for France, what we call the Napoleonic Code. That gave Count Rumford more hoops to jump through. In a bit of a pet he wrote to his daughter on 2 July:
In order to be able to complete in a legal manner some domestic arrangements of great importance to me and to you, I have lately found, to my no small surprise, that certificates of my birth and of the death of my former wife are indispensably necessary. You can no doubt very easily procure them—the one from the town clerk of Woburn, the other from the town clerk of Concord. And I request that you would do it without loss of time, and send them to me under cover, or rather in a letter addressed to me and sent to the care of my bankers in London.
Rumford then wrote out how he thought each certificate should be worded. Plus, he needed to show the authorities “the consent of my Mother,” then seventy-four years old. He enclosed a form for her to sign in duplicate. I imagine him gritting his teeth as he wrote, “The new French Civil Code renders these formalities necessary.”

I suspect that Sally Thompson’s feelings were mixed. Her father had deserted her mother (“my former wife”) when she was an infant, and now he was asking Sally to obtain a death certificate so he could marry someone else. But Sally had come to admire her father. Once the letter reached her from across the Atlantic, she set about collecting all that paperwork.

TOMORROW: Second marriages and the Third Coalition.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

“Stamp Act Memes” Online Talk on 9 Sept.

On Thursday, 9 September, I’ll deliver the latest version of my online talk “How Americans Fought the Stamp Act with Memes” via the American Revolution Round Table of New Jersey.

For details about that event and how to cadge an invitation, see this description.

This event feels bittersweet because I had the pleasure of speaking to this group in Morristown once and had planned to be there again. I was even building a longer trip around the event with archive and family visits. But “community spread” of the Covid-19 virus has risen again, and we decided that it’s safer to avoid large gatherings.

Speaking of large gatherings, my talk will explore how crowds, with the help of newspaper printers, defined the details of an anti-Stamp Act protest in August 1765, and then repeated that action with variations for months until they made the law a dead letter.

We can see that effect in this 6 September letter from the Philadelphia printer David Hall to his mentor and business partner in London, Benjamin Franklin:
We are all in a Ferment here, as well, as in the other Governments, about the Stamp Law taking, or not taking place.

You, very probably before this can reach, may have heard of Mr. [Andrew] Oliver, the Stamp officier being hanged in Effigy in Boston; a House pulled down, which was supposed to have been erected for the Business of the Stamp Office, and other Damage done him; upon which he resigned and, it is said, wrote home to the Commissioners of the Stamp-Office, letting them know that he could not put the Law in Execution; and that he believed it impracticable for any One else to do it.

Soon after this Mr. [Augustus] Johnston, appointed for Rhode Island; Mr. [James] McEvers for New York, and Mr. [William] Coxe for New Jersey, all gave up their Commissions.

At New-London the Stamp Officer has likewise been hanged in Effigy. And at New-Haven the House of the Officer there, has been beset by a Number of People, who desired to know whether he intended to act in that office, or resign? His Answer, it is said, was, that having accepted the Office in Person he did not think he had Power to resign. They then demanded whether he would deliver the Stamp Materials, as soon as they arrived, to them, in Order to make a Bonfire, or to have his House pulled down? Upon which he promised, that when they Arrived, he would either reship them to be sent back, or that when they were in his House, his Doors should be open, and they might then act as they thought proper, on which they despersed.

Mr. [Jared] Ingersoll has likewise been hanged in Effigy [actually, all those preceding Connecticut events were aimed at Ingersoll], as has Mr. [Zachariah] Hood, the officer for Maryland.

Mr. [George] Mercer, the Officer for Virginia, is not yet Arrived, but the People of that Colony, are much enraged.

Mr. [John] Hughes [of Pennsylvania] has not yet resigned; whether he will, or not, I cannot say, but I understand his Friends are all endeavouring to get him to resign.

