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


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.

No comments: