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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Thursday, September 30, 2021

“One of the schools which I was in when I was here before”

In considering how John Quincy Adams reacted to his new school in Amsterdam in the fall of 1780, it’s useful to recognize how deeply he wanted to please his parents.

Back in the spring of 1780, John Quincy returned to a small school in Passy, France, taught by a man named Péchigny. In 1771 that gentleman had issued a prospectus for an “école de mathématiques, de belles-lettres, d’arts libéraux et cours de langues”—a school of mathematics, belles-lettres, liberal arts, and language courses. 

Soon after starting, the twelve-year-old sent a report to his father listing “My Work for a day”:
Make Latin,
Explain Cicero
   Erasmus [Colloquia]
   Appendix [Appendix de Diis et Heroibus ethnicis]
Peirce [i.e., parse] Phaedrus [Fables]

Learn greek Racines [i.e., roots]
   greek Grammar


“Writing” meant handwriting practice, not composition. “Drawing” was likewise an exercise in penmanship, and John Quincy demonstrated by bridging the page with an ornamental design.

But this letter wasn’t just showing off. John Quincy finished by humbly asking his father for advice on what subjects to concentrate on:
As a young boy can not apply himself to all those Things and keep a remembrance of them all I should desire that you would let me know what of those I must begin upon at first.

I am your Dutiful Son,
When you asked John Adams what you should do, you got an answer. On 17 March he told Johnny to keep at the Latin and Greek as M. Péchigny told him. “Writing and Drawing are but Amusements and may serve as Relaxations from your studies.” And as to the mathematical subjects, he wrote, “I hope your Master will not insist upon your spending much Time upon them at present”; even elite New England schools left off geography and geometry until college.

John Adams didn’t stop there, though. He also critiqued his eldest son’s letter-writing technique. “You should have dated your Letter,” he wrote at the top. And a postscript added, “The next Time you write to me, I hope you will take more care to write well. Cant you keep a steadier Hand?”

The editors of the Adams Papers published images of John Quincy’s letters before and after this one to show how much more care the boy then took to make his handwriting neat for his father. (He was already being much more neat in letters home to his mother.)

Another glimpse of John Quincy’s attitude toward schooling appears in a letter he wrote to a cousin on 17 March, the same date as his father’s reply.
I am in one of the schools which I was in when I was here before and am very content with my situation. I will give you an account of our hours.

At 7 o clock A.M. we get up and go in to school and at 8 o clock we breakfast which consists of bread and milk. At 9 go into school again, stay till one when we dine, after dinne[r] play till half after two, go into school and stay till half after 4 and then we have a peice of dry bread. At 5 we go into School and stay till 7 when we sup, after supper we amuse ourselves a little and go to bed at 9 o clock.
Thus, John Quincy (and his brother Charles) was at study eight and a half hours of the day in Passy. His afternoon snack consisted of “a piece of dry bread.” And he was “very content.”

This was not a boy to complain about a school for petty reasons.

TOMORROW: At the Latin School on the Singel.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

“I will also take down some of the rules of the school”

On 31 Aug 1780, John Quincy Adams woke up in an unfamiliar bed.

As I recounted yesterday, the thirteen-year-old had been left at the Latin School on the Singel in Amsterdam, along with his ten-year-old brother, Charles.

Their father, John Adams, was in Holland as the Continental Congress’s representative to the Dutch government. He didn’t want his boys to fall behind on their schooling.

Earlier in the year, when the Adamses were in Paris, John had sent his two boys to a small academy. There’s no discussion in the family papers of how he made a similar decision in Amsterdam, but presumably it wasn’t a surprise.

In characteristic mode, John Quincy immediately set about to studying his new school and home. His diary for 31 August begins:
This morning we got up and I asked the names of all the scholars who board here. They are as follows.

Roghe, Toelaer, Vander Burgs, Hulft, Slingelandt, Brants, Van Lennep, Koene, de Graft, Genets, Petri, Van der Paul, Clifford.
He added marks to help him pronounce those unfamiliar names.

Then John Quincy wrote, “I will also take down some of the rules of the school.” At least in this recording, that really meant the meal schedule, but it ran to more than 200 words.

