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, April 30, 2023

“Statement of account of Gouverneur Morris”

Houdon's bust of Gouverneur Morris, made in Paris in 1789
From the American Philosophical Society, Melanie Miller shared an intriguing glimpse of her work editing the papers of Gouverneur Morris.

Morris succeeded Thomas Jefferson as the U.S. of A.’s minister to France in 1792, having been in that country since 1789. He therefore got to see the French Revolution.

What’s more, these documents show, Morris got involved.
Labeled simply as a “statement of account of Gouverneur Morris, July-September 1792,” the paper is a record of the money Morris agreed to receive from Louis XVI to raise a counter-revolutionary force when it became clear that the monarchy was in danger of violent overthrow. This was a remarkable episode—while he was U.S. minister, Morris conspired with some of Louis’s loyal counselors to try to save the monarchy and help the royal family escape. . . .

Another group of items that I was delighted to find relate to the much-admired Marquis de Lafayette, whom Morris knew during the American Revolution and saw again in France. The letters came from Morris’s close friend and business partner, James LeRay de Chaumont. They discuss LeRay’s efforts to obtain repayment of an enormous personal loan Morris made to Lafayette’s wife at her request, to cover their “debts of honor” after the Marquis—whose fall from leader of the Revolution to being considered a traitor had been swift, just as Morris had predicted— fled France and was imprisoned by the Austrians. Our research for Morris’s later diaries (1799-1816) originally led us to the tentative conclusion that Morris had never been repaid. These letters confirm it. His later financial difficulties were considerably exacerbated by this default.

It was acknowledged by her family and others that Morris saved Mme. de Lafayette from the guillotine during the Great Terror, and his diaries show that his efforts led to the Austrian emperor’s decision to release the Marquis in 1797. A letter from LeRay, who met with Mme. de Lafayette in Paris more than once after she and her husband returned to France and were restored to their estates, confirmed what I could only infer from Morris’s letters: that Madame de Lafayette (who had never forgiven Morris for speaking truth to her husband in the early days of the Revolution) seemed outraged that Morris had the nerve to request repayment…
Founders Online currently hosts the papers of seven prominent men involved in forming the American republic, with John Jay the most recent addition. Though as a Bostonian I should root for Samuel Adams to be added to that list, I can’t help but think that Gouverneur Morris’s papers would be so much more fun.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

“They also kept in place the old law of domestic relations”

The Omohundro Institute’s Uncommon Sense blog just shared Joseph M. Adelman’s interview with Linda K. Kerber, looking back on her 1980 study Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America.

In that book Kerber set forth the very influential concept of “republican motherhood,” the idea that arose after independence that women had a special responsibility to bring up virtuous sons (and, men conceded, daughters) to preserve the new republic.

Of course, with that great responsibility came…limited power. Here are extracts from Kerber’s remarks about the legal doctrine of coverture, which said that husbands controlled their wives’ property and persons. It could cut both ways:
The common law understanding of coverture meant that women were not guilty of crimes committed under the auspices of their husbands; by extension, women who sought permission to travel to join husbands who were behind British lines were not treated as traitors [though their husbands were].

In some confiscation statutes, the dower rights of wives or widows of exiled Loyalists were protected when the state seized their property IF the woman had broken with her husband and enacted her own loyalty to the Republic. Even in states without explicit statutes, courts often acted as though the remaining wife or widow had indeed dissociated herself from her husband and made her own political commitment. . . .

The Founders not only kept in place [and strengthened] the law of slavery; they also kept in place the old law of domestic relations, continuing coverture – aspects of which are still being dismantled in our own time – which, under the guise of “protection,” severely limited the options of the married women [and often, by extension, the not-married woman] to protect their own bodies, to manage their own earnings and to express their political views. Resistance to coverture began with the Revolutionary generation, not with the accomplishment of suffrage in 1920.
In the interview Kerber quotes a “a well-known Boston minister” warning, “Women of masculine minds have generally masculine manners.” That was the Rev. John Silvester John Gardiner, assistant rector of Trinity Church, in 1801. (Four years later, he became the rector.)

