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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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

“The Work of Revolution” in Cambridge, 23 June

History Cambridge (previously the Cambridge Historical Society) is headquartered in the oldest of the colonial houses along what was later dubbed “Tory Row.”

Some years before the Revolution, the families in those houses were all related, and they all had ties to slave-labor plantations on Jamaica and Antigua. Most if not all of those families also had enslaved people working for them on their Cambridge estates.

History Cambridge is now hosting an art installation on its lawn titled “Forgotten Souls of Tory Row: Remembering the Enslaved People of Brattle Street.” Created by Black Coral, Inc., this artwork in glass and metal adopts the tradition of bottle trees to evoke the power of ancestors.

History Cambridge is also organizing an online panel discussion called “The Work of Revolution” on Thursday, 23 June. Its event description says:
How did unpaid labor enable the Revolutionary leaders of Cambridge to foment rebellion and to carry out the political and military duties of the War?

Although much is known about George Washington’s residency in Cambridge in the early days of the Revolution, the reality is that it was the labor of women and people of color that enabled the Continental Army to function, as well as feeding, housing, and serving both the American and British troops present in the city. By centering the work experiences of women and BIPOC during this period, we will be expanding the scope of the Revolutionary narrative and bringing to light stories that have not often been shared with a wider audience.
Prof. Robert Bellinger, professor of history and founder and director of the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, will lead the discussion.

History Cambridge has invited me to be part of this panel, talking about what we know of the people who tended Gen. George Washington’s headquarters in the years 1775 and 1776.

The general brought some enslaved workers from Mount Vernon with him, including his body servant William Lee. Martha Washington probably brought more. Washington also employed a free black woman named Margaret Thomas, as well as a family and a teenager burned out of their homes in Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill. 

Though Tory Row was a place of slavery in those years, it soon became a place of liberation. While in Cambridge, Washington was convinced to let black soldiers remain in the Continental Army. The absence of the Loyalist homeowners, shifting mores, and a change in Massachusetts law meant the people enslaved on “Tory Row” had a good chance to become free by the end of the war.

The “Work of Revolution” discussion is scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M. Register at this page.

There will be a public celebration of the “Forgotten Souls” artwork on 16 July, and a question-and-answer session with the artists on July 21. For more information, visit this page.

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