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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Monday, January 31, 2022

“One of the flings of the time upon Mrs. Gage”

I went looking for the first author to argue that Margaret Gage betrayed her husband, Gen. Thomas Gage, by revealing his plan for the march to Concord in April 1775.

Instead, I found a series of authors, mostly American, denying the likelihood of that event and blaming the very idea on carping British army officers.

The earliest example I’ve seen so far is the Rev. Edward Everett Hale in The Memorial History of Boston (1881):

The General said that his confidence had been betrayed, for that he had communicated his design to only one person beside Lord Percy. This is one of the flings of the time upon Mrs. Gage, who was American born. The English officers who disliked Gage were fond of saying that she betrayed his secrets. But in this case, after eight hundred men were embarked for Cambridge, ten Boston men on the Common might well have known it; and the cannon at Concord were a very natural aim.
The Rev. Henry Belcher came closest to accepting the idea in The First American Civil War (1911):
Entertainments at Province House, where Madam Gage presided with the social adroitness and tact of a lady of high New Jersey family, were crowded with uniformed men from both fleet and camp. Yet suspicion attended this lady as being not too loyal to her husband’s party and to the King. It was hinted that the Governor was uxorious, and had no secrets from his wife, who passed word to the spies swarming outside.
After quoting local merchant John Andrews on officers complaining Gage was “partial to the inhabitants,” Belcher wrote, “The Governor’s partiality is alleged to have been largely due to his wife.” Belcher didn’t make any effort to refute those allegations, but he didn’t explicitly adopt them, either.

In the same year, Allen French’s The Siege of Boston echoed Hale while adding another motive for the officers to spread the rumor—to deny “Yankee shrewdness”:
The student of the time sees in this story a side-thrust at Mrs. Gage, on whom, as an American, the officers were ready to blame the knowledge of secrets which were gained by Yankee shrewdness alone. In this case we have seen that it was Gage that betrayed himself to the eyes of [Paul] Revere’s volunteer watch.
Fourteen years later, French wrote in his sesquicentennial The Day of Lexington and Concord:
It has been frequently said that the “one person only” was the general’s wife who told his plans to the Americans. A basis for this conjecture has been seen in the statement in Reverend William Gordon’s “History”, that “a daughter of liberty, unequally yoked in point of politics”, had previously sent warning to Adams in Lexington. But this was not necessarily Mrs. Gage, nor was Stedman’s “one person only” necessarily a woman. No other hint has come down that Mrs. Gage was untrue to her husband’s fortunes. It is wiser to leave such a speculation to those who like romance, and find the true explanation of the discovery of Gage’s plans in more natural causes.
Nonetheless, when Esther Forbes wrote Paul Revere and the World He Lived In in 1942, she uncritically repeated a basic premise of the theory, that Thomas Gage had shared his top-secret military plan with Margaret: “Only two people were told the destination of the regulars—Lord Percy and Gage’s own wife.”

In a note, Forbes explained: “The story is that Gage believed it was his American wife who had betrayed him, she being, as an early historian has it, ‘unequally yoked in point of politics’ to her famous husband. This version seems to be gossip started by Gage’s own officers, who did not like him and wanted to throw suspicion upon him and his wife.” She did not, however, cite specific examples.

The story was thus still in the air in 1948 when John R. Alden published General Gage in America. He wrote:
One question which has been posed again and again and which some writers have attempted to answer must be treated here, for it involves the loyalty of Margaret Gage to Britain and to her own husband. It has often been stated that Margaret Gage may have furnished information of the general’s plans for April 19 to the American leaders.
Alden provided the strongest counterargument yet, while also acknowledging that Gen. Henry Clinton, whose papers were yet unpublished, had written that Gage was betrayed in some way.

Unless another argument comes to light, the first historian to really point the finger at Mrs. Gage, not just to say that British army officers did so, was David H. Fischer in Paul Revere‘s Ride (1994). Even before that book, however, the idea of Margaret Gage as the Patriots’ source had endured for decades despite no one prominently speaking up for it.

TOMORROW: The curious appeal of a spurious idea.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Considering the Quaker Way of Business

Earlier this month Robynne Rogers Healey’s review of Esther Sahle’s Quakers in the British Atlantic World, c. 1660-1800 appeared on H-Net.

Nineteenth-century American culture viewed Quaker merchants as unusually successful and moral. Sahle’s book, Healey writes, “challenges the narrative of Quaker exceptionalism—the idea that Quakers’ success in business was a result of unique Quaker structures and business practices, or ‘because, so the story goes, they were Quakers.’”

In fact, the formal ethos of Quaker business networks wasn’t unusual. “Placing Quaker and non-Quaker prescriptive business literature side by side, Sahle reveals their similarity if not their sameness: both shared concerns about debts, taxes, and fraud, all of which were believed to be born out of covetousness; both called upon identical verses of scripture to support their admonitions; and both employed the same metaphors to communicate their message.”

But perhaps Quakers enforced those rules more strictly than other merchants? In the latter half of the period Sahle studied, the Society of Friends underwent a number of significant changes that historians have dubbed the “Quaker Reformation.” Among those changes was a “dramatic increase in disownments after 1750” in both London and Philadelphia.

But I have trouble sorting out the chronology of cause and effect as described in the review:
While Sahle accepts that the transformation of eighteenth-century Quakerism began as a religious reformation in the 1740s, she asserts that dramatic change accelerated in mid-century in response to a series of political conflicts in Pennsylvania that harmed the Society’s public reputation. Disputes between Thomas Penn, the proprietor, and the Quaker-led Assembly during the Seven Years’ War resulted in Quakers becoming the scapegoat for General [Edward] Braddock’s defeat at Fort Duquesne in 1755. Public faith in Quakers deteriorated over the course of the war and during Pontiac’s War that immediately followed [1763–1766], especially after Quakers joined the militia mustered to protect Philadelphia from the Paxton Boys [early 1764].

The Paxton pamphlet war dealt a decisive blow to the Society of Friends’ reputation. The pamphlets crafted an image of Quakers as self-interested, duplicitous pacifists motivated solely by money and power; they refused defense funding for their non-Quaker fellow colonists but resorted to violence if they themselves were threatened. This was not the Friends’ first pamphlet war, but it was one they did not win.
With Quakers threatened by accusations of dishonesty and avarice, Sahle argues, leaders tightened their internal discipline, “especially against infractions that brought dishonor on the Society—financial dishonesty, fighting, and slaveholding.”

I’m unconvinced that events of the 1760s brought about a change that scholars trace to 1750 or earlier. Furthermore, the review notes that most disownments weren’t prompted by violations of business ethics, such as defaulting on debt. Instead, “Violations of the marriage discipline accounted for almost half of the disownments between 1750 and 1800.” Disowning people for marrying outside the sect (as happened with, for example, Betsy Ross) would certainly promote more coherent unity among those left. But it doesn’t seem like it would solve a local public-relations problem.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

“The Poor, frozen in their Houses”

Like every American, I grew up hearing stories about the Continental Army’s hard winter at Valley Forge.