At the end John Quincy wrote about his fellow students:
Every one of the young Gentlemen Speak french and it is a general Custom for the Gentlemen to have their sons speak french. Their comes here every day an hundred boys to learn latin.
That was helpful because he couldn’t speak Dutch, but he could read and speak French pretty well.

Indeed, John Quincy then began to write out a history of the school from a 1772 French guidebook that his father had lent him, translating the prose as he went:
This place was formerly a charity house of a Convent of Religious women. I have a book call’d le Guide D’Amsterdam in which this School is spoke of. It is in french but I will translate it as well as I can into English.
That passage came to another 600 words, starting with a count’s permission for the city to found schools in 1342 and ending with new library acquisitions.

The new schoolboy concluded his morning diary entry by writing: “At about 10 o clock our things were brought here by [family servant Joseph] Stevens. Pappa and Mr. [Herman] Le Roi came to see us.”

John Quincy didn’t record any reluctance about staying at this school. He seems to have been really eager to fit in.

TOMORROW: The school day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Off to a New School in 1780

Here’s a story I’ve had in mind for a while, waiting for back-to-school season. It’s about the time young John Quincy Adams behaved so badly he had to be pulled out of school.

“What?” you exclaim. “John Quincy Adams? The prematurely mature fellow who went to St. Petersburg on a diplomatic mission at the age of fourteen and learned to speak eight foreign languages?

“The disciplined guy who kept a diary for sixty-eight years and served in the House of Representatives for eighteen years until he had a fatal stroke at his desk and was even, to be honest, a bit of a prig? Not our Johnny Quincy! No, no, you must mean Charles.”

Indeed, Charles Adams did rack up a lot of infractions at Harvard College, far more than his older and younger brothers. (See the Boston 1775 investigation starting here.) But in the episode I’m now writing about, reports said Charles was pulled into misbehavior by John Quincy. This story unveils a side of the oldest Adams boy we hardly ever see.

In August 1780, John Adams was the Continental Congress’s envoy to Holland, based in Amsterdam. He had brought his two oldest sons to Europe with him. John Quincy had just turned thirteen, and Charles was ten. John Thaxter had come along as a secretary for the minister and an occasional tutor for the boys, but he was back in Paris, and their father wanted them to have formal schooling.

On 30 August, John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary: ”After supper Mr. Le Roi went with us to a School and left us here. How long we shall stay here I can not tell.”

“Mr. Le Roi” was Herman Le Roy, New York–born son of the Rotterdam merchant Jacob Le Roy. He hosted the Adamses in Amsterdam, particularly the boys, and helped John Adams translate documents. A couple of years later as the war simmered down, Herman Le Roy sailed back to America. He formed a mercantile firm with his in-law William Bayard and made a lot of money from trade and developing land in western New York. Le Roy was also Holland’s consul to the U.S. of A.

As for the school where Le Roy left the two boys, the editors of the Adams Papers explain:
The school was the celebrated Latin School on the Singel (innermost of Amsterdam’s concentric canals), close to what is today one of the busiest sections of the city, marked by the ornate and highly conspicuous Mint Tower in the Muntplein (Mint Square) and across from the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market). The building then used by the school is now, much altered, occupied by the city police.
The picture above shows that school building painted by Jacob Smies around 1802. Explore that painting more, courtesy of the Rijksmuseum and Google Arts and Culture, here.

TOMORROW: Settling in.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Presentations on Phillis Wheatley and Prince Hall

This week Boston’s historical institutions are offering two presentations about notable African-Americans in Revolutionary Massachusetts.

Monday, 27 March, 5:30–6:30 P.M.
A Revolutionary Encounter in London
Massachusetts Historical Society

On May 8, 1773, enslaved African-American poet Phillis Wheatley sailed for London to promote her book of poetry Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, published there later that summer. During her six-week stay Phillis would have the opportunity to meet many notables, one of whom was American founding father Benjamin Franklin.

This play by Debbie Weiss imagines the meeting of these two Colonial American icons. Local actors Cathryn Philippe and Steve Auger will present a special version of the full-length play as a staged reading.

This is an online event, and folks can register through this page.