In short, there seems to be a general Discontent all over the Continent, with that Law, and many thinking their Liberties and Privileges, as English Men lost, or at least in great Danger, seem Desperate. What the Consequences may be, God only knows; but, from the Temper of the People, at Present, there is the greatest Reason to fear, that the Passing of that Law will be the Occasion of a great Deal of Mischief.
The most awkward part of the news for Franklin was that he had used his influence as a lobbyist to get Coxe, Hughes, and Hood appointed as stamp agents in their respective colonies. The patronage job was supposed to be a pleasant surprise. Instead, those men came under threat, and Hood actually had to decamp for New York.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

“I really do think of marrying”

As I wrote yesterday, Benjamin Thompson left a wife and infant daughter behind in New Hampshire when he joined the British side of the Revolutionary War.

Someday I’ll discuss how Thompson got reacquainted with his daughter Sally (shown here) in the 1790s, after he had become a count of the Holy Roman Empire and her mother had died.

For our current storyline, what matters is that when Count Rumford met Marie Anne Lavoisier in 1801, he was exchanging letters with his daughter. That correspondence is one of our main sources about the budding relationship between the two scientists.

At the same time, Rumford didn’t tell Sally as much as she wanted to know, so she pumped his friends for more information. By 1803 she was wondering if her father planned to remarry, a question that affected both her present family and her future prospects.

Sir Charles Blagden wrote back to Sally on 8 Aug 1803 to say:
I am still as much at a loss as I was in June to answer your question whether your father be going to marry. He is now, as I told you in that letter, making the tour of Switzerland with a very amiable French lady. But I have no reason to think that they have any idea of matrimonial connexion. When the Count comes to England, she is to return to Paris; at least so he writes me word.
But on 10 December Blagden reported:
All I can tell you about your father is this: He continued travelling with the French lady till about the middle of September, when she left him at Mannheim and returned to Paris. . . . I know that he was in that city on the 1st of November. . . . He continues very intimate with the lady, but whether it will end in a marriage I cannot say. My own opinion is rather inclined to the negative, yet I have no good foundation for it.

Since this was written I have received a letter from your father, dated at Paris, November 11. By this it is evident that he expects to marry the French lady, though nothing is yet finally determined.
Count Rumford himself finally broke the news that Sally already knew in a letter dated 22 Jan 1804:
I shall withhold this information from you no longer. I really do think of marrying, though I am not yet absolutely determined on matrimony. I made the acquaintance of this very amiable woman in Paris, who, I believe, would have no objection to having me for a husband, and who in all respects would be a proper match for me.

She is a widow, without children, never having had any, is about my own age, enjoys good health, is very pleasant in society, has a handsome fortune at her own disposal, enjoys a most respectable reputation, keeps a good house, which is frequented by all the first Philosophers and men of eminence in the science and literature of the age, or rather of Paris. And what is more than all the rest, is goodness itself. . . .

She is very clever (according to the English signification of the word); in short, she is another Lady Palmerston. She has been very handsome in her day and, even now, at forty-six or forty-eight, is not bad-looking; of a middling size, but rather en bon point than thin. She has a great deal of vivacity and writes incomparably well.
In another letter Rumford added: “She is fond of travelling, and wishes to make the tour of Italy with me. She appears to be most sincerely attached to me, and I esteem and love her very much.”

“Lady Palmerston” was Mary Mee Temple, wife of the second Viscount Palmerston. According to Rumford’s modern biographer Sanborn C. Brown, she and the count had an affair in the 1790s.

Obviously Rumford still admired Lady Palmerston enough to hold her up to his daughter as an exemplar of a clever woman. He remained in touch with the viscountess during his courtship, writing that he expected to marry by May 1804. In none of these letters, however, do I see Mme. Lavoisier’s name. One had to know.

COMING UP: The paperwork.

Monday, September 06, 2021

A Suitable Suitor for the Widow Lavoisier?

On a very bad day in May 1794, Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze Lavoisier lost both her husband and her father to the guillotine.

Within a couple of years, however, more moderate French governments were restoring her property and clearing those men’s names.