In fact, my most viral tweet was a snarky comment on Valley Forge National Historical Park having to close for winter weather. More than 2,000 “likes” showed how many people got that little joke.

However, Revolutionary War history buffs know that the winter of 1779-1780, when the Continentals camped in Morristown, was much harsher. Colder temperatures, more snow. But fewer deaths in camp because the army had learned more about building warm cabins and preserving public health.

Not until I read this essay by Blake McGready from the Gotham Center for New York City History did I think about how people experienced that same harsh weather inside British-held New York. Already reliant on ships to bring in food and firewood, how did the Crown authorities manage when the harbor was blocked up with ice?

Here’s a bitter taste of McGready’s article:
The winter’s fuel shortage, in particular, underscored the city’s geographic isolation, shaped British military and political strategy, and caused environmental transformations. In order to provide New Yorkers sufficient fuel, the British relied on their military outposts at Staten Island and Paulus Hook. But the unprecedented ice blocked the city’s access to timberlands beyond Manhattan.

New York required six hundred cords to warm the city a week, and at times, the British only counted seventy in their reserves. “We often hear of the Deaths of the Poor, frozen in their Houses,” [William] Smith reported. A rebel newspaper claimed that New Yorkers “are so necessitated for fuel, that near 100 of them have perished during this inclement season for want thereof.”

In order to sustain the meager supply, soldiers saw their fuel rations reduced multiple times. The commandant restricted the operations of distilleries for lack of wood. Military officials purchased old ships and hulks to distribute the wood to soldiers and the poor. Profiteering abounded in timber-rich areas. Staten Islanders reportedly hoarded fuel in order to raise the price, a practice that ended when authorities seized roughly 1000 cords.
An environmental historian, McGready also explores how the weather affected food supplies, sanitation, and even animal hunting grounds. 

Somehow a detailed article about dealing with rough winter weather seemed appropriate today.

(Wilson Freeman captured the photograph above during a reenactment at Princeton a few years back and shared it on his Daily Reenactor page. Also well worth a look.)

Friday, January 28, 2022

Black New Englanders Rescued from Out-of-State Enslavement

The natural-rights argument of the Revolutionary War inspired the New England states to end slavery or at least start phasing it out.

However, with most of the U.S. of A. and all of the territories around the Caribbean still gobbling up enslaved labor, there was a terrible ongoing market for people of African heritage who couldn’t prove they were free.

This month brought two online articles about black New Englanders being dragged away from their homes in the first years after independence, and how the new state governments responded.

At Small State, Big History, Christian McBurney discusses a dispute that began in early 1779 when John Rice came from North Carolina to Rhode Island and bought an enslaved woman named Abigail and three of her children. Rice then hired local farmer Lodowick Stanton to drive his new human property in a wagon to Connecticut. Apparently Abigail communicated her fears to Stanton before the caravan stopped at his house. McBurney writes:
The next morning Rice awoke and was informed that Abigail and her daughters were nowhere to be found. Stanton was not a good liar. At first he said that they had all gone to Block Island. Then he blamed [neighbor] John Cross for their disappearance.

In a petition Rice later submitted to the General Assembly, he stated: “In making enquiry for his Negroes, [he] has great reasons to believe that a number of people had combined against him to deprive him of his property.” In addition, Rice wrote that he “was informed his person was in danger if he . . . pursued after” Abigail and her children. Stanton and likely John Cross, among others, kept Abigail and her children hidden at their own expense for several weeks.
The Rhode Island legislature ultimately sided with Abigail. It passed a law that took no property from Rhode Island slaveholders but barred the sale of people out of state without their consent (unless a court held the enslaved person had “become notoriously unfaithful and villainous”). That slavery-limiting law has received little attention, overshadowed by the gradual emancipation law that Rhode Island enacted five years later. As for Abigail and her children, they evidently remained in the state, but their individual fates can’t be tracked.

McBurney’s next book is Dark Voyage: An American Privateer’s War on Britain’s African Slave Trade, about the wartime cruise of the Marlborough to attack British shipping along the African coast.

At the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Beehive blog, Benjamin D. Remillard shared “What then are our Lives and Lebeties worth”: The 18th Century Kidnapping Case that Shook Boston”:
Cato Newell…was a twenty-three-year-old baker from Charlestown, MA, when he enlisted alongside the rebels after the violence at Lexington and Concord. Boston’s Wenham Carey was a bit older by comparison, enlisting multiple times for short periods when he was already in his thirties. Luke (or Luck) Russell, meanwhile, while not a veteran, is believed to have been a member of Prince Hall’s growing African Freemason Lodge.

Life after the war, however, did not come without risks. Newell, Carey, and Russell discovered this for themselves when they were hired by a man named Avery to make boat repairs in February 1788. They travelled to Boston Harbor’s Long Island, where their employer directed the trio below deck to begin their work. After locking away his human cargo, the ship’s captain set sail for warmer waters.

It was not long before word of the abduction reached the men’s families. Writing from Charlestown, they decried the capture of those “three unhappy Africans,” and insisted that their loved ones were “justly intitled” to “the protection of the laws and government which they have contributed to support.”
The three men’s families, Hall, local Quakers, and others raised an outcry about this abduction. The Massachusetts establishment, led by Gov. John Hancock, responded with a new law and diplomatic correspondence. The situation was resolved happily by July 1788.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

“The General himself in his wife’s cloaths”

Looking back over the sources about Thomas and Margaret Gage that came to light in the late 1800s, as quoted yesterday, reveals some clear patterns.

Some of Gen. Gage’s junior officers really didn’t like how he handled the crisis in Massachusetts. To be sure, Gage wasn’t the only commander in history to inspire such contempt. And he definitely didn’t manage the crisis successfully.

The letter from Margaret Gage’s friend makes it likely that she did express regret that a bloody civil war was breaking out in North America. Again, she was not unique in dreading that event. Almost everybody said a war would be horrible—with most adding that therefore the other side should back down.

Above all, it’s striking how much ideas of gender played into the criticism of the Gages. John Andrews wrote that army officers called Gen. Gage “an Old Woman” because he was too lenient on the locals. When Margaret Gage arrived in Portsmouth, England, in September 1775, the St. James’s Chronicle newspaper printed this snarky comment:

We are assured that it is not General Gage’s wife who is arrived from Boston, but the General himself in his wife’s cloaths. His wife is left behind, invested with the supreme command, and will prove a much more formidable enemy to the Americans than her husband, who has been beaten twice abroad and every day grows more and more contemptible at home.
I quote that from Herbert Hughes’s Chronicle of Chester (1975).

Some of the Gages’ critics complained that Margaret thrust herself into Thomas’s affairs. “He was governed by his wife,” groused Maj. James Wemyss. She “said she hoped her husband would never be the instrument of sacrificing the lives of her countrymen,” whispered Whitshed Keene. Her brothers and brother-in-law got positions on the general’s staff that could have gone to other officers (including those who passed on complaints about her).

