J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Return of “Redcoats and Rebels”

Next weekend Old Sturbridge Village will host its annual “Redcoats and Rebels” reenactment, usually the largest Revolutionary War event in New England.

Well, this event was annual until the pandemic. This is the first time it will be held since 2019.

Both Saturday and Sunday will offer:
  • Mock battles and skirmishes
  • Tours of the British and American camps
  • Cannon demonstrations
  • Musket drilling with kids
  • Martial music
  • Drilling and inspection of the troops
  • Episodes in the daily life of a Revolutionary War soldier, including delivery of uniforms, pay, and prisoners
The museum village, which represents life around 1830, will also be open as usual.

The encampment will be open on Saturday, 6 August, from 9:30 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. On Sunday, the museum buildings and camps will be open 9:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

Standard admission or O.S.V. membership gets you into the village and the encampment. An adult paying the regular admission fee of $28 can bring up to three kids aged 4 to 17 and any number of kids aged 3 and under for free.

The museum asks people to buy their tickets in advance through this page, designating approximately what time they will arrive. That will help spread out the number of visitors them crowded together in the visitor center during the day. Most of the “Redcoats and Rebels” activities will take place outside.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Two Captains and the “disagreeable necessity” of Money

In the eighteenth-century British army, officers were expected to pay their predecessors when they were promoted into a new rank.

Thus, a captain might retire while receiving £750 from an ambitious lieutenant, who in turn would receive £300 from an ensign, whose father would pay £200 to get him into the army in the first place.

Since the captain had paid his own predecessor, he thought receiving £750 was only fair. And this system promised officers some money for their retirement. Of course, it also limited the officers’ ranks to men with wealth—which that society saw as a Good Thing. No matter that some competent officers languished without promotions for years because they couldn’t scrape up the cash.

A similar system appears to have taken hold in the East India Company maritime service, even though the corporation didn’t like it. (Probably because it wasn’t receiving a cut of the money changing hands.)

At the British Library blog, curator Margaret Makepeace just highlighted the case of Capt. James Munro of the East India Company’s fleet. Munro had gone to sea in 1766 at the age of ten, serving under his uncle William Smith [yes, another one] on the Houghton. By 1778 he was second mate, and by 1782 he was sailing to China on the York.

Makepeace writes:
In 1782 James Monro succeeded his uncle William Smith as captain of the Houghton, making four voyages to China and India before resigning and passing the command to Robert Hudson in 1792. Captains were appointed by the ship owners and approved by the East India Company . . .

In April 1792, William Smith wrote to his nephew, addressing him as ‘Dear Jim’. Smith understood that Monro had sold the command of the Houghton for 8,000 guineas, having paid him £4,000 for it. Although Monro had not promised him anything, Smith thought he should receive half the profit. Smith claimed that he could have sold his command at a far higher price, perhaps as much as £7,000, but he had his nephew’s interest too much at heart to consider such offers. He regretted the ‘disagreeable necessity’ of speaking his mind.

James Monro’s reply began ‘My dear Sir’. He felt that he was being put in a very unpleasant position, and put forward his side as he would to someone not related.

Monro was away on board the York when it was decided that he should succeed as commander of the new Houghton which was being built to replace Smith’s ship. On his return to England he was told to pay Smith £4,000. He had no idea that any future demand would be made on him until a chance conversation with his uncle some time later.

Both the East India Company and the owners had been trying to lessen the price given for ships, or to prevent totally the sale of commands. If they had succeeded, would Smith have refunded part of his £4,000? Smith had not paid for his own command but had received interest on Monro’s £4,000 for ten years.

Monro had always thought to offer his uncle £1,000 when he sold the command. He would cheerfully give him 1,000 guineas and nothing more need be said.
I should note that 1,000 guineas was 5% more than £1,000—though still far less than half the difference between what Capt. Munro had paid his uncle Capt. Smith ten years before and what he had received from his successor.

Did the two captains work this out and maintain friendly family relations? See Makepeace’s article here.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Changes in the Landscaping

In 1699 the first Duke of Devonshire commissioned a formal garden for his seat at Chatsworth, including a large expanse called the “great parterre.”

About thirty years later, the third Duke of Devonshire had that area replaced with a more fashionable lawn with simpler pathways at the edges.

This month Europe went through a record-breaking heat wave. Among the effects, the sunlight parched the grass at Chatsworth, particularly the grass planted on the thinner layers of soil where paths once lay. Other parts of the lawn remained greener, having deeper soil to grow in. As a result, the footprint of the great parterre reemerged, as the B.B.C. reports.

Many news outlets running photographs of this landscape stated that it was the first time people could see the outlines of the older design in three hundred years. But the B.B.C. reported that the same thing happened in 2018. That’s what climate change produces: once-rare meteorological events become more common.

Back in 2018 the B.B.C. also reported how the heat had caused the footprint of the eighteenth-century mansion Clumber House in Nottinghamshire to reappear as buried foundation stones caused the ground to scorch.

Clumber House was largely commissioned by the second Duke of Newscastle-under-Lyne in the 1760s, nephew of two prime ministers. This duke was one of the principal patrons of Gen. Henry Clinton during the American War. Late in 1783 he agreed to a request from George III to order the six Members of Parliament under his control to support William Pitt the Younger as prime minister.

Clumber House suffered a series of fires in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the dukes eventually decided to tear down the mansion and sell the land to pay debts. The mansion footprint is now in a National Trust park, and the dukedom is extinct.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

“A little packet of brown crumbly leaves”

One detail of the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum’s bio for Obadiah Curtis doesn’t derive from the Curtis family history published in 1869.

Records of Some of the Descendants of William Curtis, Roxbury, 1632 says nothing about the family preserving any of the East India Company’s tea. (Which is odd if the family was in fact proudly preserving such a sample.)

Likewise, there’s no mention of Curtis family tea in Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves (1884) or The Crafts Family (1893), two other detail-oriented books that profiled Obadiah Curtis.

Instead, the earliest public mention of that tea might be Tom Halsted’s 13 June 2010 article at the Huffington Post (updated 25 May 2011).

Halsted is a descendant of Obadiah and Martha Curtis. After discussing the Boston Tea Party in comparison to the Tea Party political movement provoked by the election of Barack Obama, he wrote:
Old Obadiah did not comply fully with the strict rules of behavior laid down by the Tea Party leaders: my mother, who died at 99 in 2006, recalled as a child being shown a little packet of brown crumbly leaves, kept with other treasures on the mantelpiece at her grandparents’ Boston home, which was said to be a pinch of the tea Obadiah had not shaken out of his shoes that December night, and had proudly preserved so his descendants would know he too had been at the Boston Tea Party.

Sad to say, when the last family occupants of the house died in 1974, Obadiah’s packet of tea was no longer anywhere to be found.
The Tea Party Ships’ bio says, “Descendants of Curtis still own the small bag of tea today.” So it’s possible that the sample was found again. Or that Halsted’s update to his article came after going back and discovering no one had seen the little packet for decades.