Lavoisier kept busy editing her late husband Antoine’s scientific papers into an authoritative collection. She also wrote a denunciation of one of the officials who had sent her relatives to their execution, though she didn’t publish that under her name.

Multiple men proposed marriage to the wealthy, intelligent widow, including Pierre du Pont, who in 1799 emigrated to the U.S. of A. with his family, and Sir Charles Blagden, secretary of the Royal Society. However, it would take an exceptionally talented and determined man to win Mme. Lavoisier’s hand.

One candidate arrived in Paris in 1801. He had spent eleven years, from 1785 to 1796, as a minister of all trades for Prince Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria and Count Palatine. While in Munich he had reorganized the state’s army, reformed its poorhouses, invented a cheap but nourishing soup, designed public parks, developed a way to calculate a substance’s specific heat, and made other breakthroughs in thermodynamics (refuting some of Antoine Lavoisier’s ideas). For such services and feats the prince had named him Reichsgraf von Rumford, or Imperial Count Rumford.

Before that job in Germany, the count had served as an officer in the British army, commanding Loyalist cavalrymen on Long Island in the last years of the American War. Before that, he was secretary to Lord George Germain, Britain’s Colonial Secretary and the chief architect of the empire’s military policy from 1775 to 1782. Those activities had won him a British knighthood.

And before attaching himself to Germain, the count had been a young man from Woburn, Massachusetts, who through brains, hard study, ambition, a lucky marriage, and minimal scruples had transformed himself into a New Hampshire country gentleman with a wealthy wife by the time he turned twenty years old. Yes, it was our old friend Benjamin Thompson (shown above in 1783).

Thompson had left his wife and infant daughter Sally in New Hampshire when he ducked behind British lines in the fall of 1775, worried that he’d be outed as one of Gen. Thomas Gage’s spies. (Remarkably, Americans didn’t tumble to this aspect of Thompson’s career until the 1920s.) In the 1780s Thompson resumed correspondence with some of his American connections, including his mother and his friend Loammi Baldwin, but he was adamant they not tell his wife where he was.

In 1789 Thompson had a second daughter with the Countess Baumgarten, also mistress of Prince Carl Theodore. The count also had a long sexual relationship and friendship with Countess Baumgarten’s sister, Countess Nogarola. In the 1790s Rumford had an affair with Lady Palmerston while Viscount Palmerston had an affair with Emma, Lady Hamilton, later the love of Lord Horatio Nelson. In other words, Count Rumford had entered an aristocratic circle that wasn’t really committed to the traditions of marriage.

Even Count Rumford’s presence in France raised some eyebrows. After all, he was a former British army officer, still on half-pay, and Britain and France were technically at war. The armies of Revolutionary France had also invaded Carl Theodore’s territory twice while Rumford worked for the prince. But First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte was busy consolidating his victories with peace treaties. Starting in March 1802, everyone was supposed to be friendly.

Count Rumford met Marie Anne Lavoisier in Paris on 19 Nov 1801. In the spring of 1802 he made a brief visit back to Britain, then traveled to Bavaria with Sir Charles Blagden. There the new Elector offered him government jobs. On 30 November the count sent a letter to his daughter Sarah in New Hampshire that she summarized like this:
he alludes to his love concern; says he has got into full employment at Munich, but would rather be in Paris; and the certain lady would rather have him there.
In 1803, Mme. Lavoisier joined the count in Munich.

TOMORROW: To marry or not to marry?

Sunday, September 05, 2021

“She thinks her forte is the understanding”

Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze was only thirteen years old in 1771 when she was married to Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier.

Marie Anne’s family was under pressure to marry her to a powerful nobleman in his fifties, so Lavoisier—a twenty-eight-year-old colleague of her father’s—seemed preferable.

Marie Anne’s father and husband both worked as tax collectors for the French monarchy, a lucrative and unpopular profession. In 1775 Antoine Lavoisier was also appointed to oversee the manufacture of gunpowder at the Paris Arsenal, which stimulated his interest in science.

Over the following years the Lavoisiers worked together closely. Marie Anne helped Antoine set up laboratory experiments, took notes on the results, translated English scientific treatises into French (adding her own commentary), and created illustrations for the papers Antoine wrote. The image above shows Marie Anne’s own drawing of them and their staff at work.

Those papers included demonstrations of the conservation of mass, arguments against phlogiston theory, a new system for naming chemicals, and the first attempt to list the modern elements. Lavoisier also advocated for some social reforms, but of course he continued to collect taxes.

Gouverneur Morris arrived in Paris in 1789 and wrote about the Lavoisiers in his diary:
[8 June 1789:] Dine with Mr. deLavoisier. . . . Madame appears to be an agreeable woman. She is tolerably handsome, but from her manner it would seem that she thinks her forte is the understanding rather than the person.
In other words, she valued her brains over beauty.
[25 Sept 1789:] Go to the Opera according to my promise and arrive towards the close of the piece at the loge of Madame Lavoisier. . . . Go to the Arsenal and take tea with Madame Lavoisier en attendant le retour de Monsieur [while awaiting the return of Monsieur] who is at the Hôtel de Ville. As Madame tells me that she has no children I insist that she is une paresseuse [an idle girl], but she declares it is only a misfortune. Monsieur comes in and tells us of the obstination of the bakers. . . .

[6 Oct 1789:] Go to the arsenal. Admitted with difficulty. They are at dinner. Madame Lavoisier is detained in town, as all carriages were stopped and the ladies obliged to join the female mob. While we sit at table, we learn that the militia and the Régiment National are marching towards Versailles.
The French Revolution was breaking out around this upper-class set.

At first the Lavoisiers kept up. Antoine sponsored a press to publish political and scientific material, proposed education reforms, and helped to promote the new metric system. In 1791 the republic abolished the tax-collecting organization. The next year, Antoine lost his job overseeing gunpowder and had to move out of the Arsenal.

But the Lavoisiers were still very rich. Marie Anne hosted dinner parties and after-dinner salons. In 1791 Morris visited her gatherings with William Temple Franklin. At one the company discussed a “riot at Birmingham,” blaming it on British government policy. After another Morris wrote, “there are a number of Gens d’Esprit [wits] who are in general but so so company.”

In January 1793, the French government executed Louis XVI. That spring the radical Jacobin party took over, and in October the government executed Marie Antoinette. The next month, the authorities arrested Antoine Lavoisier and his former tax-collecting colleagues, including Marie-Anne’s father. They were convicted of defrauding the state and guillotined in May 1794.

Two months later, the Thermidorian counterrevolution began. Near the end of 1795 Antoine’s clothing was delivered to his thirty-seven-year-old widow with a note declaring that he had been “falsely convicted.”

TOMORROW: The widow Lavoisier.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

New Elements Found in Lavoisier Painting

The Metropolitan Museum of Art just announced some interesting findings about Jacques Louis David’s portrait of Antoine and Marie Anne Lavoisier, which has been in its collection since 1977.

While working on the canvas, conservator Dorothy Mahon saw dots of red showing through in some unexpected spots while cracks in the red tablecloth on the right hinted at a pattern underneath.

Museum technicians collected images of the canvas using various technology: infrared reflectography, macro X-ray fluorescence mapping, and so on. That allowed them to identify where certain elements were present in the paint—most appropriate since Antoine Lavoisier gets top credit for starting the process of identifying the chemical elements.

One finding is that David originally painted Anne Lavoisier in a large, high-crowned hat of a sort fashionable in “the late summer and fall of 1787,” as the Met reported. However, by the time the couple paid for their portrait in December 1788, that style was literally old hat. David repainted the lady in powdered hair or a wig only.

The painter made another big change on the right, where a red cloth now covers a surface holding chemical apparatus. The painting originally showed an expensive wooden table bearing a classical decoration. Behind it was a bookcase full of bound volumes. For the final version, David painted over the bookcase and covered the table with a solid red cloth. Then he devoted that space to glass and bronze scientific instruments.