But others criticized Mrs. Gage for showing too much feminine desire—encouraging her friends to organize a ball inside Boston, wearing a daring turquerie-style gown in her painting by Copley, which that anonymous engraver in 1776 appears to have caricatured by portraying her bare-breasted. As a woman, Margaret was vulnerable to criticism from both sides.

Another way gender played a role in this story is that being a woman probably did allow Margaret Gage to express her sadness about the coming conflict, to lament the big loss of life at Bunker Hill and sympathize with the divided loyalties of Janet Montgomery. An eighteenth-century gentleman like Thomas Gage, or like John Adams, was supposed to keep his emotions in check. Mrs. Gage was freer to say she wished her husband didn’t have to kill Americans than he was.

But no critical contemporaries accused Margaret Gage of betraying her husband and the Crown. No one said she befriended Massachusetts Patriots in the one year she lived in the province, much less forged close connections. 

Nonetheless, by the first decades of the twentieth century the idea developed that Margaret Gage had leaked her husband’s plan for the march to Concord to the Patriots. And of course, if she really did that, she would have kept it secret, so there would be very little evidence for us to find.

COMING UP: A treacherous hypothesis. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

“What a dreadful apprehension for a wife”

When the eminent historian George Bancroft discussed Thomas Gage’s April 1775 decision-making in 1860, he wrote that the general was just too wishy-washy to carry out his orders from London:
Gage was neither fit to reconcile nor to subdue. By his mild temper and love of society, he gained the good-will of his boon companions, and escaped personal enmities; but in earnest business he inspired neither confidence nor fear. Though his disposition was far from being malignant, he was so poor in spirit and so weak of will, so dull in his perceptions and so unsettled in his opinions, that he was sure to follow the worst advice, and vacillate between smooth words of concession and merciless severity.

He had promised the king that with four regiments he would play the “lion,” and troops beyond his requisition were hourly expected. His instructions enjoined upon him the seizure and condign punishment of Samuel Adams, [John] Hancock, Joseph Warren, and other leading patriots; but he stood in such dread of them that he never so much as attempted their arrest.
Bancroft didn’t suggest that Gen. Gage was lenient because he was influenced by his American wife, Margaret

(My own theory about Gage is that he aimed for the provincial artillery supplies rather than Patriot leaders in order to save himself from embarrassment before his superiors. See The Road to Concord for the full argument.)

In the decades that followed Bancroft’s magisterial history of the U.S. of A., more sources came into print, many of them from Britain. Those cast a different light on Gen. Gage. It turned out contemporary critics in both London and Boston thought he was being lenient. And we got more gossip about Margaret Gage. Here are those passages in order of their appearance in print.

Boston merchant John Andrews, writing a private letter in March 1775, published in 1866:
…it seems the officers and soldiers are a good deal disaffected towards the Governor, thinking, I suppose, that he is partial to the inhabitants, many of the latter have made no scruples to call him an Old Woman.
Capt. John Barker of the 4th Regiment was one of those officers who thought Gage was too accommodating to the locals. In his diary he called the commander “Tommy” a couple of times. Barker’s entry for 12 Jan 1775, as published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1877, was also snarky about the general’s wife:
Yesterday even. was a Ball by subscription; seven of each Corps was the number fix’d, and the Ladies were invited by the managers; this scheme was proposed by Mrs. G—e, and carried into execution by her favorites; by which she enjoyed a dance and an opportunity of seeing her friends at no expense.
Maj. James Wemyss of the British army assessed dozens of commanders in the war (Gage by reputation, not personal experience), and his comments were transcribed by historian Jared Sparks. This paragraph was published by 1879:
Lieut.-General Gage, a commander-in-chief of moderate abilities, but altogether deficient in military knowledge. Timid and undecided on every emergency, he was very unfit to command at a time of resistance and approaching rebellion to the mother country. He was governed by his wife, a handsome American; her brothers and relations held all the staff appointments in the army, and were, with less abilities, as weak characters as himself. To the great joy of the army, he went to England soon after the disastrous attack at Bunker Hill.
That’s the transcription published in a footnote in William Cullen Bryant and Sidney Howard Gay’s A Popular History of the United States in 1879, and two years later in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society. Gene Procknow, author of William Hunter - Finding Free Speech: A British Soldier’s Son Who Became an Early American, has looked at the original document in the Sparks Manuscripts and produced a more accurate transcription here. The basic sentiment remains the same.

The British engineer Capt. John Montresor (shown above) wrote this note during the war, as published by the New-York Historical Society in 1882:
Should the American Colonies (after all) be lost to Great Britain, it may be attributed to a variety of unfortunate circumstances and Blunders, &c., viz. General Gage having all his Cabinet papers, Ministers’ Letters, &c., and his Correspondence all stole out of a large Closet, or Wardrobe, up one pair of Stairs on the Landing at the Government House at Boston…1775.
Gage’s voluminous papers, apparently intact, sailed home with him and are now at the Clements Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Montresor’s complaint therefore reflects what he thought of Gage more than the actual whereabouts of the general’s papers.

Former Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson in his diary on 27 July 1775, published 1884:
Mr. Keene called: complains of Gage: says his lady has said she hoped her husband would never be the instrument of sacrificing the lives of her countrymen. I doubted it. He said he did not, but did not chuse to be quoted for it.
Whitshed Keene was a former British army officer, Member of Parliament, and a brother-in-law of Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary of State.

Finally, in 1899 the British government published text from an unsigned letter that someone in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, had sent to Margaret Gage on 1 Nov 1775. That mail had been intercepted by the British government back during the war and stored in the Home Office files. Gage’s friend or relative wrote:
I have heard some good news, which is that [Gen. Richard] Montgomery is with his whole army cut to pieces or taken by Genl. [Guy] Carleton. God grant it be true! and yet I shudder. I recollect with horror the bloody scene at Charlestown. Poor Jennet [Montgomery]! I have been told that she charged Montgomery to avoid, at any rate, being taken prisoner. A cord, I suppose, she apprehended would finish his exploits.

What a dreadful apprehension for a wife; let either side conquer, what heartfelt woe must it occasion! This puts me in mind of a conversation you and I had the day after that dreadful one, when you thought the lines so expressive:
The Sun’s o’ercast with blood; fair day, adieu!
Which is the side that I must go withal?
I am with both; each army hath a hand,
And in their rage,—I having hold of both,—
They whirl asunder, and dismember me.
And again:
Whoever wins, on that side shall I lose
Assured loss, before the match be played.
Those are lines from Shakespeare’s King John, spoken by Lady Blanch as she feels torn between her husband on one side of a war and her family on another.

Richard Montgomery was a retired British army officer who had joined the Continental Army and was leading the attack on Québec. He hadn’t been “cut to pieces” yet, but he would be. Janet Montgomery lived on for decades in New York as the celebrated widow of an American military martyr.

TOMORROW: What do we make of these sources?

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

“The attempt had for several weeks been expected”

In the first half of the nineteenth century, American historians continued to write about the start of the Revolutionary War, of course.