And it’s possible that pinch of tea had nothing to do with the Boston Tea Party, but was displayed in Colonial Revival Boston to inspire the grandchildren.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

“A gentleman who was addressed by the name of Curtis”

I’ve been analyzing the traditions among Obadiah Curtis’s descendants that he participated in the Boston Tea Party and that he and his wife Martha provided hard cash for Benedict Arnold’s trek to Québec.

The 1869 Curtis family history immediately followed its sentence about financing Arnold’s expedition with this one:
Mr. Curtis became so obnoxious to the British authorities, that he was obliged to remove with his family to Providence, where he remained till after the evacuation of Boston.
Readers might well infer a cause-and-effect relationship between the two sentences—i.e., that the Curtises’ donation for Arnold’s expedition (launched in September 1775) led to their leaving Boston for Rhode Island.

That book then went on to quote (imperfectly) from the memoirs of Ebenezer Fox (shown above), which were first published in 1838. But the family chronicler turned a blind eye to an important detail of that book.

Fox described himself as a boy running away from Roxbury to Rhode Island starting on the night of 18–19 Apr 1775. When he got to Providence, he spotted Obadiah Curtis:
In the course of my perambulations I went into the market-house, and while there I saw a gentleman who was addressed by the name of Curtis. He was habited according to the fashion of gentlemen of those days; a three-cornered hat, a club wig, a long coat of ample dimensions that appeared to have been made with reference to future growth; breeches with large buckles, and shoes fastened in the same manner, completed his dress.

His face appeared familiar to me, and, feeling some interest in him, I was induced to make inquiries respecting him, and found that his christian name was Obadiah; and that he had lately removed from Boston to Providence. With this gentleman an aunt of mine, a sister of my mother, had lived in Boston, and I thought it probable that she might have removed to Providence with his family.
The timing of Fox’s story means Curtis must have been settled in Rhode Island before the war broke out, and thus well before Arnold proposed his mission to Canada.

The Curtises may indeed have felt unsafe after British troops arrived in Boston in May 1774. If Curtis was really involved in the Tea Party, he might have sought a safer home in Rhode Island, as John Crane and Ebenezer Stevens reportedly did. Or Obadiah and Martha Curtis may have just seen better business opportunities in a port that Parliament hadn’t closed.

Still, the credibility of the family history would be stronger if the author hadn’t overlooked the implications of the very evidence he quoted.

TOMORROW: The Curtis family tea.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

“Mr. and Mrs. Curtis loaned their specie to the Colony”

Continuing my analysis of what an 1869 family history said about Obadiah Curtis (1724–1811), I reach the statement:
When the expedition against Canada was fitted out under Arnold, Mr. and Mrs. Curtis loaned their specie to the Colony, and took their pay in Continental paper.
That sentence appears to be the ultimate basis for this statement on the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum website:
He was also a personal aid to General Arnold and assisted him on his expedition to Canada.
Readers might reasonably interpret those words to mean Obadiah Curtis was an aide de camp to Benedict Arnold and accompanied him across Maine to Québec. And that would be mistaken.

Arnold was a colonel, not a general, during his 1775 expedition to Canada. He therefore didn’t have the budget for aides. The muster rolls listing all the men on that mission, published by Stephen Darley in Voices from a Wilderness Expedition, don’t include Obadiah Curtis.

That’s because Curtis spent the siege in Rhode Island, not in the Continental Army. The Curtis family claimed that their ancestors aided Arnold with money, not that Obadiah was a military aid(e) or was “on his expedition to Canada.”

But is it true that, “When the expedition against Canada was fitted out under Arnold,” Obadiah and Martha Curtis loaned specie to the colony of Massachusetts? Arnold’s expedition was funded by Gen. George Washington as commander-in-chief from Continental funds. Though specie was always in short supply in the British colonies, there was no special collection for the Canada mission, and a couple living in Providence would be an odd source to tap.

We do know that Obadiah Curtis loaned money to the state of Massachusetts sometime between 1777 and 1779. He is listed (along with hundreds of other people) in an 1899 publication of the Massachusetts D.A.R. titled Honor Roll of Massachusetts Patriots Heretofore Unknown. That loan was supposed to pay 6% interest, though of course inflation of paper currency and the need for cash caused problems for the lenders.

I’m guessing that the Curtises’ decision to risk some of their savings on risky war bonds was remembered within the family, and Arnold’s celebrated mission got attached later.

It’s notable that the family tradition credited both Obadiah and Martha Curtis with this financial action, though officially the loan came from him. Both Curtises died in 1811, her a few months earlier, so that recollection was not the result of descendants hearing stories from the widow. Martha came from a wealthy Framingham family and ran a store in the South End, so she was probably involved in, if not the manager of, the family finances.

TOMORROW: Obadiah Curtis in Rhode Island.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Obadiah Curtis and the Tea Party of 1773

The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum has a program of marking the graves of people linked to the Boston Tea Party, however tenuously.

Usually when news of an upcoming ceremony comes out, I look into the person’s life. The Tea Party tie isn’t always convincing, but there can be an interesting story, like Elisha Horton’s political struggles in Connecticut in 1806.

On 2 August the museum plans to decorate the tomb of Obadiah Curtis in Newton, so I looked up what its website says about him:
Curtis, a wheelwright in the Boston area, was born in 1724 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He was one of the older participants of the Boston Tea Party. Obadiah did not strictly comply with the rules of the tea protest set forth by its leaders within the Masons and Sons of Liberty. Curtis kept a pinch of tea as a souvenir, making it into a teabag. Descendants of Curtis still own the small bag of tea today. He was also a personal aid to General [Benedict] Arnold and assisted him on his expedition to Canada. Curtis died in 1811, at the age of 87.
Obadiah Curtis’s name does appear on one contemporaneous document preserved from the tea crisis. He was among the Boston militiamen who patrolled the docks after the Dartmouth arrived to ensure no tea was brought ashore. That was on 30 November, two weeks before the Tea Party.

Volunteering to patrol certainly shows Curtis felt some commitment to keeping the tea tax from being paid. But he wasn’t described as actually helping to destroy the cargo in his 1811 death notice. His name didn’t appear on the first published list of tea destroyers in 1835.

The earliest claim that Curtis was part of the Tea Party that I could find appeared in a family history, Records of Some of the Descendants of William Curtis, Roxbury, 1632, compiled from the notes of Catherine C. Curtis by Samuel Clarke in 1869. It says:
He was a wheelwright by trade, and settled in Boston after his second marriage, and his wife [Martha] opened a store at the corner of Rawson’s lane (now Bromfield street) and Newbury street, for the sale of British goods, and accumulated a handsome estate. . . .

Mr. and Mrs. Curtis were staunch patriots, and he was said to have been one of the “tea party” in 1773. His nephew Philip Curtis was apprenticed to his uncle, and he used to relate that on that memorable 5th of November, he followed the crowd, among whom was his uncle, to Mr. [John] Hancock’s house, where they assumed their disguises; that he followed his uncle and the crowd to the wharf, where he saw them board the ship and destroy the tea.
I’ve found some of Catherine Curtis’s stories hold up to scrutiny, and some don’t. In this case, there are big red flags flapping from the story Philip Curtis told. To start with, the Tea Party didn’t take place “on that memorable 5th of November”—that was Pope Night. The tea was destroyed on 16 December.

