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

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Thursday, August 04, 2022

The Stinking Waters and George R. T. Hewes

As I type this, I’m in Richfield Springs, New York. In fact, I’m right across East Main Street (Route 20) from the springs that gave the town its name.

Those are sulphur springs, and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) referred to this place as Ganowauges, or “stinking waters.”

Europeans learned about the springs by the early 1750s, and British troops reached the site in 1757 during the French and Indian War. But there was still very little European settlement in the area two decades later when Adam Helmer ran past.

I heard about Richfield Springs first because of its connection to one memorable Revolutionary Bostonian: George Robert Twelves Hewes.

During the siege Hewes lost his shoemaking workshop in Boston and resettled with his family in Wrentham. That change may have helped to cement his memories of the pre-war port.

Later some of Hewes’s children, like many rural New Englanders, moved out to central New York. In the early 1800s the area around Richfield Springs was being developed, with the sulphur water itself promoted as a health remedy.

After the War of 1812, Hewes and his wife Sally followed those children to Richfield Springs. He was then seventy-four years old and ready to retire. Sally Hewes died in 1828. For the next few years, Hewes moved among the houses of relatives and neighbors, telling stories about the Revolution and pulling out his old militia uniform for patriotic holidays.

Some of Hewes’s Independence Day talks came to the attention of a New York writer named James Hawkes, who wrote a biography collecting those tales. The term “Boston Tea Party” had been coined a few years before, and Hawkes titled his 1834 book A Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party.

That publication spurred Boston grandees to invite Hewes to revisit his home town, which he did in 1835. He sat for a portrait and for celebratory dinners. Since of course we couldn’t be satisfied with a book written by a New Yorker, local writer Benjamin Bussey Thatcher pumped Hewes for more stories, augmented them with other men’s recollections, and published Traits of the Tea Party.

Hewes returned to central New York, having thoroughly enjoyed being a celebrity. In 1840 he was boarding a carriage to ride to yet another Independence Day celebration when he suffered an injury. Hewes died on 5 November at the age of ninety-eight and was buried here in Richfield Springs.

1 comment:

Don Hafner said...

George Robert Twelve Hewes seems to have been forever in poverty and never much of a shoemaker. In his final years, however, he was often asked to say a few words at Fourth of July celebrations. On one of these occasions, Hewes reportedly offered this touching and memorable toast: "May we meet hereafter, where the wicked will cease from troubling, and the true Sons of Liberty will be forever at rest."