Thus, as originally composed, the picture showed at Lavoisiers at a luxurious table working on papers with records behind them. Those could have been documents related to Antoine’s job collecting taxes. Anne was up to date in fashion—which meant soon out of date.

By removing the hat and adding scientific tools, David shifted the picture’s emphasis to the Lavoisiers’ intimate partnership and scientific research, which is what we remember them for today.

The scientists involved in this analysis just published their work in Heritage Science. The Met summarized its staff’s findings in “Refashioning the Lavoisiers.” Hyperallergenic offers a slider image for comparing the finished painting to what’s under its surface.

TOMORROW: Mme. Lavoisier’s American connection.

Friday, September 03, 2021

“Tell her to make her cheese a little salter”

Yesterday I recounted how Moses Gill, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, gave a large cheese to John Adams as he assumed the office of President.

Gill sent the cheese late in March 1793 and advised Adams, “it will be in eating the first weake in may.” Adams told his wife before she set out from Quincy to Philadelphia, “it will last till you come.”

For years Abigail Adams had overseen a dairy on the family farm. She knew about making cheese. And in that regard, as in almost everything else, she had high standards. So how did she react to Lt. Gov. Gill’s cheese?

There’s no more mention of that particular cheese in the Adams correspondence. By the end of May Abigail was writing back to Massachusetts to ask for more cheese—but not from Gill.

Instead, on 24 May Adams told her elder sister, Mary Cranch, back in Quincy:

I will thank you to get from the table Draw in the parlour some Annetto and give it to mrs Burrel, and tell her to make her cheese a little salter this Year. I sent some of her cheese to N York to Mrs [Abigail] smith and to mr [Charles] Adams which was greatly admired and I design to have her Cheese brought here.

when she has used up that other pray dr [Cotton] Tufts to supply her with some more, and I wish mrs French to do the Same to part of her Cheese, as I had Some very good cheese of hers last Year.
Abigail Adams definitely wanted more cheese from Massachusetts. But she was hungry for cheese from local suppliers she knew, and she had particular tastes. We don’t know what Abigail thought of the cheese Gill sent, but we know she didn’t ask for more.

After learning about this episode, I wondered if Gill told any newspapers about his gift. I found no coverage of this cheese in the Massachusetts press. It was a private favor between two gentlemen who had known each other for years.

That was quite a contrast to the next time someone from Massachusetts sent the President a large cheese. In January 1802, as described back here, the Rev. John Leland (1754-1841) of Cheshire presented Thomas Jefferson with a cheese to celebrate his becoming President the year before.

Cheshire was the exceptional Republican town in a Federalist county. Leland, leader of a Baptist congregation in a state with a Congregationalist establishment, supported Jefferson on the grounds of religious freedom.

Leland organized his community to produce a giant cheese for the new President. Their gift weighed 1,235 pounds—more than ten times the size of Gill’s cheese. Leland also made sure to tell the newspapers about that gift.

Jefferson, in turn, carefully paid for the cheese instead of accepting it as a perquisite of office. Even so, the Federalist press seized on this story, mixed in Jefferson's interest in recently discovered mammoth fossils, and harped on the President’s “mammoth cheese” for years.

Indeed, the cheese for President Jefferson was so famous that in 1837 another set of cheesemakers sent a giant cheese to President Andrew Jackson.

In 1940 the Sons of the American Revolution erected a monument to John Leland in Cheshire. It includes a bronze memorial plaque about him and a replica of the cider mill used to press the mammoth cheese.

In June of this year, the Cheshire Community Association unveiled a replica of the giant wheel of cheese itself.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

“To day I have recd the Lt. Governors Cheese”

In 1797, Moses Gill (1734-1800, shown here in 1764) was the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. He was a Republican candidate for governor that spring, but came in a distant third after superior court justice Increase Sumner and attorney general James Sullivan. He handily retained the lieutenant governor’s office, though.