There’s also no corroboration of a large crowd disguising themselves at Hancock’s mansion. In fact, Hancock took care to remain in public view at the Old South Meeting-House while the tea destruction began, giving himself an alibi. 

TOMORROW: More details about Obadiah Curtis.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

“Rather optimum conditions for a mid-June day”

Yesterday I visited the reenactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill hosted by the American Heritage Museum in Hudson.

Today the whole thing happens again, and it’s supposed to be even warmer. Far warmer than the actual battle.

In The Weather Factor (1984), David Ludlum collected meteorological observations from 1775 and wrote:
As in the case of many other summertime battles fought long ago, the tradition gradually grew that it took place on “a very hot day.” A historian in 1788 declared the day of Bunker Hill was “exceeding hot.” Another, writing in 1833, told his readers, “The Battle of Bunker’s Hill, it will be recollected, was fought on one of the hottest days ever known in this country.”

To set the record straight, the engagement now known as the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on the afternoon of June 17, 1775, under rather optimum conditions for a mid-June day—the ground was dry, the sky was clear, the temperature was warm but not excessively so, and the air was still relatively dry, though growing more humid hourly.

If the action had taken place a day or two later, conditions would have been much warmer, more humid, and the atmosphere more uncomfortable for the participants.
The first author Ludlum corrected was the Rev. William Gordon in his History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America.

The second quotation came from Catherine R. Williams’s life of Stephen Olney of Rhode Island, paired with a similar life story in Biography of Revolutionary Heroes in 1839. Because the Rhode Island troops were then stationed on the southern wing of the siege lines, Olney was not actually involved in the battle.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

“Playing with a loaded Gun”

In the same 14 Dec 1772 issue of the Fleet brothersBoston Evening-Post that I mentioned yesterday, just above the rumors about Rhode Island, were two stories of firearms deaths.

Longtime Boston 1775 readers might remember when we discussed the pseudo-historian David Barton’s offhand claim that there were almost no firearms accidents in the Founding era. We found a lot.

Here are two more:
We hear from Springfield, that two Lads about 10 Years of Age, playing with a loaded Gun, one of them shot the other in the Groin, and mortally wounded him, so that he died within two Hours after.
The identical item had appeared in the Boston News-Letter on 10 December, pushing back the date of the event a few days. I looked in Springfield’s vital records for a death that matched this report and didn’t find one. It’s possible that the news came from Springfield but the boys lived in a nearby town. In any case, kids, don’t play with guns.

The Fleets went on to print:
We hear from East Hampton, on Long Island, that on Monday the 30th of November, being Training Day there, as the Company were discharging their Muskets, in order to break up, a young Man, named Osborne, thinking to make a louder Explosion than the rest, spat into the Muzzle of his Gun, & struck the Breech against the Ground, when she went off, and the whole Charge enter’d at his left Eye, and blow’d his Brains out; he expir’d in a few Minutes after.
Some internet research brought up not only the the name of this militiaman but his grave, shown above.

East Hampton, New York’s vital records state that on 30 Nov 1772 “Jedediah Osborn, Junr., was shot to Death.” The gravestone reads, per an issue of the New England Historic and Genealogical Register:
This Monument Erected
by Col. Gardner, Capt.
Mulford Lieut. Dayton &
their Soldiers, is in
Memory of Jedediah
Osborn, who was Kill’d
by the Discharge of his
Gun, Novr. 30th. 1772 in
the 21st. Year of his Age.
How sudden was my Death
Life is but fleeting Breath
The colonel was probably Thomas Gardiner. There were too many Mulfords and Daytons active in the Long Island militia in 1776, a year for which records are published, for me to name the other officers.

Whoever the officers were, it’s clear that they felt very bad seeing Jedediah kill himself, evidently just hoping for some fun. Some of those other men might also have been competing to make the loudest noise. This was the sort of militia training hijinks that Timothy Pickering warned about.

Also, though the story of Osborn’s death made the newspapers in neighboring states, the embarrassing circumstances were kept out of the official record and not carved in stone. Local tradition now says he was “a Revolutionary War soldier killed by friendly fire.” This may be the first time the newspaper item and gravestone are tied back together.

(The image of the Osborn gravestone above comes from B.S.A. Troop 298 via Find a Grave.)

Friday, July 22, 2022

“We shall not fail of informing our readers thereof”

Prof. Carl Robert Keyes, a historian of print culture and advertising at Assumption University, alerted me to a free database of the Maryland Gazette during the Revolutionary period, courtesy of that state’s government.

That made me think back on my look at newspapers that George Washington might have read at Mount Vernon at the start of 1773. [And looking back made me realize that posting had never posted while I was traveling last week, but it’s up now.]

The Virginia Gazettes carried only the barest news about the Crown’s investigation into the Gaspée affair. In contrast, the Pennsylvania Journal reprinted incendiary reports and commentary New England. What did Anne Catherine Green (shown here) and her son Frederick tells readers of their Maryland Gazette?

Their 31 December issue didn’t mention the Gaspée by name anywhere. But it reprinted items from the 14 December Boston Evening-Post, including:
Last Thursday evening an express came to town from New-York (which left that place the Sunday morning before) with dispatches brought thither by the Cruizer sloop of war, Capt. [Tyringham] Howe, who sailed from English the beginning of September, destined to this port; but meeting with bad weather, &c., was obliged to put away for South-Carolina, where he arrived the 10th of November, and has since got to New-York.

In consequence of the above dispatches, the Lizard frigate, Capt. [Charles] Inglish, with some of the armed schooners, which lay unrigged in this harbour, received orders from the admiral on Saturday morning to be immediately fitted for the sea, and accordingly before night were equipped ready for sailing, with a design (as we are told) to repair to Lord Hillsborough’s loyal colony of Rhode-Island.

The same morning an express set off from hence for New-York, with like orders for the Arethusa to sail for the same place, and letters to Gen. [Thomas] Gage and Governor [William] Tryon. Another express was sent to Capt. [Robert] Keeler, commander of the Mercury frigate at Newport: but the consequence of this unexpected naval manoeuvre we must leave for time to discover; though should any thing of importance transpire, further than that his Majesty’s ships lay this winter in the harbour of Newport with the same security from storms and tempests that they have hitherto done in that of Boston, we shall not fail of informing our readers thereof.

It is also further said, that two regiments are to be sent to Rhode-Island from New-York; and that a motion was intended to be made at the next session of Parliament to have the charter of that colony vacated.
These paragraphs suggested that the British military, both navy and army, was converging on little Rhode Island, and that Parliament was even going to change its constitution.

And for what? With no mention of smugglers attacking H.M.S. Gaspée, these measures looked even more tyrannical.