But those authors didn’t dig into the question of whether someone close to Gen. Thomas Gage had leaked his plan for a march to Concord, as hinted by the passage from Charles Stedman’s book that I quoted yesterday.

Around the fiftieth anniversary of the event, there was a back-and-forth between Elias Phinney of Lexington and Ezra Ripley of Concord over where militiamen returned the first significant fire at the redcoats. That dispute produced eyewitness testimony from aged veterans, revealing that both towns were on alert well before the Patriot alarm riders from Boston arrived because of previous reports about British activity and the sight of army officers on horseback.

Likewise, James T. Austin’s Life of Elbridge Gerry (1828) offered evidence that members of the committee of safety were watching for Gage to act. It included documents confirming how the British army officers that Gage sent out to stop alarm riders actually provoked an alarm.

In his History of the Siege of Boston (1849), the Charlestown historian Richard Frothingham published Richard Devens’s description of the committee’s activity and of the lights in Old North Church as seen from the opposite shore. That account lined up well with Revere’s.

Frothingham quoted Stedman’s story but not the detail of Gen. Gage telling only one other person besides Col. Percy about his plan. Instead, he emphasized how Massachusetts Patriots had gathered multiple signs that the army was about to act even as the general considered his planning secret.

As a result, the most authoritative American historian of the time, George Bancroft (shown above), presented events this way in his 1860 History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent:
On the afternoon of the day on which the provincial congress of Massachusetts adjourned, Gage took the light infantry and grenadiers off duty, and secretly prepared an expedition to destroy the colony’s stores at Concord. But the attempt had for several weeks been expected; a strict watch had been kept; and signals were concerted to announce the first movement of troops for the country. Samuel Adams and [John] Hancock, who had not yet left Lexington for Philadelphia, received a timely message from [Dr. Joseph] Warren, and in consequence, the committee of safety removed a part of the public stores and secreted the cannon.

On Tuesday the eighteenth, ten or more sergeants in disguise dispersed themselves through Cambridge and further west, to intercept all communication. In the following night, the grenadiers and light infantry, not less than eight hundred in number, the flower of the army at Boston, commanded by the incompetent Lieutenant Colonel [Francis] Smith, crossed in the boats of the transport ships from the foot of the common to East Cambridge. There they received a day’s provisions, and near midnight, after wading through wet marshes, that are now covered by a stately town, they took the road through West Cambridge to Concord.

“They will miss their aim,” said one of a party who observed their departure. “What aim?” asked Lord Percy, who overheard the remark. “Why, the cannon at Concord,” was the answer. Percy hastened to Gage, who instantly directed that no one should be suffered to leave the town. But Warren had already, at ten o’clock, despatched William Dawes through Roxbury to Lexington, and at the same time desired Paul Revere to set off by way of Charlestown.

Revere stopped only to engage a friend to raise the concerted signals, and five minutes before the sentinels received the order to prevent it, two friends rowed him past the Somerset man of war across Charles river. All was still, as suited the hour. The ship was winding with the young flood; the waning moon just peered above a clear horizon; while from a couple of lanterns in the tower of the North Church, the beacon streamed to the neighboring towns, as fast as light could travel.
Quite dramatically rendered, and Bancroft skipped right over the question of whether anyone leaked Gage’s orders.

TOMORROW: New sources and new suspicions.

Monday, January 24, 2022

“The general said that his confidence had been betrayed”

Earlier this month I noted the American Revolution Institute’s article about a likely caricature of Gen. Thomas and Margaret Gage published in London in 1776.

Comments on that post raised the question of when historians started to consider the possibility that Margaret Gage had betrayed her husband by leaking his plans for the 18 Apr 1775 expedition to Concord to the Patriots.

Not that anyone involved in that discussion believed that theory. Rather, we were just wondering when it arose and what evidence, if any, supported it.

By the end of the eighteenth century there were three readily available printed sources speaking to this question. The first was the Rev. William Gordon’s History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America, published in London in 1788. Gordon knew the Boston Whigs well and was particularly close to Samuel Adams. He wrote of April 1775:
The grenadier and light infantry companies were taken off duty, upon the plea of learning a new exercise, which made the Bostonians jealous that there was some scheme on foot. A daughter of liberty, unequally yoked in point of politics, sent word, by a trusty hand, to Mr. Samuel Adams, residing in company with Mr. [John] Hancock, at Lexington, about thirteen miles from Charlestown, that the troops were coming out in a few days. Upon this their friends at Boston were advised to move out their plate, &c. and the committee of safety voted [18 April], “that all the ammunition be deposited in nine different towns. . .”

Mr. Adams inferred from the number to be employed, that these [military stores] were the objects, and not himself and Mr. Hancock, who might more easily be seized in a private way, by a few armed individuals, than by a large body of troops, that must march for miles together under the eyes of the public. . . .

When the corps was nearly ready to proceed upon the expedition, Dr. [Joseph] Warren, by a mere accident, had notice of it just in time to send messengers over the Neck and across the ferry, on to Lexington, before the orders for preventing every person’s quitting the town were executed.
I quoted from the 1801 edition, which differs a little in punctuation but not wording from the original.

Gordon described two pieces of information reaching two different Patriots. First, Adams outside Boston heard from a sympathetic woman with a Loyalist husband that a march would happen “in a few days.” There’s no clear hint that woman had inside information; instead, Gordon pointed to the orders for the flank companies, which lots of people heard about.

The Patriot leadership had already acted on that advice when Warren “by a mere accident” heard the march was imminent just in time to send messengers—we now know these were William Dawes and Paul Revere—out to Lexington.

From the British side, former officer Charles Stedman’s 1794 History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War confirmed that Gen. Gage was focused on Concord and tried to keep the mission secret:
In war there is nothing that so much avails as secresy of design and celerity of execution: Nor, on the contrary, so hurtful as unnecessary openness and procrastination. General Gage on the evening of the eighteenth of April told lord Percy, that he intended to send a detachment to seize the stores at Concord, and to give the command to colonel [Francis] Smith, ”who knew that he was to go, but not where.” He meant it to be a secret expedition, and begged of lord Percy to keep it a profound secret.

As this nobleman was passing from the general’s quarters home to his own, perceiving eight or ten men conversing together on the common, he made up to them; when one of the men said—“The British troops have marched, but they will miss their aim.”

“What aim?“ said lord Percy.

“Why,” the man replied, ”the cannon at Concord.”

Lord Percy immediately returned on his steps, and acquainted general Gage, not without marks of surprize and disapprobation, of what he had just heard. The general said that his confidence had been betrayed, for that he had communicated his design to one person only besides his lordship.
I broke Stedman’s single long paragraph into shorter paragraphs for easier reading.

Clearly Col. Percy was Stedman’s source for this story. And clearly Percy believed Gage’s plans had leaked, presumably through that “one person” (or maybe Gage hadn’t been as circumspect as he claimed).

Gage and Percy might not have guessed correctly about a leak. The man speaking on the Common might have been speculating about what the British goal was, based on the number of soldiers who were departing. After all, Adams had reportedly made the same guess.