Tuesday, 28 March, 6:30–7:45 P.M.
Who Was Prince Hall?: An Introduction to an Extraordinary Man
The Paul Revere House

For the second event in the site’s 2021 Lowell Lecture Series, Manuel R. Pires, chairman of African Lodge No. 459, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, will introduce the historical figure of Prince Hall. Exploring the activist and Freemason’s achievements and contributions, Pires will argue for considering Hall as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

This free event will be available both in-person at the Paul Revere House complex and online. For some of the limited number of in-person tickets, register here.

The lecture will be streamed live on the Paul Revere House’s YouTube and Facebook pages, and recorded for later viewing on the GBH Forum Network. Streaming will be provided on YouTube and Facebook.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

“Let’s create a bicentennial ice cream!”

The picture above is from an advertisement that Borden ran during the Bicentennial.

It shows the company’s brand mascots, Elmer and Elsie, dressed in a patriotic version of eighteenth-century garb. They have a little calf named Beauregard, which I suppose is better than Orville. [Pronounce that name the French way.]

In this ad, the bovine family debate what sort of Bicentennial ice cream to make. Tippecanoe and Strawberry, Too? Benjamin Franklin Fudge? Paul Revere Peach? Tea Party Toffee? Radical Nut?

The last idea comes to Elmer as he’s talking about how “all the political hot air” might melt these flavors, and it hints at a conservative leaning to this whole corporate discussion.

It’s hardly surprising that the flavor these brand mascots end up with to represent the best of the U.S. of A. on its two hundredth birthday is:

Grand Old Vanilla

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Looking into The Lady’s Magazine

Prof. Jennie Batchelor and her colleagues at the University of Kent created the website The Lady’s Magazine: Understanding the Emergence of a Genre to explore an influential publication that debuted in 1770.

The Lady’s Magazine; or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to Their Use and Amusement followed The Gentleman’s Magazine by nearly forty years. It offered a similar mix of news, essays, fiction, poetry, and more, though slanted to what the London publishers (male) considered women’s interests.

Thus, The Lady’s Magazine contained less about formal politics—but it still hit political topics. As the website notes, “an article purporting to be about women’s dress might make an impassioned plea for reforms in female education.” The magazine offered an admiring illustrated profile of the radical John Horne Tooke in 1794 when he was locked in the Tower of London on charges of treason.

The central project of Batchelor’s team is a free and annotated index of more than 15,000 items from the first series of The Lady’s Magazine, 1770 to 1819. (Further series carried the magazine until 1847.) This work involved sifting original content from the reprinted material every magazine depended on, listing all the subjects of every article, and trying to identify writers' pseudonyms.

The blog reporting progress on that work shared some specific stories, such as how clues from various sources let Batchelor name a prolific contributor labeled “R—” as the overlooked author and translator Radagunda Roberts. Another posting discussed how much of the magazine’s poetry was copied or closely adapted from others, but also asked whether people of the eighteenth century would have considered that plagiarism.

While touching on many topics, The Lady's Magazine devoted a lot of pages to clothing. At first the articles focused on what was appropriate, economical, or characteristic of other countries. After 1800, there were regular reports on the latest changing fashions. Many more items covered the womanly arts of sewing.

Batchelor was particularly interested in the embroidery patterns printed in the magazine, counting about 650 listed in the contents tables. However, those pages were designed to be removed and used, so most surviving copies offered no more than tantalizing descriptions of missing patterns.

After hunting intact issues for years, Batchelor pieced together enough pages to coauthor Jane Austen’s Embroidery with Alison Larkin. She just unveiled another spin-off project—Patterns of Perfection, a growing web archive of embroidery patterns as they appeared in The Lady’s Magazine, such as “A new Pattern for a Winter Shawl” and “Pattern for a Gown,” both from 1796.

Friday, September 24, 2021

The George Washington Book Prize Titles for 2021

Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon have just awarded the 2021 George Washington Book Prize to Mary Beth Norton’s 1774: The Long Year of Revolution.

The prize’s announcement says:
Mary Beth Norton has identified and richly described a key year in the revolutionary transformation of American resistance to Britain. She notes how the courts, the newspapers, the militia, and the assemblies were radicalized against the British.