Of course, none of that happened. But rumors like these both reflected and raised the political tensions in North America, and perhaps at Mount Vernon.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

“Their belief that the peace was not the king’s to keep”

Lisa Ford’s The King's Peace: Law and Order in the British Empire was published last year by Harvard University Press. It looks at changes in how the British government sought to keep the peace in its empire by changing its fundamental rules.

Ford built the book around five case studies, starting in the province of Massachusetts and then moving on to Canada, Jamaica, Bengal, and New South Wales.

In a review for H-Net (P.D.F. download), Dana Rabin writes:
Boston’s Liberty Riot in 1768 illustrates the disorders faced by agents of empire in the run up to the American Revolution. Riot and threats of violence from white colonists revealed the weakness of the Crown and the powerlessness of the king’s agents to enforce the peace. Residents of Massachusetts justified their intimidation and threats of violence with their belief that the peace was not the king’s to keep but rather that of white, Protestant men in the name of the people. Ford calls this “the end of empire.”

The book proceeds to reconstruct what Ford considers the ramifications of the American Revolution to the legal history of empire, attributing to Parliament and British colonial officials a new resolve to buttress the king’s power and prerogative against similar future threats. In the period after the American Revolution, the Crown accrued great powers by Acts of Parliament that increased the power of governors and decreased the power of legislative bodies or eliminated them entirely. Judges appointed by the Crown and supervised from London enhanced Crown control over colonial legal systems. The Crown’s expanded power was often framed as a duty to protect.

The focus of chapter 2 is Quebec where white Protestant men again resisted the military rule installed upon British victory in the city in 1759. British Protestant merchants resented any limits to their participation in the fur trade and objected to any concession of rights to French Catholics. Ford argues that in response to their ungovernability and Catholic vulnerability, the Quebec Act of 1774 created a Crown colony in Quebec, granting the governor expanded powers to rule without a legislative body. Even after the creation of the elected assemblies of Upper and Lower Canada in 1791, legislation was subject to the approval of an appointed upper house and gubernatorial veto.
Starting in the 1760s, Massachusetts Whigs feared that Parliament wanted to take more control over the colony. British leaders felt that Massachusetts was trying to operate outside of legal bounds. With each new law, the Whigs felt their warnings were vindicated. With each new resolution or riot protesting a new law, London administrators felt their wish for stronger authority was vindicated. The result was a spiral of resentment and suspicion that no one could resolve.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

“Extensive swamps of bitumen”

Yesterday I visited the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, which occasions this short posting about events far from New England.

While Bostonians spent 1769 continuing to complain about British soldiers stationed in town, the Spanish official Gaspar de Portola led an expedition north from Mexico.

On 3 August the Franciscan friar Juan Crespi wrote in his diary of that journey:

We proceeded for three hours on a good road; to the right were extensive swamps of bitumen which is called chapapote.

We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes.
The locals who had made that “good road” had used the tar for thousands of years to waterproof baskets, mend pottery, decorate jewelry, and more. But this was the first time Europeans had seen the tar pits.

In 1781, the year that the British, American, and French forces fought the decisive siege of Yorktown, Gov. De Portola founded a colonial settlement called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles.

That settlement grew into the city of Los Angeles. It contained the tar pits, which locals continued to mine for building material, then to drill for oil, and now explore for fossils and host countless school field trips.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Old Subjects vs. New Subjects in Canada

From Mark R. Anderson’s article on Borealia, I learned that the population of Canada in 1775 was divided between “new subjects” and “old subjects.”

Confusingly, the “new subjects” were the French inhabitants who had lived in the province the longest, starting before the British won it in the Seven Years’ War. They were newly subject to the rule of George III.

The “old subjects” were the new Canadians, people of British descent who had come to the province from other parts of the British Empire in hopes of enjoying commercial and political privileges.

The Quebec Act of 1774 granted the “new subjects” more political and especially religious authority than the “old subjects” had hoped the francophones would have, simply on the basis of being more numerous and experienced in the province.

That law prompted protests in New England, such as the Suffolk Resolves, but also protests in Montréal, as Anderson describes:
On the morning of May 1, 1775, the very day that the historic Quebec Act entered effect, Montrealers discovered this shocking vandalism to King George III’s marble bust, prominently displayed near Notre Dame church on the central Place d’Armes. . . .

There is evidence that the king’s bust represented more than just British rule over Canada, serving as a symbol of elite French Canadians’ embrace of the new imperial regime, too. . . . Thus, the May 1, 1775 bust defacement would presumably have been taken as an affront to the Canadien leadership class—those who benefitted most tangibly from the Quebec Act, including access to high provincial office in the appointive legislative council.

On May 2, the day after Montrealers discovered the vandalism, a crowd gathered on the Place d’Armes, awaiting a reward announcement. Two men began quarreling. Newly appointed legislative councillor Chevalier François-Marie Picoté de Belestre and merchant David Salisbury Franks raised voices, exchanged insults, and then resorted to blows. Another scuffle promptly ensued when upcountry fur trader Ezekiel Solomons struck affluent shopkeeper Charles Laferte Lepailleur for making an offensive statement.
Read the rest of “The Quebec Act, Two Fights, and Relative Subjecthood” here.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Discussing the Women in Washington’s World

In 2018, Mount Vernon hosted a symposium on the theme “‘A sensible woman can never be happy with a fool’: The Women of George Washington’s World.”

That has given rise to a collection of scholarly essays titled simply The Women of George Washington’s World, officially published later this month.

The women profiled include:
  • the first President’s mother, Mary Washington
  • his wife, Martha Washington
  • wives of significant colleagues like Margaret Arnold and Abigail Adams
  • friendly advisor Elizabeth Powel
  • poet Phillis Wheatley
  • enslaved servants Moll Judge, Ona Judge, and others
  • Ann Pamela Cunningham, the woman who preserved Mount Vernon with a nationwide fundraising campaign
The editors of this collection are Prof. Charlene M. Boyer Lewis of Kalamazoo College and George W. Boudreau of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. The book’s publisher has shared a short interview with them.

For a longer interview, Roger S. Williams will host Boyer Lewis and Boudreau in the online History Author Talks series on Tuesday, 19 July, starting at 7:00 P.M. Register to listen to this convesation live here, or check back at History Author Talks in a few days for the video.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Planning for a Presidential Center

Earlier this week the mayor of Quincy, Thomas Koch, announced the creation of a board for the nonprofit Adams Presidential Center.

This seems to be the current form of the ”Adams Presidential Library” that Koch floated last year and Boston 1775 discussed starting here.

I read articles in the Quincy Patriot Ledger and Boston Globe to try to figure out what’s changed.

A lot of this plan is still very nebulous. It’s not clear where the center will be, though two buildings near the Adams Academy are slated to be cleared away.

It’s not clear what documents or artifacts from Presidents John and John Quincy Adams would go into this building. The Adams Family Papers are at the Massachusetts Historical Society. John Quincy Adams’s book collection is at the Adams National Historical Park.

Mayor Koch has expressed a desire for John Adams’s book collection, originally willed to the town as discussed here but over one hundred years ago transfered to the Boston Public Library.

None of those institutions have showed interest in giving this “Presidential Center” large parts of those collections. Maybe a few documents or books for specific exhibits, but that still leave the new institution short of its own assets.