One more early printed source was Paul Revere’s letter to the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap about the opening of the war, published in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Collections series in 1798:
The Saturday night preceding the 19th of April, about 12 o’clock at night, the boats belonging to the transports were all launched, and carried under the sterns of the men of war. (They had been previously hauled up and repaired.) We likewise found that the grenadiers and light Infantry were all taken off duty.

From these movements, we expected something serious was to be transacted. On Tuesday evening, the 18th, it was observed, that a number of soldiers were marching towards the bottom of the Common. About 10 o’clock, Dr. Warren sent in great haste for me, and begged that I would imediately set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the movement, and that it was thought they were the objects. When I got to Dr. Warren’s house, I found he had sent an express by land to Lexington—a Mr. William Dawes.
Belknap cleaned up some of Revere’s spellings before publishing. See the original here. Revere’s letter was reprinted in the Worcester Magazine and Historical Journal in 1826 and in the New England Magazine in 1832.

Thus, before the turn of the nineteenth century historians had sources close to the action revealing that:
  • The commander and second-in-command of the British troops thought the secret plan for the march had leaked, despite only three people knowing about it.
  • Bostonians had actually been talking about the likely plan for days, based on publicly visible signs; Samuel Adams had deduced the general’s goal; and the committee of safety was acting on that warning.
  • Warren sent Dawes and Revere to Lexington based on the mistaken idea that “the objects” of the march were Adams and Hancock; in other words, whatever last-minute information the doctor received “by a mere accident,” that source did not tell him that Gage was focused on Concord.

TOMORROW: The view from the mid-1800s.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Two Attacks on George III’s Coach

Last week I wrote about George III’s gilded coach, and how some Londoners stoned it in October 1795.

It turns out this wasn’t the first time a crowd had attacked that royal coach. Or was it?

The Georgian Lords Twitter account led me to this passage from the diary of Queen Charlotte on 21 Jan 1794:
To Day the Kg. went to Open the Parliament about 3 a Clock. in going there were two attempts made at throwing a Stone at the Kg. the first broke the Side Glass of the Coach, & the Second was thrown from behind & fell over the Coachmans Head.
You can view the actual diary page here.

On 24 January the Oracle newspaper, also called Bell’s New World, stated:
some daring ruffian threw a stone at his Majesty…which broke the coach window. We have not yet had the pleasure to hear of the villain’s apprehension.
However, the Times of London had reported on 23 January:
Tuesday, as his Majesty was going in state to the House of Peers, one of the halberts of the Yeomen struck against the window of the King’s coach and smashed it. Happily no mischief was occasioned, but the circumstances gave rise to a report of some madman having thrown a stone at the window, which we are happy to contradict.
Was the queen correct in recording an attack on the royal coach? It looks like she wasn’t there, but of course she would have heard from the king. It certainly looks like he was convinced people had attacked him with stones.

And yet a leading establishment newspaper assured the public that the “report” circulating was mistaken, that there was no “madman” or “ruffian” to hunt down—let alone two. Publicizing an assault when there was no way to find the criminal would probably have only made the authorities look ineffectual.

In contrast, the government took quite public action when people threw stones at the king’s coach toward the end of the following year, on 29 Oct 1795. Parliament undertook an immediate investigation. The questioning of witnesses was transcribed and later published. Two men were charged:
  • Edward Collins, “Keeper of an Eating-house,” accused by an eyewitness of throwing a stone at the king, a crime of high treason.
  • Kidd Wake, journeyman printer, heard to shout “No war!” but not seen to throw anything, and thus charged with “a misdemeanor in hissing and hooting the king in a riotous manner.”
The authorities also offered a £1000 reward for information about any other rioters, but it doesn’t look like anyone came forward.

The ministry under William Pitt took advantage of the moment to press two bills, one “for the Safety and Preservation of His Majesty’s Person and Government” and the other “for the More Effectually Preventing Seditious Meetings and Assemblies.” Those laws let the British government crack down on opponents of its war policy.

Kidd Wake went on trial in February 1796, and his fate can be seen in the title of a publication he offered for sixpence in 1801: The Case of Kidd Wake: Being a Narrative of His Sufferings, During Five Years Confinement!!! In Glocester Penitentiary House: for Hooting, Hissing, and Calling Out No War! as His Majesty was Passing in State. Among Wake’s reported sufferings was contracting tapeworms. He died in a wagon accident in 1807.

As for Edward Collins, he was eventually released without trial, but I’ve found no report on that development in the mainstream British news media. It’s tempting to say he had served his purpose for the ministry.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

“Big Chill” Lectures at Historic Deerfield

Historic Deerfield is observing the winter season with a series of online lectures on the theme of “The Big Chill: Early Environmental Histories of Climate Change.” The first takes place tomorrow, followed by one in each of the next two months.

The series description says:
From a centuries-long Little Ice Age to the global aftermath of the largest volcanic eruption in the last 10,000 years, this year’s series is devoted to early environmental histories and their impact on people and places. Join us for three virtual webinars this winter exploring how North American Indigenous communities and European colonizers understood and experienced the plunging temperatures and deep freezes, catastrophic flooding, and severe droughts and famine that became part of cultural memory and identity.
Here are the individual lectures—

Sunday, 23 January, 2:00 P.M.
“The Problem of Climate in Early Colonial History”
Presented by Sam White, Ohio State University

Sunday, 27 February, 2:00 P.M.
“Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World” [in 1815]
Presented by Gillen D’Arcy Wood, University of Illinois

Sunday, 27 March, 2:00 P.M.
“Snow Cover and Winter Knowledge of the Little Ice Age”
Presented by Thomas M. Wickman, Trinity College, author of Snowshoe Country: An Environmental and Cultural History of Winter in the Early American Northeast

People who register in advance can watch these lecture live via Zoom and/or watch them for two weeks afterwards. These talks are free, but donating to or becoming a member of Historic Deerfield while enjoying these public programs would be a warm gesture.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Two New Artistic Depictions of Revolutionary Stories

Naden Rowe teaches history at an “American” middle school overseas. He occasionally parodies popular songs with new lyrics to explain some part of his lessons.

Last year he reworked “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo and Dan Nigro into “Act of Violence,” narrating the Boston Massacre from the perspective of a teen-aged girl in Boston.

Rowe turned to a nearby singer who goes by the name Nyah (here’s her Tiktok feed) to record the new lyrics.

Then a sixth-grader dubbed Yakuza Baby asked to make an animated video for the song, using the Paul Revere engraving combined with new art.

All in all, it’s very impressive. Rowe’s song rightly depicts the first violence of the night on King Street coming from a soldier, analyzes what feelings the propaganda print would produce, and highlights the event’s ambiguities. Nyah’s vocal performance is affecting. And Yakuza Baby’s animation effects are varied and striking.

Another creator who caught my attention this week on Twitter was Sean Dermond, who shared “Mrs. Benedict Arnold,” an online picture book. It provides his take on the story of Peggy Shippen using cutouts within paper dioramas, a technique that reminds me of the 1970s Paddington television series. Handsome draftsmanship and photography under pandemic conditions. Check it out on Dermond’s webpage.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Passing of Dr. Jenn Steenshorne

The Selected Papers of John Jay project at Columbia University just published its seventh and final printed volume, covering the years 1799 to 1829.