Gill was born in Charlestown and started his career as a merchant in Boston, but since 1767 he had lived the life of a country gentleman. Twice widowed and childless, Gill was the patriarchal squire of the town of Princeton and also the recent namesake of the town of Gill.

On 27 March, Lt. Gov. Gill wrote from Boston to the newly inaugurated second President of the United States, John Adams:
my Dear Sir.

By Capn. Constant Norton of the Schooner Jay you will receive a large Princeton Cheese, as by the inclosd. receipt, which you will Please to Accept from me, as a Small token of my affection and esteem; it is Packd in a Box and Divided, for the President of the United States, it will be in eating the first weake in may, And it woud be well to unpack it, and Keep it from the Sun in a Cold dry Cituation.
President Adams had received Gill’s letter only a week later and wrote home from Philadelphia to his wife, Abigail:
Lt Governor Gill has sent me one of his Princetown Cheeses, of such a Size as to require handspikes to manage it, according to Father Niles’s old Story.
“Father Niles” was what Adams called the Rev. Samuel Niles of Braintree, an acquaintance from decades before.

The President hadn’t actually seen the cheese yet, as his cordial thank-you letter to Gill the next day acknowledged:
Dear Sir

I have received your favor of the 27th of March and very Kindly thank you, for both the Letter and the generous Present of a Cheese from Princeton, I know very well the Value that is to be attached to Princeton and its inhabitants and Productions, Its Cheese in particular I know to be Excellent, and I shall prize it the higher for the place of its growth, I shall share it, and boast of it, and praise it and admire it as long as it lives,

I dare Say before I See it, that our America produces no thing Superior to it in its Kind your directions concerning it shall be observed
And Jonathan Sewall said Adams didn’t know how to flatter people.

Ten days later, the cheese finally arrived at the Presidential Mansion. John reported to Abigail on 14 April:
To day I have recd the Lt. Governors Cheese—like a charriot forewheel boxed up in Wood & Iron. it will last till you come.
According to the editors of the Adams Papers, presumably based on consulting the shipping papers, this wheel of cheese weighed 110 pounds. For comparison, Williams-Sonoma offers (for $3,000) a wheel of Parmesan cheese that was about the same weight before curing; it’s 18" across and 9" thick.

TOMORROW: Cheese for Abigail Adams.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

“If he could get there he should be Free”

From 19 Aug 1771 to 9 September, an advertisement from John Hunt appeared in the Boston Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post.

Hunt (1716-1777) was a prosperous farmer in Watertown, a local trader and former town representative to the Massachusetts General Court.

His house, demolished in 1935, appears here courtesy of the Watertown Public Library and Digital Commonwealth.

The advertisement read:
Ran away from John Hunt of Watertown, on Tuesday last, a Negro Man named Prince, a tall streight Fellow, walks with a small Hitch. He is about 33 Years old, has been used to farming Business, is a handy Fellow on most Accounts, talks pretty good English.—Had on when he went away a striped Jacket, a Frock & Trowsers almost new.—

His Design was to get off in some Vessel so as to go to England, under the Notion if he could get there he should be Free.

Whoever takes up and secures said Fellow so that his Master receives him again shall be well rewarded for their Trouble.

He carried with him a good Pair of Deerskin Breeches.

All Masters of Vessels are cautioned against carrying off said Servant, as they would avoid the Penalty of the Law.
Hunt had advertised for escaped workers twice in the 1740s, once guessing his quarry would head for part of New England where he had lived before. But this man Prince had a more ambitious idea of reaching Great Britain and liberty.

This was two years after Customs officer Charles Steuart had left Boston with his enslaved manservant James Somerset. But it was months before Somerset tried to escape in London, leading to what in 1772 became a landmark court case over slavery in England.

This advertisement indicates that the “Notion” that a slave could “go to England” and “be Free” was circulating in New England even before the Somerset legal case confirmed, by some readings, that idea.

Noting this advertisement in the Massachusetts Historical Review, Antonio T. Bly declined to guess at why Prince believed he might be free in England. But once John Hunt was announcing it in the newspapers, the idea must have spread even wider than before.