The Patriot-Ledger reported:
The city has spent $50,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money to hire two museum consultants: M. Goodwin Museum Planning and Luci Creative. The two contractors will work with the board members and Koch to draw up plans for a building.
In addition, the first three members of what might eventually be a board of two dozen were appointed.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

“Calm, clear, & exceeding pleasant”

In my assessment of Benjamin Galloway’s recollection of George Washington threatening to lead “the Virginia riflemen” against British troops in early 1773, I come finally to the environment of the event. Not the political environment, but the actual weather.

In 1818 Galloway stated that Lord Stirling (shown here) and Edward Foy stayed at Mount Vernon “for three or four days, the weather being very tempestuous and sleety.” His 1822 letter echoed that detail, saying the men “continued there during three days, the weather being very tempestuous and snowy.”

The sharp words from Washington to Foy must have occurred on the last evening the two men were at Mount Vernon since, per Galloway’s 1818 account:
during the remainder of the evening [Foy] observed a deathlike silence to Col. Washington. Capt. Foye and Lord Sterling departed from Mount Vernon immediately after breakfast the next morning.
The 1825 version said after the exchange Foy “turned his face immediately towards Mrs. [Martha] Washington, said a few words to her, looked very silly, and soon after requested to be showed to his chamber!” That telling didn’t mention the man’s departure from the estate, but the mood could not have been friendly.

Again, we can test the accuracy of those details. In addition to his “Where & how my time is Spent” journal, Washington also kept a weather diary. And here’s how he described the weather in the days when Galloway, Foy, and Stirling were visiting:
Jany. [1.] Calm, clear, & exceeding pleasant.

2. Calm & very pleasant in the Forenoon with Wind, Clouds, & Rain from the Southward & Eastward in the Afternoon.

3. Clear with the Wind pretty fresh first from the Southwest, & then from the Northwest. But neither Cold nor frosty.
That period wasn’t snowy at all! Maybe the rain on 2 January was enough to make Lord Stirling and Capt. Foy take advantage of Washington’s hospitality for one night, but they weren’t snowed in. Galloway’s memory was more dramatic than actual events.

Then comes the matter of Edward Foy’s movements. Washington’s diary shows Stirling and Foy arrived on 2 January and left on 4 January, not staying “three or four” says. It also offers no support for a rift with their host. In fact, Washington wrote:
4. Lord Sterling & Captn. Foy set out after Breakfast for the Northward thro Alexa. to which place I accompanied them.
The master of Mount Vernon actually went out of his way to show Capt. Foy off.

When I first read this anecdote about Washington striking his table, I was skeptical. After finding that Benjamin Galloway really did meet Foy and Stirling at Mount Vernon at the time he described, I was ready to accept his story. But the false details of the weather and Foy’s departure made me dubious again.

As a young man, Galloway might well have witnessed Washington and Foy disputing over how the royal government should deal with tax resisters in the wake of the Gaspee attack. Their words might have seemed quite heated by pre-war standards. Washington may even have clenched his false teeth and struck the table. But Galloway made the event more dramatic by 1818, with a snowstorm outside and a sudden departure. That means we shouldn’t rely on his memory of what Washington or anyone else said.

Friday, July 15, 2022

“If the burning the Gaspee schooner was a matter of serious importance…”

Benjamin Galloway was indeed at Mount Vernon on 1–5 January 1773, much as he described decades later. The evidence for that is George Washington’s own diary.

The anecdote Galloway told about Washington hinged on him reading an article from a recent newspaper, one of several fetched by William Lee from Alexandria, which described the destruction of H.M.S. Gaspee in Rhode Island.

The Gaspee was burned in June 1772, however. Would it have still been hot news in Virginia early the next year?

As I discussed back here, the initial news stories on the Gaspee affair were quite low-key, considering it was an armed attack on a Royal Navy schooner. The American Whig press didn’t make a big deal out of it, as if the event was an embarrassment.

Only one issue of the three Virginia Gazette newspapers—Purdie and Dixon’s for 9 July—carried a report of the burning. Through the end of the year, the rare follow-up items were short dispatches reporting on government actions, such as offering rewards for information and setting up an investigatory commission.

However, in December Rhode Island politicians began to write to local newspapers and to colleagues in other colonies, like Samuel Adams in Massachusetts and Richard Henry Lee in Virginia. They highlighted how that commission might send defendants and witnesses to Britain for treason trials. That would violate sacred British rights, they declared.

The 30 Dec 1772 Pennsylvania Journal joined that campaign by reprinting three separate items about the Gaspee affair from New England newspapers. Under the dateline of Boston, 17 December, printer William Bradford (shown above) combined an angry report on the commission from the 17 December Massachusetts Spy and this commentary from the 21 December Boston Gazette:
If the burning the Gaspee schooner was a matter of serious importance, much more so are the methods pursued by the British administration in consequence of it. This affair was transacted within the body of a county, in a free English government; one would think therefore it should be the subject of the inquiry of the grand jury of inquest for the same county: Instead of which we are told, that five gentlemen, four of whom are of superior rank in different colonies, the other indeed a judge of the admiralty, are appointed by commission to make the enquiry.

By a gentleman lately from Rhode-Island, we are informed, that three of these commissioners are empowered to act, at whose call the army and navy are to attend; that any persons accused, against whom the commissioners shall judge there is evidence sufficient to convict them, are to be apprehended, and together with the evidences [i.e., witnesses] sent to England for trial. And that Capt. [Robert] Keeler, of the Mercury, has notified Gov. [Joseph] Wanton, in consequence of orders, that his ship is ready to receive such persons for the purpose aforesaid.

[Boston News-Letter printer Richard] Draper tells us, that “Admiral [John] Montagu is ordered to hoist his flag in Newport harbour.” The purport of this parade is obvious to common sense. The Admiral will no doubt acquit himself to the satisfaction of his masters upon this occasion. It is said that he has recommended that those who, it is supposed, can give evidence of this matter, and refuse to do it, be put on board the men of war, and there kept until they do; which perhaps may be rather more eligible of the two, than the torture of the RACK.

The indignity offered to all the Colonies, and particularly Rhode-Island, says a gentleman of a neighbouring town in a letter to his friend in this, is not to be equalled. To have a set of crown officers commissioned by the ministry, and supported by ships and troops to enquire into offences against the crown, instead of the ordinary and constitutional method of a grand jury carries an implication that the people of that colony are all so deeply tinctured with rebellious principles, as that they are not to be trusted by the crown.

The inhabitants of this town and province can feel for their brethren of Rhode-Island, having themselves tasted of the cup of ministerial vengeance; when to aid and protect the commissioners of the customs, in carrying into execution a revenue act of the British parliament, Hillsborough’s troops were stationed in the capital, and the city turned into a garrison!—And though these troops, after slaughtering some of our innocent inhabitants, were obliged to retire from the town, they are yet posted in the principal fortress and key of the province.