She significantly demonstrates that other colonies were more outspoken in their opposition to the tea duties, such as New York and Pennsylvania, than Massachusetts before the Boston Tea Party. She shows that Britain’s Coercive Acts galvanized opposition and contributed to its revolutionary transformation. Her book offers a particularly rich tapestry in recreating the inter-colonial communications and parallel developments between the colonies.

1774 was the first year in which Americans sympathetic to the British be described as Loyalists and Tories, and to be persecuted by the patriots, setting the stage for a civil war that was part of the Revolutionary War. She makes the case that it was the year in which the Revolution became inevitable.
The Road to Concord presents a similar argument on a smaller scale, with the Massachusetts Government Act and Gen. Thomas Gage’s gunpowder seizure on 1 Sept 1774 leading the New England populace to move toward military preparation and outright defiance of royal authority.

The George Washington Book Prize highlights books about “Washington and his times,” defined as about 1760 to 1820. This year the nominees are even more varied in their topics than usual.

Mark Boonshoft’s Aristocratic Education and the Making of the American Republic discusses the rise of academies between the American Revolution and the Civil War. They were a hybrid between a public and private system of education, receiving significant public funds but largely benefitting the wealthy.

Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War by Vincent Brown examines the largest slave revolt in British America, which took place on Jamaica in 1760. It was one of the major battles of the Seven Years’ War and remained a nightmare for slaveholders for decades, yet its significance was silenced over time.

Peter Cozzens’s Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation discusses the “symbiotic relationship” between Tecumseh and his younger brother Tenskwatawa. In conceiving of what Cozzens describes as the “greatest pan-Indian confederation the westering American Republic would ever confront,” the two men became “among the most influential siblings in the annals of America.”

The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is a work of poetry that also functions as a historical narrative based on years of archival research. While showing the issues that Phillis Wheatley Peters confronted, Jeffers prompts readers to think about the artists who may be in our midst in contemporary American society.

In The President Who Would Not Be King: Executive Power under the Constitution, Michael W. McConnell explores the creation of the presidency in the Constitutional Convention. It shows how many of the prerogative powers of the British monarch were transferred to the Congress instead of the President.

William G. Thomas III’s A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War combines the author’s family history with archival research on the “freedom suits” in Maryland that put the institution of slavery itself on trial in U.S. courts.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

A Portrait by Pelham

We know that Henry Pelham followed his older half-brother John Singleton Copley into an artistic career.

However, aside from Pelham’s engraving of the Boston Massacre and his magnificent engraved map of Boston under siege, it’s hard to find artwork that he created.

Most of the portraits identified with Pelham are miniatures, and a lot of them are derived from his brother’s larger paintings.

For example, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts owns one small portrait attributed to Pelham showing the lawyer Peter Chardon (1737-1766). Experts believe Pelham created it based on Copley’s portrait of the man.

Likewise, Pelham probably miniaturized Copley’s portrait of the Connecticut merchant Adam Babcock, and the result is also now at the M.F.A. (picture shown here).

In New York, the Metropolitan Museum has a miniature of the Newburyport merchant Stephen Hooper that matches a line in Pelham’s correspondence. Another carries the signature “H P 1779,” which isn’t a positive identification but narrows the field.

The Dr. Joseph Warren Foundation just shared a quotation showing that the full-sized portrait of Elizabeth (Hooton) Warren shown above was made by Pelham. The M.F.A. has attributed this painting to the “Circle of John Singleton Copley,” which could mean almost any portrait artist from the period except Copley himself. Pelham and Copley really were a small artistic circle in Boston, however.

Descendants of Elizabeth Warren and her husband, Dr. Joseph Warren, owned portraits of them both. In seeking to sell the paintings in the 1850s, they described the doctor’s picture (the famous one now at the M.F.A.) as by Copley and “that of Madame Warren by Pelham.” Since at that time hardly anyone knew who Pelham was, there would be no reason to make a false attribution.

Portrait artists often priced their work in pairs, especially for married couples. Copley created handsome matched portraits of Elizabeth and Ezekiel Goldthwait, for instance. The Warren pairing suggests Copley and Pelham teamed up to create such a pair, perhaps at a discount from a complete set of Copleys. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Fifes and Drums in Sudbury, 25 Sept.