The project is also converting those volumes into a digital edition. A couple of years ago, the National Archives’ Founders Online website added those documents to its database, which symbolically elevates Jay to the top tier of Founders along with Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and Madison.

After all, Jay was a strong voice in the Continental Congress, U.S. minister to Spain, signer of the Treaty of Paris, Confederation secretary of foreign affairs, contributor to the “Federalist” essays, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, negotiator of a crucial and controversial treaty with Great Britain, and governor of New York for six years.

The completion of The Selected Papers of John Jay was tinged with sadness this month as word spread that one long-time editor on the project, Jennifer Steenshorne, had died suddenly of Covid-19. On 28 December she tweeted, “Just took a home Covid test. Positive. I’ve had two shots, so not so bad aside from the exhaustion and cough.” However, the next day she added, “My Covid Cough makes me feel like I have been slammed in the ribs by baseball bats.” Three days later, she died.

Dr. Steenshorne was a warm presence among academic historians on Twitter, so her loss produced a real outpouring of sadness. I never met her, but I liked spotting the avatar of “Dr. JE Steenshorne, Harborer of Cats” (shown above). I knew her comments would be smart and kind. Scrolling back, I saw that my birthday gifts in 2020 included her reply to one of my silly tweets about British clerics’ overblown sleeves (not that she knew it was my birthday).

New York University colleague George Platt wrote:
Besides her many professional accomplishments, Jennifer was a supportive colleague and great friend to many of us, and was always ready with a precisely relevant fact from her encyclopedic knowledge of New York City. Her vast array of interests ranged from fashion and design (having worked for Perry Ellis), to music (having interned with Electra Records), to horse racing, and public health. She brewed stouts and porters. A fan of the Rolling Stones, she worked for jazz legends Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie. . . . She also published on topics as diverse as cemetery removal in Manhattan, and James Bond films.
In 2018, Steenshorne became director and editor-in-chief of the Washington Papers. Colleagues at the University of Virginia Press lamented:
Beyond conferring about John Jay, George Washington, and the founding generation, we recall lively discussions about such wide-ranging figures as Ann Cary Randolph Morris, George Templeton Strong, and Joseph Urban—wonderful conversations that made evident the breadth of her knowledge and her interests, from the substantive role of women in the early republic to the rigors of the Civil War era to the design of Ziegfeld’s Follies. She will be missed.
Steenshorne’s husband, Brant M. Vogel, was a co-editor at the Jay Papers. He just announced that on Friday, 21 January, from 6:00 to 9:00 P.M. the Jazz Alternatives show on WKCR will play a tribute show to Dr. Jenn Steenshorne. Anyone can tune in at http://wkcr.org.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

“The great curiosity of seeing the King’s new coach”

The rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence makes George III out as America’s great villain and antagonist of the Revolution.

But of course the king was just the visible embodiment of the British government. The ministry acted in his name, but he didn’t make all decisions. Though George III exercised influence, especially in the choice of ministers, but he wasn’t a tyrant dictating policy from his gilded carriage.

To be sure, he had a gilded carriage.

George III’s state coach survives at Buckingham Palace, as shown in this photo from Rachel Knowles’s blog.

This vehicle was commissioned soon after the young man came to the throne in 1760, designed by Sir William Chambers with decorative allegorical panels painted by Giovanni Battista Cipriani, an artist from Florence.

The coach cost more than £7,661, with £2,504 going to the carver, £1,673 to the coachmaker and wheelwright, £933 to the gilder, and £737 to the “lace-man.”

The coach made it public debut on at the opening of Parliament in October 1762. Richard Rigby reported to the Duke of Bedford:
The great curiosity of seeing the King’s new coach yesterday had filled the park and streets, by all accounts, fuller than they were at the coronation. I was above three hours upon the road from the end of Pall Mall to the middle of Parliament Street, where I was obliged at last to get into a chair and be carried a back way to the House of Commons.

In this crowd Lord Bute [the prime minister] was very much insulted, hissed in every gross manner, and a little pelted. It is said, but it is denied also, that the King was insulted.

Both Houses were up about four; the crowd of coaches and mob on foot not the least abated; it was so great that the King’s coach, with his Majesty in it, upon his return from the House was a full hour in Palace Yard. Lord Bute to avoid the like treatment he had met in going, returned in a hackney chair, but the mob discovered him, followed him, broke the glasses of the chair, and, in short, by threats and menaces, put him very reasonably in great fear; if they had once overturned the chair, he might very soon have been demolished.
Bute was out as prime minister in April 1763. (Though you wouldn’t know that from all the Whig cartoons and effigies that continued to blame him for royal policies over the next decade.)

The royal coach continued to roll out on ceremonial occasions. In October 1795 George III rode to another opening of Parliament. This time the crowd attacked the coach, breaking a window. People were reportedly calling, “Down with Pitt,” “No War,” “Give Us Bread,” and even “No George.” The satirical artist James Gillray portrayed the gold coach under attack from “republicans.”

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Unaker and the Making of America

The website of the journal British Art Studies is sharing R. Ruthie Dibble and Joseph Mizhakii Zordan’s article “Cherokee Unaker, British Ceramics, and Productions of Whiteness in Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Worlds.”

Enhanced by many illustrations, the article begins:
In October 1767 Cherokee leaders gathered at Keowee, a Cherokee Mother Town in the far northwestern corner of the British Province of South Carolina, to determine a pathway to peace with the Mohawk and other northern Indigenous nations.

Their negotiations, however, were interrupted by a foreign visitor, the English merchant Thomas Griffiths. Griffiths had been hired by the potter and inventor Josiah Wedgwood to negotiate the purchase of five tons of unaker, a bright white mineral used by the Cherokee for millennia to make white ceramics and architecture.
Dibble and Zordan use unaker to trace the relations between Cherokee craftspeople, British settlers in America, imperial officials, Chinese ceramicists, and British manufacturers from the early colonial period through the disruptive Revolution and even up to the commemoration of the Roanoke Colony in 1985.

Along the way are geological samples, teapots, formal portraits, classical vases, and the c.1780 medallion above which shows, of course, George Washington.

Monday, January 17, 2022

“We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt”

Here’s a passage from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 that doesn’t get quoted as often as other passages:
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
In the latter part of the speech, improvised from remarks he had given before, King returned to the U.S. of A.’s Founding documents when he said:
I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream–one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.”
Americans opposed to King’s demands for equality called him anti-American. But quotations like these show that he was deeply invested in his country’s Founding ideals, as much as or more than his opponents.

We see Americans making similar demands for equality today, and being called the same name. Like King, today’s activists are challenging American society to live up to its professed values.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Victory on Battle Road

The latest issue of Discover Concord magazine includes an article by one of our region’s most knowledgeable and experienced public interpreters of the Revolutionary War, Ranger Jim Hollister of Minute Man National Historical Park.