What shall hinder the like scene of blood, rapine and slaughter in the capitol of Rhode-Island, if the commissions of enquiry there, should so readily call for the military aid as the commissioners of the customs did here? Such treatment of the colonies calls for the most serious attention; and however prophane it may be called by Mr. Draper’s writer the Yeoman, or his canting neighbour, we have reason with firm affiance in HIM who hateth oppression and tyranny, devoutly to acclaim, How Long!—O LORD!—How Long!
That was immediately followed by similar news from the 19 December Providence Gazette, which concluded:
The idea of seizing a number of persons, under the points of bayonets, and transporting them three thousand miles for trial, where, whether guilty or innocent, they must unavoidably fall victims alike to revenge or prejudice, is shocking to humanity, repugnant to every dictate of reason, liberty and Justice, and in which Americans and Freeman ought never to acquiesce.
And then material from the 21 December Newport Mercury, including a letter from a Bostonian warning that three army regiments were soon to march into Rhode Island and another from a Londoner saying:
Our tyrants in administration are greatly exasperated with the late manoeuvre of the brave Rhode-Islanders. . . . We believe that the ancient British spirit of independence which once blest this island, has improved by transportation, and preserves its vigour in the breasts of Americans; cherish it my dear friends! And by relieving yourselves save the small remnant of the virtuous in Britain.
Washington could have received this newspaper among others in early 1773. Living on Virginia’s northern border, he was almost as close to Philadelphia as to Williamsburg, and Philadelphia was a dynamic port with a freer press.

Thus, a newspaper delivered to Mount Vernon in the first days of 1773 could have ignited a dinner-table discussion about the Gaspee affair, British rights, and the use of the military to put down protests and tax resistance, as Galloway described. Those topics were all over the Pennsylvania Journal.

On the other hand, that newspaper did not include the details about how the Gaspee ran aground chasing a smuggling ship, details that Galloway explicitly recalled reading out to the company. He must have picked up that part of the story from other sources.

TOMORROW: George Washington’s other diary.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

“I accompanied young Custis to Mount Vernon”

In sharing his story about hearing George Washington threaten to lead “Virginia riflemen” against the king’s troops in 1773, Benjamin Galloway included circumstantial details about the event.

The version he sent to the Hagerstown Torch Light in 1818 explained that he was invited to spend Christmas in 1772 at Mount Vernon as a friend of Washington’s stepson, John Parke Custis, from Annapolis. The reprinted story began:
A few days after I arrived at Mount Vernon, Lord Sterling and Captain [Edward] Foye, (the latter being the then secretary to Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia) being on their way from Williamsburg to New York, called on Col. Washington, with whom they sojourned for three or four days, the weather being very tempestuous and sleety.
In his letter to the Washington Republican in 1822, Galloway prefaced his anecdote with this scene-setting:
Whilst I was a student at law, in the city of Annapolis, and the late Mr. John Parke Custis, was a pupil under the Rev. Jonathan Boucher, of the same place, by permission of his father-in-law [i.e., stepfather], the then Colonel George Washington, I accompanied young Custis to Mount Vernon, and passed the last week of the year (I think) 1772, and the first week of 1773, at said place. Lord Sterling and Captain Foye, the latter of whom was at that time private secretary to Lord Dunmore, the then governor of the Ancient Dominion, (Virginia was so called at that day,) being on the way from Williamsburg to the city of New York, stopped at Mount Vernon, and continued there during three days, the weather being very tempestuous and snowy.
The second telling also stated that “the Rev. Walter Magowan,…who had resided some years before in the Mount Vernon family as a private tutor to young Custis,” was also present.

Those paragraphs offer multiple names to assess. I was particularly struck by the presence of William Alexander, Lord Stirling (1726–1783), who lived in New York. Why would Galloway have run into him?

So I tested that claim against George Washington’s diary. His entries for the start of 1773 say:
Jany. 1st. Dined at Belvoir and returnd in the Afternoon. Found Mr. Grafton Dulany, Mr. Ben. Gallaway, Mr. Sam Hanson & Mr. Magowan and Doctr. Rumney here.

2. Doctr. Rumney went away after Breakfast. Lord Sterling & Captn. Foy with Colo. [George William] Fairfax came to Dinner. The latter went away afterwards. The other Gentlemen stayd.
So far Galloway’s memory proves remarkably correct. Forty-five years before his anecdote first appeared in print, the young man did spend the turn of the year 1773 at Mount Vernon. And the other guests there included:
  • Lord Stirling, who was traveling around Virginia selling lottery tickets.
  • Capt. Edward Foy, secretary to Lord Dunmore and traveling companion for Stirling.
  • the Rev. Walter Magowan, former tutor and now clergyman in Virginia.
Washington’s diary didn’t mention his stepson Custis, but of course that eighteen-year-old was then a resident, not a guest. According to the Washington Papers editors, Grafton Dulany was one of Custis’s schoolmates in Annapolis, so he had brought chums home for the holidays.

TOMORROW: Looking in the newspapers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Assessing a Close Encounter with Washington

I’m always interested in American Revolution stories that pop into print decades after the conflict, and I’m habitually skeptical.

I’m especially skeptical about a genre of nineteenth-century stories I call “Close Encounters with George Washington.”

These tales describe how the person telling the story, or the narrator’s ancestor or local hero, had a genuine, one-on-one, meaningful interaction with the great Washington.

The general might dine at the family estate, or make a quiet visit to thank the person for his otherwise undocumented service to the republic. Or ask for help exercising by jumping rope. Or listen to a lesson about Hanukkah.

Some of these tales are laughable, others plausible but unproven. A few even have solid evidence behind them.

Therefore, when I first read Benjamin Galloway’s story about how George Washington reacted to a Crown official’s threat to suppress colonial tax resistance after the Gaspee affair, I was full of doubts but open to evidence.

It turned out that, as I recounted yesterday, Galloway was notorious in Hagerstown, Maryland, for writing to the newspapers. He had a lot to tell people. The two versions of his anecdote that come down to us appeared as newspaper dispatches.

Galloway also had a lifelong need to prove his patriotism because he had declined to serve Maryland as attorney general during the Revolutionary War and then took strong political stances, thereby attracting lots of opponents happy to impugn him. What better way could Galloway prove his deep-founded patriotism than by associating himself with Washington?

Galloway wrote one surviving letter to President Washington, in 1792, seeking a federal job for a mutual acquaintance. In that letter Galloway didn’t introduce himself, suggesting he and Washington had already met. On the other hand, the text doesn’t hint at any friendship. (In contrast, Galloway kept up a long correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, whom he supported.)

After considering the source of an anecdote, I turn to internal details. Both versions quote Washington around the start of 1773 threatening to stop a redcoat column with “the Virginia riflemen alone!” Was that even a thing? Or, in less modern terms, was the phrase “Virginia riflemen” established by that time? I found no examples in newspapers or Founders Online before the war.

In June 1775 the Continental Congress voted to recruit rifle companies to augment the army outside Boston even before it appointed a commander-in-chief—suggesting that idea had come from Washington, head of the committees on military matters. The majority of those riflemen came from Pennsylvania, however. When Gen. Washington became the first person in Founders Online to use the phrase “Virginia rifle men” in late 1776, he was distinguishing that state’s companies from the rest. The phrase really spread in the early 1800s, when Galloway told his story.