I took this photograph at the 2003 Sudbury Colonial Faire and Muster of Fyfe & Drum. It was the first time I’d seen the William Diamond Junior Fife & Drums Corps, which had formed the previous year.

Since then that corps’ repertoire and uniforms have both become more elaborate. For all I know some of the musicians above are in concert halls or operating rooms or Congress.

The 2021 Sudbury Colonial Faire is scheduled to take place this Saturday, 25 September, from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. It will be hosted as usual by the Sudbury Companies of Militia & Minute and the Sudbury Ancient Fyfe & Drum Companie on the grounds of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. Admission is $3 for adults, free for children.

The outdoor fair features dozens of fife and drums corps, sutlers, crafts demonstrations, games, contra dances, and lots more, including food vendors for the hungry. The Grand Parade of music will begin at noon, and then each group will perform on the field over the course of the afternoon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Slop Shops and Merchant Tailors

Last week Historic Deerfield shared an essay about what a shipping invoice from 1760 reveals about the clothing business in eighteenth-century America.

Tyler Rudd Putnam and Henry Cooke IV write:
As the century wore on, ambitious tradesmen in western Europe and Euro-America began to produce ready-made clothing for off-the-rack sales.

New categories emerged. “Slops” meant ready-made garments, and slop sellers and slop shops focused almost entirely on these garments, selling primarily to transient sailors and other poor workers.

Meanwhile, “merchant tailors” presented a slightly more refined face, continuing to make some bespoke clothing but also producing and importing ready-made garments.

According to his business papers, William Waine [1704-1786] gradually transitioned to something more like a clothing dealer – a merchant tailor – from his earlier work in the bespoke trade. His shop would have looked more like what we would expect to see today in a clothing store – albeit almost certainly with some production space – and less like the busy workshops of other tailors.

Though he did it earlier than most, Waine was not entirely unique in this transition. What sets him apart, however, is the survival of archival material that documents his work, including this invoice in as well as papers at Stanford University Libraries and the American Antiquarian Society [P.D.F. download].
The essay says Waine’s business papers were “almost inexplicably well preserved by future generations.” And that lets experts put together the 1760 invoice with his other accounts and images of street scenes a few decades later to picture what customers might have seen in Waine’s shop.

In addition to researching the lives of colonial tailors, Cooke is also an expert tailor himself. He will demonstrate that craft at Historic Deerfield on Saturday, 25 September, as part of the museum’s Stitcher Saturday event. Also on hand will be dressmaker Linda Oakley and shoemaker Peter Oakley.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Upcoming Books Talks by Ellis and Philbrick

Some top-selling authors have new books looking at the Revolution, and two of them will be talking online through local institutions this week.

Wednesday, 22 September, 7:00 P.M.
Boston Athenaeum
Joseph J. Ellis on The Cause

With The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783, Ellis takes a fresh look at the events between 1773 and 1783, recovering a war more brutal than any in American history save the Civil War and discovering a strange breed of “prudent” revolutionaries, whose prudence proved wise yet tragic when it came to slavery, the original sin that still haunts our land.

Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, won the National Book Award for American Sphinx and the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers. (But don’t overlook his early Passionate Sage, about the retirement years of John Adams). This event will be a conversation between Ellis and Prof. Robert Allison of Suffolk University and Revolution 250.

Registration for this event costs $5, free for Boston Athenaeum members. Register through this page.

Thursday, 23 September, starting at 6:00 P.M.
New England Historic Genealogical Society
Nathaniel Philbrick on Travels with George

In his new book, Philbrick tackles the question “Does George Washington still matter?” He argues for Washington’s unique contribution to the forging of America by retracing his journey as a new president through all thirteen former colonies, which were then an unsure nation.

In the fall of 2018, Philbrick embarked on his own journey into what Washington called “the infant woody country” to see for himself what America had become in the 229 years since. Writing in a thoughtful first-person voice about his own adventures with his wife, Melissa, and their dog, Dora, Travels with George follows Washington’s presidential excursions.

Philbrick won the National Book Award for In the Heart of the Sea and the New England Book Award for Bunker Hill, the first of his series following different narratives of the Revolutionary War.