In just two pages (with handsome photographs) this article tackles the question of who won the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Ranger Jim begins:
On the surface this may seem simple. The colonists were able to keep most of their military supplies safely out of British hands. The British soldiers then suffered heavy casualties during their retreat to Boston where they were trapped and besieged.

However, though things certainly did not go the way they wanted, did the British Army actually lose on April 19, 1775? The answer depends upon how you define victory.
The article then examines the mission from the British point of view, quoting Gen. Thomas Gage’s orders, Humphrey Bland’s military manual, and the accounts of officers like Capt. John Barker and Lt. Frederick Mackenzie. The popular view of the event doesn’t really take British perspectives into account, not least because many of those sources weren’t available as the American version cemented.

Another aspect of the battle is that, as those early lines of the article say, the provincials’ primary objective was to keep hold of their military supplies. The Committee of Safety had established a policy of “opposing” an army expedition into the countryside, but did that mean stopping the column from returning to Boston?

In that respect the militia regiments were like the proverbial dog chasing a car. Imagine that dog is successful—what would it do with a car? Likewise, no one in Massachusetts had made any plans about what to do with a few hundred captured soldiers. People had to improvise fast when they ended up with a couple dozen.

Had the provincials made a concerted effort to cut off the British troops, they might have succeeded. But those militiamen would certainly have suffered more casualties, put nearby property and civilian lives at risk, and prompted a stronger response from the Crown. They might well have lost the moral upper hand, so important in the following weeks, and they could even have ended up suffering a demoralizing defeat. By eking out a partial success in leading the redcoats back to safety, Col. Percy might have left both sides in stronger positions.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Franklin’s Lost Comments about His Armonica

Michael Hillegas (1729-1804) was one of Benjamin Franklin’s colleagues in Philadelphia. Son of immigrants from Germany, he became a merchant, then invested in refining both sugar and iron.

In 1775 the Continental Congress appointed Hillegas one of its two treasurers. The other, George Clymer, became a delegate to the Congress the next year, leaving Hillegas as the sole treasurer until 1789. 

Hillegas was an early member of Franklin’s American Philosophical Society, and he had a particular interest in music. Sources say he played the flute and violin, and he ran a shop offering musical instruments, printed music, staff paper, strings, and lessons.

Sometime in the late 1760s Hillegas asked his friend Franklin to send him that new glass instrument, the glassy-chord or armonica. Unfortunately, when it arrived, some of the glass bowls were broken, and in January 1769 Franklin promised to order replacement parts.

By November nothing had arrived, so Hillegas reminded Franklin of his request in a letter that also asked about other things. Franklin wrote back on 17 Mar 1770.

Some of those letters between Franklin and Hillegas no longer survive, but Hillegas and his nineteenth-century descendants made the documents now lost available to scholars.

The earliest publication of Franklin’s 17 Mar 1770 letter was in Mathew Carey’s American Museum, or, Universal Magazine in 1790. The same text appeared in William Temple Franklin’s 1817 set The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin. That transcription contained a single paragraph about what sort of metal plates different European nationalities were using on their roofs. (Ah, the Enlightenment!)

In 1859, however, the Historical Magazine printed a longer text of what it said was the same letter. This transcription appears to have been made from the original since the article is prefaced with this comment:

The original of the following letters from Benjamin Franklin to Michael Hillegas, Esq., were found among the papers of the late Mr. Henry Kuhl, of this city, a son-in-law of Mr. Hillegas. Mr. Hillegas was an alderman of Philadelphia, and a prominent citizen.

W. D.
The paragraph printed in 1859 but not in 1790 or 1817 reads:
Charles James, who undertook to provide your Glasses, and the only Workman here acquainted with such Matters, was a very negligent, dilatory Man, and put me off from time to time. At length he died suddenly. And those who succeed him in the Shop cannot find the Directions. They were in your Letter which I left with him and I have no Copy. So I think you cannot do better than to go to my House and suit yourself out of the Glasses I left there. If you get one of the proper Size but too sharp, Mr. [Francis] Hopkinson will show you how to grind it down, tho’ it were a Note or two.
Obviously, that paragraph is significant in the history of Franklin’s glassy-chord/armonica. It also shows a less flattering side of the inventor, his annoyance at not receiving his order simply because the skilled artisan he relied on had died. Supply-chain problems!

Now we get into the mysteries of modern editorial practices. The current Papers of Benjamin Franklin project, as digitized at its own website and at the National Archives’ Founders Online, includes only the first paragraph of Franklin’s 17 Mar 1770 letter, quoted from The American Magazine. The paragraph about the late armonica builder is nowhere to be seen.

However, the Franklin Papers cites the Historical Magazine transcription as a source about the making of the armonica, even quoting from the missing second paragraph. At some points the Papers editors deemed the Historical Magazine transcription to be reliable, but they didn’t reprint the entire text.

The Franklin Papers’ truncated quotation of the second paragraph has proved misleading. The original sentences make clear that Franklin’s glassblower “died suddenly” before he could complete the order. The editors’ summary is ambiguous about who died, the artisan or the friend who was supposed to receive the instrument (i.e., Hillegas). William Zeitler at the thorough website glassarmonica.com guessed that the intended recipient died instead of the glassblower.

Now it’s possible that I’ve missed some explanation or supplemental material in the Papers of Benjamin Franklin because I’m relying on the electronic versions rather than the printed volumes. But for the sake of glassy-chord scholars everywhere, I’m making noise about the Historical Magazine transcription.

Friday, January 14, 2022

How Franklin Rebranded His Musical Invention

Rob Scallon’s long and lively video about his visit to musician Dennis James prompted me to look up more information about the glass instrument they played.

The first evidence of this new invention appeared in the Bristol Journal newspaper on 12 Jan 1762, as reprinted elsewhere:
The celebrated glassy-chord, invented by Mr. [Benjamin] Franklin of Philadelphia: who has greatly improved the musical glasses, and formed them into a compleat instrument to accompany the voice; capable of a thorough bass, and never out of tune.

Miss Davies from London, was to perform in the month of January, several favourite airs, English, Scotch and Italian, on the Glassychord (being the only one of the Kind that has yet been produced) accompanied occasionally with the voice and the German Flute.
The performer was Marianne Davies (1744–1816?). Her parents were musicians, and she had been on the stage since the age of seven, singing and playing the harpsichord and flute. In July 1762, Davies and her father entertained an audience that included envoys from the Cherokee nation.

Around the same time, on 13 July 1762, Franklin wrote a long letter to Father Giambatista Beccaria, a professor of physics in Turin, introducing his invention. But he didn’t use the term “glassy-chord”:
Perhaps, however, it may be agreeable to you, as you live in a musical country, to have an account of the new instrument lately added here to the great number that charming science was before possessed of: As it is an instrument that seems peculiarly adapted to Italian music, especially that of the soft and plaintive kind, I will endeavour to give you such a description of it, and of the manner of constructing it, that you, or any one of your friends may be enabled to imitate it, if you incline so to do, without being at the expence and trouble of the many experiments I have made in endeavouring to bring it to its present perfection. . . .