Beyond phrasing, there’s the larger question of whether George Washington would have blatantly threatened to take up arms against Edward Foy, secretary to royal governor Dunmore. According to Jefferson, writing around the time Galloway shared his story, Foy “was believed to be the chief instigator of all [Dunmore’s] violences, and being very ill-tempered, haughty & presumptuous, was very obnoxious.” But that reputation might just have made Foy a convenient foil in Galloway’s narrative.

Back in April 1769, Washington had written to his friend George Mason about the possibility of armed conflict with the British government:
At a time when our lordly Masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom, it seems highly necessary that something shou’d be done to avert the stroke and maintain the liberty which we have derived from our Ancestors; . . . That no man shou’d scruple, or hesitate a moment to use a–ms in defense of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends, is clearly my opinion; Yet A–ms I wou’d beg leave to add, should be a last resource, de[r]nier resort.
Washington was thus ahead of most of his fellow colonists in discussing that contingency. But still he was disguising the word “arms.” In contrast, in Galloway’s anecdote Washington was, though politely and conditionally, threatening military resistance to his king’s troops—and his royal governor’s top aide.

Finally, in evaluating tales like this, I always look for the earliest versions and then for specific details, sometimes seemingly extraneous, that come with them. Are those details testable? Do they support or undercut the source’s credibility?

In this case, Benjamin Galloway actually included a lot of details ready to be confirmed or refuted.

TOMORROW: The circumstances.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

“A ceaseless and voluminous writer for the newspapers”

In his 1906 History of Washington County, Maryland, Thomas J. C. Williams wrote a lot about Benjamin Galloway, who, he said, died in August 1831 at the age of seventy-nine.

In addition to mentioning Galloway at many points in the book, usually in discussions of local politics, Williams wrote:
Possibly there are some citizens of Hagerstown now living who can remember an eccentric old gentleman with long white hair, with elegant manners and courteous demeanor, who lived in the stone house at the corner of Washington and Jonathan streets . . .

He was somewhat convivial, and very fond of writing for the newspapers. He generally wore a blue coat the pockets of which were filled with newspapers and manuscript. It was difficult for an acquaintance to pass him on the street. He was anxious to declaim upon politics, or to read his latest communication to the [Hagerstown] Torch Light or his last poem, to anyone who was willing to listen to him.

This gentleman was Benjamin Galloway, for nearly forty years one of the best known and most conspicuous citizens of the County. Galloway was born in England in 1752, was educated at Eton and received a legal education at the Temple in London. Throughout the contentions between the home government and the Colonies which led to the war for Independence his sympathies were with the Colonists, and before the declaration of hostilities he embarked for America and settled in Anne Arundel County.
According to J. Reaney Kelly’s article about the Galloway family estate, “‘Tulip Hill,’ Its History and Its People,” published in the Maryland Historical Magazine in 1965, Benjamin Galloway was actually born in Maryland. Or if he was born in England, it was because his American-born parents were visiting there.

Benjamin was sent to Britain for education in 1769, which seems too late for Eton. He was back in Maryland in late 1771, then in London again in May 1773, meeting “Mr. [Charles Willson] Peale the artist” and hoping to study law. In Britain when the war began, Benjamin Galloway returned home to marry by July 1777.

By that time, Galloway was a member of the Maryland house of delegates, though for only a couple of sessions. Williams wrote:
He was a member of the first State Legislature and, attracting attention by his zeal for the patriot cause, he, although but twenty-five years of age, received the appointment of Attorney General in the new government. This office he held but a very short time, not more than a month, when he resigned. This unfortunate resignation returned to torment Galloway at every political controversy into which he entered, and he was never out of them. It was charged each time that the office of Attorney General had been renounced because of timidity, or because he was secretly a Tory. These accusations were furiously repelled. He had resigned, he said, only in deference to the commands of a timid father.
Indeed, Maryland’s official record says Benjamin Galloway was named state attorney general on 6 January 1778. Officially, he declined the appointment, not even getting into office, and Luther Martin (shown above) was appointed to the job on 11 February and held it for more than a quarter-century. By 1803, Galloway was feuding with Martin.
Galloway married Miss Henrietta Chew, of Washington County, and removed from Anne Arundel to reside on “Chew’s farm” near the Potomac, six miles below Williamsport. There he was living in 1798. His republicanism was so pronounced, that in that year, when war with France seemed unavoidable, during a temporary absence from his home, a report was circulated that he sympathized with the French against his own government, and had declared his intention of joining them if they landed on our soil. This report he denounced in the newspaper as the work of a calumniator and a villain.

In 1800, he had removed to Hagerstown, and occupied a house owned by Nathaniel Rochester. In 1802, he received the appointment of Associate Justice for Washington County, but shortly resigned the office. He was a member of St John’s Episcopal Church, and for a time a vestryman of the parish.

All through his life he was a ceaseless agitator. He was constantly a candidate for the legislature, and several times for elector of the Senate. In 1822, he was elected, and made a diligent member. Again in 1823 he was elected after a fierce campaign at the head of the “Christian ticket,” in opposition to the removal of the disabilities of the Jews. He was a ceaseless and voluminous writer for the newspapers, and gave and received many trenchant blows. One of his favorite objects of assault was the banks. The prevailing system of banking he declared to be nothing more than public swindling and called and addressed a public meeting on this subject.
Another detail Williams reported was that Galloway “greatly indulged” his “large number of slaves,” particularly “a girl who was raised in the house as a family pet, and who frequently engaged in capers which would have made a less indulgent master sell her to the cotton fields.” This was not presented as a sign of Galloway’s good character.

In sum, Williams described Benjamin Galloway as a conspicuous crank, especially on political subjects, though no doubt wealthy, intelligent, and courteous.

Williams also reprinted Galloway’s anecdote about George Washington. But given the sketch of his character, how reliable does that story seem?

TOMORROW: Reasons for skepticism.

Monday, July 11, 2022

“A deathlike silence to Col. Washington”

Yesterday I quoted a letter that appeared in the Washington Republican newspaper in September 1822, describing a conversation at Mount Vernon almost fifty years before.

I found another version of the same anecdote, reportedly published in the Hagerstown Torch Light on 21 Dec 1818. Unlike the Washington Republican letter, this article didn’t spark any reprints in other newspapers that I could locate.

My access to back issues of the Hagerstown Torch Light being limited, I actually read this letter in Thomas J. C. Williams’s A History of Washington County, Maryland, published in 1906. (The following year, Williams abridged his text for an article in the Maryland Historical Magazine.)

Here’s the text as published in 1906, with added paragraph breaks:
A large company being at the supper table the last evening they were at Mount Vernon, Col. [George] Washington’s well known servant man, named Billy, entered the room from Alexandria, to which place he had been sent by Col. Washington for newspapers and letters, and delivered some newspapers to Col. Washington, who cast them about midway the table, and requested those who took them up to read aloud such articles of intelligence as they might judge would be desirable to the company.