This Gardiner was a grandson of the Loyalist doctor Silvester Gardiner, born in Britain as the son of an imperial official. He got a little schooling in Boston before 1775, and his family spent the rest of the war in the Caribbean before returning to try to regain the doctor’s property.

Gardiner was high Federalist in politics, which he injected into his sermons. He’s appeared on Boston 1775 only once so far, for complaining about Jeffersonians in 1795. One of Gardiner unhealthy examples of a woman of masculine mind was “Mrs. [Catharine] Macaulay, the author of a dull democratic history.” He praised the “purity of our blood” in New England compared to the “motley rabble, that infest other parts of the Union.”

In sum, Gardiner was no democrat, and seems barely republican. Nonetheless, as first president of the Anthology Society and cofounder of its Athenaeum (both all-male enterprises at the time), he had influence over the early republic’s literary scene.

Friday, April 28, 2023

A Few More Tidbits from Along the Way

Here are a few more observations on the sources I examined in my hunt for traces of Dr. Samuel Prescott this month.

First, in 1835 Lemuel Shattuck, probably relying on local and family traditions in Concord, wrote that when Prescott met Paul Revere and William Dawes, he “had spent the evening at Lexington,…and having been alarmed, was hastening his return home.”

In other words, Dr. Prescott had left his fiancée, Lydia Mulliken, because he had heard about the approaching regulars. Given the timing, that news had probably reached Lexington when the Boston men arrived at the Lexington parsonage. By the time the riders met on the road, Revere and Dawes didn’t need to tell Prescott.

If Dr. Prescott had indeed already heard the alarm, that helps to explain two details:
  • why he left the Mulliken house—because he wanted to get back to his home town and prepare for any necessary military or medical action. He may therefore have planned to spend the night.
  • how Revere and Dawes quickly learned that Prescott was a “high Son of Liberty.” They were probably all talking about what the army might be up to.

Second, in The Road to Concord, I wrote that James Barrett’s family and friends probably took the four cannon stolen from Boston to Stow and hid them near the house of Henry Gardner, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s reciever-general (equivalent of treasurer).

I based that on a statement in a Bicentennial-era history of Stow citing a local tradition. I wished I had a stronger source, but I presented it only as a possibility.

In the 24 Apr 1824 Concord Gazette and Middlesex Yeoman article I quoted this month I spotted this sentence:
Five pieces of cannon, a quantity of ammunition had been previously conveyed to Stow, and put under the care of Mr. GARDNER.
That’s still an unsourced statement from a newspaper story published forty-nine years after the event. Nonetheless, it’s gratifying to find people in Concord believed that was true.

Finally, in the 14 Feb 1778 article from the Providence Gazette where I found Dr. Prescott’s name among the men who had died in Halifax prison, another name is “Samuel Dyre.”

Samuel Dyer (whose name was spelled other ways as well) was the subject of the two articles I wrote for the Journal of the American Revolution published earlier this month.

Early in those articles I noted how hard it is to trace that Samuel Dyer since he was a sailor, thus transient and unlikely to leave a mark on institutional records, and since there were other men with the same or similar names.

Therefore, I resist the temptation to say that sailor Samuel Dyer from 1774–75 was the same man who died in Halifax in late 1776 or early 1777, most likely after being captured on a privateer.

After all, the last time my Samuel Dyer definitely appears in the historical record, he had been working for the royal authorities as a trustie inside the Boston jail. Would he really have enlisted aboard an American privateer after that?

All I can say is, given my Samuel Dyer’s habit of switching sides and telling powerful men what they wanted to hear, I can’t rule out that possibility.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

“Henry Knox Symposium” in Springfield, 6 May

On Saturday, 6 May, Springfield Armory National Historic Site and the Friends of Springfield Armory will host a “Henry Knox Symposium” looking at the bookseller, the artillery officer, the secretary of war.