The advantages of this instrument are, that its tones are incomparably sweet beyond those of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by stronger or weaker pressures of the finger, and continued to any length; and that the instrument, being once well tuned, never again wants tuning.

In honour of your musical language, I have borrowed from it the name of this instrument, calling it the Armonica.
We thus call Franklin’s instrument an armonica rather than a “glassy-chord.” (But from now on I’m always going to think of the original name.)

TOMORROW: A missing source?

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Face of Esek Hopkins

To get back to my original point about the American Revolution Institute essay on a print issued in London in 1776, shown here is the same publisher’s portrait of Continental Navy commander Esek Hopkins.

This digital copy comes via the New York Public Library’s very helpful images collection.

As I noted two days ago, the London publisher Thomas Hart didn’t exist. Some other portraits of American leaders in the same series are clearly not based on actually looking at the men they claimed to depict.

Thus, we should be quite dubious that this image shows Esek Hopkins rather than any other white man on the planet. And thus skeptical that Hopkins, who would turn sixty in 1778, had a round face, dark hair, cleft chin, and other features visible here.

Yet if we look for other images of Hopkins, such as on this fine website about the Gaspée affair or this webpage from the U.S. Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command wing, we find pictures clearly based on what Thomas Hart published.

One exceptional portrait on the U.S. Navy site is captioned:
Line engraving published in the Hibernian Magazine, Dublin, Ireland, August 1776. As with most contemporary Hibernian Magazine portraits, this is probably a purely fanciful representation of the subject. The engraver also provided an incorrect forename for Hopkins.
This portrayal is close enough to the Hart print that one could reasonably decide the two pictures show the same man. But if so, that man still probably wasn’t Hopkins.

In fact, only one image of Hopkins appears to have been created by an artist who actually knew him. That’s the infamous “Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam” painting by John Greenwood. (The Gaspée website includes a detail from this image on its Hopkins page as an alternative view.)

Greenwood wasn’t the greatest portraitist, and in this painting he put his effort into creating a broad scene of revelry rather than representing the precise facial features of every person involved.

Nonetheless, heirs of the man who commissioned and owned this picture understood that Greenwood had depicted some particular individuals, Rhode Islanders who traded in Surinam. Those identifications were written down in 1878 and published in Rhode Island History in 1977.

According to that tradition, “The gentleman on the far side of the table wearing a tricorn hat and blue coat with red facing is said to be Esek Hopkins. . . . Esek would have been about 40 when Greenwood painted the picture” in the late 1750s.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty involved, but the image of Commodore Esek Hopkins that we have the best reason to rely on is actually this one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A Closer Look at the Gages

The main thrust of the American Revolution Institute blog posting I pointed to yesterday concerns the subject of the engraving titled “The Hero returned from Boston.”

This print says it was published in London on 7 Sept 1776 by Thomas Hart. Hart didn’t exist, the image bears signs of having been produced in Augsburg, and there’s probably no way to confirm the date.

Regardless, someone went to the trouble of engraving this picture of a woman, her gown flowing and one breast bared, kissing a gentleman holding a sword. Which meant someone believed there would be public demand for such a print. And it all had something to do with Boston around 1776.

The blog post posits:
The man in the print bears a casual resemblance to General Thomas Gage as portrayed by John Singleton Copley in 1768. Gage had commissioned the portrait and when it was complete, sent it home to England. “The Generals Picture was received at home with universal applause,” one of Gage’s aides [John Small] reported to Copley in 1770, “and Looked on by real good Judges as a Masterly performance. It is placed in one of the Capital Apartments of Lord Gage’s house in Arlington Street.”
Gage then commissioned a portrait of his wife, Margaret. Copley painted her in an unusual pose and garments, probably evoking her family roots in eastern Europe. The blog post elaborates:
Part of the attraction of turquerie was that it was sexually suggestive without being lewd. In Copley’s portrait Mrs. Gage is not wearing a corset and reclines in her loose fitting clothes. Copley called it “beyond Compare the best Lady’s portrait I ever Drew.” Proud of the portrait, the Gages packed it off to London, where it created a mild sensation when it was displayed.
In January 1773, Benjamin West told Copley: “the portrait of Mrs Gage as a picture has received every praise from the lovers of arts. her Friends did not think the likeness so favourable as they could wish, but Honour’d it as a pice of art.”

Thus, people in London had seen and discussed the Gages’ portraits. They had seen the Gages themselves in 1774, when the general assured King George III that he could bring Massachusetts back under control. They had followed the news from Boston as the conflict got worse. They had seen Gov. Gage return defeated after the outbreak of war and the costly Battle of Bunker Hill, his wife preceding him by a few weeks.

I find that interpretation of “The Hero returned from Boston” as a lampoon of the Gages convincing. In addition to the points in the blog post, the man in the print grips his sword the same way Copley’s general grips his cane. The engraver didn’t show Gage in uniform, but that might have been a satirical step too far, and Gage no longer had a military command, anyway.

The last section of the blog post discusses the supposition that Margaret Gage sympathized with the rebels and even disclosed her husband’s plans to them. Ultimately the author discards that idea (citing some of my own writing on the subject). Along the way the essay acknowledges counterarguments, however, and this passage caught my eye:
A local guest at one of the Gage’s parties attended by British officers wrote in June 1775 that “Madam Gage presided with the social adroitness and tact of a lady of a high New Jersey family . . . Yet suspicion attended this lady as not being too loyal to her husband’s party and to the King. It was hinted that the Governor was uxorious, and had no secrets from his wife, who passed word to the spies swarming outside.”
I didn’t recognize that quotation. Had I missed a source so close to Gage? I had to track this “local guest” down. And here’s what I found.

That’s not a contemporaneous statement from someone who socialized with the Gages. Rather, the historian Henry Bentley Belcher wrote those words in The First American Civil War, published in 1911, summarizing how he perceived rumors and leaks swirling around the Gage household.

What’s the source of that misinterpretation? In 2016 Deborah Gage wrote on the website for Firle Castle, the Gage family seat:
It has long been rumoured that Margaret provided Dr. [Joseph] Warren with the information that the British troops would be moving out the evening of April 19th, 1774 bound for Lexington and Concord, for example as cited in this letter written by Dr. Belcher in June 1775 ‘Entertainment at Providence House, where Madam Gage presided with the social adroitness and tact of a lady of a high New Jersey family, were crowded with uniformed men from both fleet and camp. Yet suspicion attended this lady as not being too loyal to her husband’s party and to the King. It was hinted that the Governor was uxorious, and had no secrets from his wife, who passed word to the spies swarming outside. At any rate whatever was designed in Boston was, it is alleged, known within an hour or two at Medford, at Roxbury, at Cambridge, at Brookline and in every Boston tavern.’
That quotation introduced some big errors. The governor’s mansion, Province House, became “Providence House.” Dr. Henry Bentley became “Dr. Belcher.” And, most important, a statement by a historian in 1911 was put into the pen of someone in 1775.