I being seated in a chair which enabled me to lay my hand on one of the newspapers, took the liberty of so doing, and soon announced to the company a very interesting fact, to-wit: The destruction of the King of England’s sloop of war, called Gaspee, by a party of Yankees; she having when in close pursuit (heavy gale of wind) of a Brother Jonathan coaster (smuggling) missed stays and being so near to the shore, the commander of the Gaspee lost all command of her, and she was run ashore high and dry. The Yankees in a short space of time collected in sufficient force and burnt her.

Captain [Edward] Foye asked me to pass the newspaper from which I had communicated to the company the foregoing (I will venture to say to him) bitter pill read the article and instantaneously declared ore rotundo, that blood must be drawn from the Yankees before they would be taught to conduct themselves as obedient subjects ought to do; and insolently said that he, yes, that he would engage to put down all opposition to the execution of revenue acts which had been lately passed, by the King and Parliament of Great Britain; and moreover that he would undertake so to do at the head of five thousand British troops; which he would march from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina.

Col. Washington was engaged in perusing one of the newspapers, whilst Captain Foye was uttering these insulting and audacious words. Col. Washington withdrew his eyes from the newspaper, placed them steadfastly on Captain Foye, and observed that he (Col. W.) entertained no doubt that Capt. Foye could march at the head of five thousand British troops from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina, but added that he should be obliged to Capt. Foye to inform him (Col. W.) whether he meant as a friend or as an adversary! “If as an adversary,” said Col. Washington, “and you, sir would inform me of your intention so to do a few weeks previous to your entry into the ancient dominion, I would engage to give you a handsome check with the Virginia riflemen alone!”

There were on the supper table, at the time when Col. Washington favored Capt. Foye with the above stated retort courteous, twelve or fifteen wine glasses and two or three decanters of excellent old Madeira. At the instant that Col. Washington uttered the words Virginia riflemen alone, he struck the table with his right hand so violently that the decanters and glasses leaped from their proper places and I expected to have beheld them all prostrate on the table.

Capt Foye made no reply but immediately addressed his conversation to Mrs. [Martha] Washington, at whose left hand he was seated; and during the remainder of the evening he observed a deathlike silence to Col. Washington. Capt. Foye and Lord Sterling departed from Mount Vernon immediately after breakfast the next morning.
This anecdote is very similar to the one quoted yesterday, even including some of the same phrasing. There are also some differences in wording and level of detail, though nothing directly contradictory. That suggests the person telling this tale was rather practiced at it.

The biggest difference between the two versions is that this one didn’t include the paragraph about the Rev. Walter Magowan telling other guests at Mount Vernon that he’d never seen Washington so upset.

I don’t know whether the Hagerstown Torch Light included the name of the person who told this story, but Williams included it in his local history: Benjamin Galloway.

TOMORROW: Who was Benjamin Galloway?

Sunday, July 10, 2022

“He had never seen the master of Mount Vernon so displeased”

Last month I addressed the idea that George Washington attended fireworks in celebration of the second anniversary of the Gaspee attack in 1774.

I found that claim to be unsupported by any evidence in Washington’s writings or in the newspapers of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Taverns occasionally displayed fireworks, Washington occasionally attended, and in this case the date of a fireworks show simply coincided with the anniversary of an event in another colony many miles away.

Another source describes Washington showing a strong response to the Gaspee affair—or, more accurately, a strong response to a Crown official’s response to the Gaspee affair.

This story starts with the founding of the Washington Republican newspaper in August 1822 by the printer Thomas L. McKenny to support the political career of John C. Calhoun, then U.S. Secretary of War. McKenny invited his new readers to send material for him to print. Early the next month, someone from western Maryland supplied McKenny with this letter:
Mr. Printer: The authenticity of the following communication may be confidently relied on by the public, as there are now alive those who heard the person that now furnishes it, narrate the facts contained therein, immediately after his return from Mount Vernon to the city of Annapolis, precisely as he is now about to state them.
B. G.

Washington County, Sept. 5, 1822.

...just after the cloth was removed from the supper table, a man of colour named Billy, Col. Washington’s favourite servant, who had been sent by his master to Alexandria for letters and newspapers, entered the supper room and delivered to his master a large bundle containing letters and newspapers. Col. Washington, with a cast of his hand, placed the newspapers about mid way the supper table, around which there were then sitting a large company, Lord Sterling on the right, and Capt. [Edward] Foye on the left hand of Mrs. [Martha] Washington. When Col. Washington so placed the papers, he requested that if they contained any important information, it might be read aloud to the company.

It so happened that I laid my hand on an Eastern paper, which contained an article of intelligence to the following effect: “That a Yankee smuggler, being pursued by one of the King’s vessels of war, (and I think she was called the Gaspee,) hugged the shore so closely that the former (the wind then blowing extremely hard) missed stays, and ran plump ashore. The neighbouring brother Jonathans quickly collected in great numbers, the tide being at ebb, they soon boarded and burned her.”

I read said article aloud to the company, and was immediately requested by Captain Faye to pass the newspaper to him, who, when he had read the article, he had the audacity to declare that “The Yankees must be phlebotomized!” and that he, yes, that he, “would engage, at the head of five thousand British regulars, to march from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina, and put down all opposition to the revenue acts,” that had been recently passed by the British Parliament for the purpose of raising a revenue in the British colonies.

Col. Washington, at the close of this insulting declaration, instantly fixing his eyes on Capt. Foye, observed: “I question not, Sir, that you could march from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina, at the head of five thousand British regulars: but do you mean to say, Sir, that you could do so, as a friend, or as an enemy? If as the latter, and you will allow me a few weeks notice of your intention, I will engage to give you a handsome check with the Virginia riflemen alone.” When Col. Washington was uttering the words with the Virginia riflemen alone, he struck the table so violently with his clenched hand, that some wine glasses and a decanter near him with difficulty maintained their upright positions.

Captain Foye made no reply; but turned his face immediately towards Mrs. Washington, said a few words to her, looked very silly, and soon after requested to be showed to his chamber!

Col. Washington appeared to be very much displeased. Not a word was said by any of the company, in reference to said article of intelligence, while they remained in the room; but when the Rev. Walter Magowan, who was one of the company, and who had resided some years before in the Mount Vernon family as a private tutor to young [John Parke] Custis, had, with two other gentlemen and myself, arrived at our bed chamber, he remarked that, during the whole time he had lived in Col. Washington’s family, he had never seen the master of Mount Vernon so displeased as he appeared to have been that evening with Captain Foye.
I transcribed this from the 18 Sept 1822 Daily National Intelligencer, one of several newspapers that republished the Washington Republican item in late 1822 and early 1823. I couldn’t unearth the Republican itself. (As usual, I’ve broken the long block of text into paragraphs for easier reading on the web.) 

This letter has rarely been republished or cited since. In fact, I couldn’t find a single Washington biographer who quoted what this correspondent said he witnessed around the start of the year 1773.

TOMORROW: Another version of the same tale.