When the Revolutionary War began, Henry Knox was still in his early twenties and married to the daughter of Massachusetts’s royal secretary. Within a couple of years he was one of Gen. George Washington’s closest colleagues, helping to lead the Continental Army and then the new nation.

Perhaps most importantly, Knox had a quality that’s hard to nail down on paper: lots of people just thought he was fun to be around.

Here’s the lineup of speakers and topics, basically in chronological order:
  • J. L. Bell [that’s me], “Henry Knox, Loyalist?”
  • Nathan D. Wells, formerly Quincy College, “Henry Knox: A Flawed Brilliant Amateur, A Microcosm of the American Struggle for Independence”
  • Matthew Keagle, Curator, Fort Ticonderoga, “Knox Alone?”
  • William F. Sheehan, Historical Services Branch, Massachusetts Military Division, “Henry Knox’s Fortnight in Albany: The Knox Expedition Finds Its Footing”
  • Maria G. Cole, Boston National Historical Park, “Henry Knox and the Siege of Boston”
  • Richard Colton, Springfield Armory (retired), “Henry Knox and the Establishment of ‘The American Foundry’ at Springfield Arsenal, Massachusetts, 1776–1800: Assuring Independence”
  • Roger Johnson, Friends of the Springfield Armory, “Henry Knox and the Constitutional Convention: The Knox/Washington Letters”
This event will take place from 9:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. Registration is free, but organizers strongly recommend attendees purchase the box lunch for $12 (that’s the “ticket” on Eventbrite) or bring their own meal. There are limited eating options nearby, and the whole point of a symposium is supposed to be spending time talking with other people over food instead of driving around, right?

The “Henry Knox Symposium” will take place on the 7th floor of Scibelli Hall, Bldg 2, at Springfield Technical Community College, One Armory Square, in Springfield.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

“For the Information of the Friends of the unhappy Prisoners”

On 27 Nov 1777, the Independent Chronicle newspaper of Boston reported on a ship sailing under a flag of truce:
Last Sunday returned here a Flag from Halifax, with about 60 Prisoners, whose gastly Countenances and feeble Limbs present a striking View of the Cruelties which they have endured, and the horrid Situation of those who still remain there in Confinement.

The following is a List of the misfortunate Persons who belonged to the Hancock and Boston Frigates, and other Vessels, who were killed there by Starvation in the Months of July, August and September, viz.
Three lists of male names followed:
Massachusetts sent an offer to exchange prisoners for some of the surviving men, but those negotiations dragged into the new year. (Around this same time the Continental authorities were deciding not to let the “Convention Army” of prisoners from Saratoga go home to Europe after all.)

On 14 Feb 1778, John Carter of the Providence Gazette published similar information, this time prefaced:

For the Information of the Friends of the unhappy Prisoners, who fell a Sacrifice to British Cruelty in their Confinement at Halifax, I herewith send you a List of their Names, and request you would publish it in your next Gazette. As I was confined among them myself, and am lately arrived from Halifax, you may rely on the List being authentic.

Your’s, &c. A. B.

A List of Prisoners, taken in American Vessels, who died in Halifax Prison, between the 23d of November, 1776, and the 26th of December, 1777.
Then came a long list of names—“Total 192” said a note at the end. It included the men on the Independent Chronicle list and many more.

These names don’t appear alphabetically. Two men with only given names and the label “a Negro” appear at the bottom, but aside from that segregation there’s no indication of sorting by, for example, what ships they had served on or what prisons they died in. The men of the Hancock appear in about the same order as the chronological list linked above. In sum, this list appears to have been compiled mostly by date of death.

About four-fifths of the way through that long column appears the name “Dr. Samuel Prescott.” Thus, this Providence Gazette item is a long sought contemporaneous source confirming that the young doctor from Concord died in a Halifax prison. Since his name wasn’t on the earlier list of men who died “in the Months of July, August and September,” Dr. Prescott almost certainly died in the last months of 1777.


Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Scrounging for Clues about Dr. Samuel Prescott

In 1835, as quoted yesterday, Lemuel Shattuck wrote that Dr. Samuel Prescott was captured on a privateer and died as a prisoner of war in Halifax.