This event comes in two parts. The first, a presentation and short discussion about the new book, is free. The second part requires an extra registration and costs $50, which brings a personalized signed book shipped by priority mail.

In the second part, titled “Writing History,” Philbrick will be joined by Ryan J. Woods, executive vice president of the N.E.H.G.S.; Catherine Allgor, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society; and audience members for an extended question-and-answer discussion about his inspirations, research, and writing process.

For links to register separately for both parts, visit this page. In addition to the organizations represented on that online rostrum, this event will be hosted by the Boston Public Library, GBH Forum Network, and Porter Square Books.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

“Lost Years Recovered” Panel Discussion, 21 Sept.

In 1834 Margaretta Matilda Odell anonymously published a book called Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and a Slave.

Odell was related to the Wheatley family that enslaved the little African girl named Phillis, educated her, encouraged her writing while still keeping her in bondage, and finally emancipated her in 1774.

That family connection was how Odell got most of her information, but also her biases. She portrayed the Wheatleys in a highly positive light and suggested the worst thing that ever happened to Phillis Wheatley was going off on her own and marrying John Peters.

In discussing the years after the British evacuation, while the war was still going on, Odell wrote:
The inhabitants of Boston were fleeing in all directions; and Phillis accompanied her husband to Wilmington, in this state. In an obscure country village, the necessaries of life are always obtained with more difficulty than in a populous town, and in this season of scarcity, Phillis suffered much from privation—from absolute want—and from painful exertions to which she was unaccustomed, and for which her frail constitution unfitted her.
Wheatley scholars have relied on that sparse information for decades because it was the only thing available. But the latest issue of the New England Quarterly contains a study by Cornelia H. Dayton, professor at the University of Connecticut, which makes a major correction to that record and fills it out in surprising ways.

Odell was wrong in stating that John and Phillis Peters moved to Wilmington. In fact, in 1780 they moved to Middleton, in a different county. Furthermore, Essex County court records reveal why John Peters moved there and why he later had to move the family back to Boston. Read more here.

On Tuesday, 21 September, the first session of this year’s Maier seminar series at the Massachusetts Historical Society will be an online panel discussion of Dayton’s article featuring her, Wheatley biographer Vincent Carretta, literary scholar Tara Bynum, and moderator Joseph Rezek of Boston University.

Here is the page for signing up for this seminar. It’s scheduled to start at 5:15 P.M.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

“He was finishing a grave, in the Granary yard…”

As I recounted yesterday, Josiah Carter died in late 1774. At the time he was sexton of Boston’s oldest Congregationalist meetinghouse, nicknamed “the Old Brick.”

The most detailed and lively portrait of Carter appeared decades later in Dealings with the Dead, by a Sexton of the Old School (1856). The author was not in fact a sexton but a wealthy Harvard graduate, antiquarian, and anti-Abolitionist named Lucius Manlius Sargent. Since he was born in 1786, Sargent never knew Josiah Carter, so his information is at least second-hand and therefore uncertain.

“JOSIAH CARTER died, at the close of December, 1774,” Sargent wrote. “For good Josiah many wept, I fancy; But none more fluently than Dr. Chauncy.” That would be the Rev. Dr. Charles Chauncy, minister of the First Meetinghouse.

Sargent then suggested Carter died not only as a sexton but while performing the job of a sexton:
Josiah Carter was sexton of the Old Brick. He died, in the prime of life—fifty only—a martyr to his profession conscientious to a fault—standing all alone in the cold vault, after the last mourner had retired, and knocking gently upon the coffin lid, seeking for some little sign of animation, and begging the corpse, for Heaven’s sake, if it were alive, to say so, in good English.

Carter was one of your real integer vitae [irreproachable in life] men. It is said of him, that he never actually lost his self-government, but once, in his life.

He was finishing a grave, in the Granary yard, and had come out of the pit, and was looking at his work, when a young, surgical sprig came up, and, with something of a mysterious air, shadowed forth a proposition, the substance of which was, that Carter should sell him the corpse—cover it lightly—and aid in removing it, by night.

In an instant, Carter jerked the little chirurgeon into the grave—it was a deep one—and began to fill up, with all his might. The screams of the little fellow drew quite a number to the spot, and he was speedily rescued.