After Henry W. Longfellow’s 1860 poem made Paul Revere an American icon, authors look for more information about his fellow riders, including Prescott.

Or at least confirmation of what Shattuck wrote.

Anything, really.

And almost nothing came to light.

As I said earlier this month in answering a question at an online presentation, we knew little about Prescott. Since Shattuck’s writing, only two additional sources had surfaced, and they both bring a lot of questions.

One is an entry in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, a monumental state-funded listing of all the names in surviving records, extracted from the original documents and alphabetized. The pertinent entry is:
PRESCOT, “SALL.” Lists of men appearing under the heading “Hartwell Brook the first Everidge;” said Prescot appears among men in service at Ticonderoga in 1776; name preceded by “Dr.”
Was “Dr. Sall Prescot” also the alarm rider Dr. Samuel Prescott?

Searching those volumes for the phrase “Hartwell Brook the first Everidge” shows that document (or documents?) listed many other men who served in many places and times. Those listings rarely include the usual helpful information about commanding officers, dates of service, and so on.

Which Hartwell Brook does this document refer to? What does “the first Everidge” mean? Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary offers this first definition of “average”: “In law, that duty or service which the tenant is to pay to the king, or other lord, by his beasts and carriages.” Was “the first Everidge” thus a record of how men had served their duty to the state of Massachusetts?

In this case, it seems likely “Dr. Sall. Prescot” was among some short-term Massachusetts troops sent out to Fort Ticonderoga to hold that position in 1776. (Not, as some writers assumed, part of Henry Knox’s mission there, which actually started in 1775.) Then he could have returned to eastern Massachusetts and enlisted on a privateer. If in fact this was Dr. Samuel Prescott.

Another tantalizing statement appears in D. Michael Ryan’s Concord and the Dawn of Revolution in 2007. Ryan wrote:
Among family papers of a Jacob Winter (Windrow) of Ashburnham, Massachusetts, was found a letter claiming that he had been a prison mate of a Dr. Prescott from Concord who apparently died in miserable conditions in 1777.
Alas, there’s no other information: who wrote this letter, when, where it is now, and what exactly it says. (A slightly different statement appeared in Ryan’s original magazine article from 2001, but no additional citation.)

Ezra S. Stearns’s 1887 history of Ashburnham lists Jacob Winter among that town’s casualties in the Revolutionary War, saying he died a prisoner at Halifax in the fall of 1777. So it’s conceivable Winter overlapped with Dr. Prescott there and wrote home about it. But other scenarios are all too conceivable as well.

Joseph Ross’s Continental Navy site offers a primary source mentioning Jacob Winter. His name appears on a list apparently compiled by Dr. Samuel Curtis as he treated fellow prisoners from the Continental Navy’s frigate Hancock. That document even gives an exact date for Jacob Winter’s demise: 29 Aug 1777.

Fortunately, following Jacob Winter’s trail led me to a new, and contemporaneous, source about Prescott.

TOMORROW: Where and when the doctor died.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Why Samuel Prescott and Lydia Mulliken Never Married

A couple of days ago, I quoted an 1824 Concord newspaper saying that on 18 Apr 1775 Dr. Samuel Prescott had been out on “a visit to the lady who afterwards became his wife.”

Folks who’ve read about Prescott no doubt perked up at that because it contradicts one of the few facts in the history books about him.

That fact first surfaced in a footnote in Lemuel Shattuck’s history of Concord:
Samuel was taken prisoner on board a privateer afterwards, and carried to Halifax, where he died in jail.
No other details or source notes came with this statement, alas.

Authors were therefore left with little to work with. Some dwelled on the sad story of Lydia Mulliken’s brother Nathaniel and Samuel Prescott’s brother Abel both dying on dysentery (camp fever) in the first year of the war, followed by Samuel dying a prisoner.

In November 1782, the Haverhill town records recorded that Joseph Burrill of that town and Lydia Mulliken of Lexington intended to marry. On 18 Mar 1783, the Lexington vital records say, that wedding took place. (This is listed only under Burrill’s name.)