When interrogated, years afterwards, as to his real intentions, at the time, Carter always became solemnized; and said he considered the preservation of that young doctor—a particular Providence.
Despite the questions of reliability, this anecdote is too good not to share.

As for Carter’s father-in-law Thomas Bradford, I quoted how he had retired from the town watch in 1773, unable to walk. In asking the selectmen for a pension, Bradford said he had only “a few Days more to Live.”

In fact, Bradford survived through the siege of Boston. On 8 June 1778 he was admitted into the almshouse. On 13 September he died. The Continental Journal reported that he died “in the 83d Year of his Age.”

(It looks like, due to a smudged digit, this got into Ogden Codman’s Index of Obituaries in Boston Newspapers, 1704-1800 as the death of a man aged 23.)

Friday, September 17, 2021

Watchmen in the Family

Josiah Carter was born on 31 Aug 1726, one of the nine children of Josiah and Lydia (Ambrose) Carter arriving between 1724 and 1738. He was baptized the next day in Boston’s First Meetinghouse, nicknamed “the Old Brick.”

Josiah’s father might have been the Josiah Carter who advertised psalm-singing lessons at his house on Union Street in the late 1740s.

It’s also possible that Josiah’s mother died and his father married Lydia Thayer in 1741 and had five more children between 1742 and 1749. There was certainly a Josiah and Lydia Carter active in that decade.

On 23 Apr 1763, the Rev. Andrew Eliot of the New North Meetinghouse married Josiah, Jr., to Mary Bradford. She was probably a daughter of Thomas Bradford, born in 1729. (There was another Mary Bradford born to other parents the year before, so I can’t be completely certain, but I’m going to proceed on that assumption.)

Josiah and Mary’s first daughter, also named Mary, was baptized in the First Meetinghouse on 15 Apr 1764. In regular order they had:
  • Lucy (1765).
  • Thomas Bradford (1767), named after his maternal grandfather.
  • Josiah (1769), possibly named in honor of his paternal grandfather; his father stopped being designated “Jr.” at this time.
  • John (1771).
Thomas Bradford had worked as one of Boston’s watchmen since 1734, patrolling the streets at night. The arrival of four British regiments in late 1768 complicated that job. Army officers resented having to answer to these working-class civilians, and there were several brawls between them and the watchmen.

Boston’s selectmen responded by beefing up law enforcement with new watches, including a “New South Watch” in October 1769. Bradford was one of the veterans assigned to that squad. In fact, the town made him acting “Constable of the South Watch”; I quoted his commission from the selectmen back here.

After the Massacre and the removal of the troops, the selectmen cut back on the watches in late 1770. Then, pressed by the public in town meeting, they reinstated a “South Watch near the Lamb Tavern” in early 1771 and put Bradford in charge.

Back in 1765, Josiah Carter had joined his father-in-law among the watchmen. He became part of Constable Bradford’s squad in 1771. The next year, the town appointed a fourth man to that watch; usually there were only three, but maybe they needed more manpower to cover all the nights. In November 1772, the selectmen replaced Bradford as Constable. It’s possible he hadn’t been up to the job for a while.

On 16 March 1773, Bradford later recounted, “i was carred Home from the Watch taken with a pain in my right Legg i Could not put it to ye. Ground.“ At the end of April, his daughters were still dressing his leg, and “i Have ben Con find for about a month.”

At age seventy-five, Bradford told the selectmen, he thought he had “but a few Days more to Live and now I intend to retier and to Take my Natrel Rest.” He asked for a small pension, enough for “a Littel fier & bread,” since he had no other income.

Josiah Carter’s name stopped appearing on surviving records of the Boston watch after March 1773, just as his father-in-law retired. Perhaps that was when he left town employ and became sexton at the First Meetinghouse, where he and his children had been baptized. That job involved looking after the church building and digging graves for its congregants.

The next we hear of Carter is in the 2 Jan 1775 Boston Evening-Post’s death notices:
Mr. Josiah Carter, aged 50. Sexton of the Old Brick, or first Church, in this Town.
Printer John Boyle recorded that Carter had died on 28 December. He was in fact only forty-eight years old.

TOMORROW: Josiah Carter and the young doctor.

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.