Some have taken that timing to say Lydia held out hope that Samuel was still alive until near the end of the war and only then agreed to marry someone else. But of course we don’t know what she was thinking or when she and Joseph Burrill met.

Lydia died in 1789 after having two children who both died young. Joseph remarried to Susanna Mulliken, a cousin of his first wife. That couple had several more children and lived into the 1830s.

There are, however, a couple of other sources that might complicate or confirm the local lore of Dr. Samuel Prescott’s death in a Halifax jail.

TOMORROW: Marching west, sailing east?

Sunday, April 23, 2023

“Mr. Mulliken, to whose daughter he was paying his addresses”

Around the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, more details about Dr. Samuel Prescott came into print.

As I quoted yesterday, in 1824 a local newspaper stated that when Dr. Prescott started to spread the alarm about regulars on the march he “was returning from Lexington before day light…from a visit to the lady who afterwards became his wife.”

That detail about Prescott spending the evening with a lady was significant because it wasn’t necessary to excuse his being on the road that night. As a doctor, Prescott could have been out late after making a house call.

The following year, Edward Everett came to Concord to deliver a historical oration. As he would do on many occasions (most famously at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1863), he consulted published and local sources in order to retell the event he was commemorating.

Everett didn’t add anything to the historic record, but he brought together sources:
After staying a short time at Lexington, Messrs Revere and Dawes, at about one o’clock of the morning of the nineteenth of April, started for Concord to communicate the intelligence there. They were soon overtaken on the way by Dr. Samuel Prescott of Concord, who joined them in giving the alarm at every house on the road.
The Concord newspaper hadn’t named Paul Revere and William Dawes. Revere’s account and Elias Phinney’s book about the fighting on Lexington common hadn’t included Prescott’s full name. But here all three riders were together in one recounting at last.

The Rev. Ezra Ripley’s 1827 History of the Fight at Concord stated:
Nothing very interesting occurred in the march of the British from Lexington to Concord. Intelligence had been given by Mr. Samuel Prescott, who had passed the evening at Lexington, and had seen and escaped the British officers on the road…
This book added little to the printed record about Prescott, but it showed that Ripley, the long-time town minister, accepted that he “had passed the evening at Lexington” and wasn’t just riding out on errands.

In 1835 Lemuel Shattuck was finally unabashed enough to drop a surname into his Concord history:
They [Revere and Dawes] had not travelled far before they were overtaken by Dr. Samuel Prescott of Concord, who had spent the evening at Lexington, at the house of Mr. Mulliken, to whose daughter he was paying his addresses; and having been alarmed, was hastening his return home. All rode on together, spreading the alarm at every house.
“Mr. Mulliken” was Nathaniel Mulliken, a well-known clockmaker. He died in 1767, but his widow and sons were carrying on that business in 1775. Their house was close to the road. British regulars were accused of looting and burning it on their return to Boston.

All that means there was a lot of documentation about the Mullikens. By the Bicentennial authors wanted this woman’s full name, and in the published town records they found an unmarried daughter who would be the right age for Dr. Samuel Prescott’s attention: Lydia Mulliken. The published town records say she was born in 1753 and baptized in 1752 (I’m pretty sure one of those figures is an error).

Back in 1824, the local newspaper assured readers that Dr. Samuel Prescott visiting his fiancée into the very early hours of 19 April “was the custom on such occasions in those days.” Lots of subsequent authors included similar comments. They read like either wink-wink-nudge-nudge hints those young people were canoodling or prim denials that they weren’t.

At his blog Historical Digression, Patrick Browne expressed some skepticism about the story of Dr. Prescott’s visit to his fiancée because it didn’t surface until decades after the event. That detail also fit easily into Colonial Revival sentimentality.

Browne noted an inaccuracy in Lemuel Shattuck’s history to show he wasn’t always reliable. However, that example shows Shattuck boosting Concord over another town, a typical flaw of local chronicles. That same closeness to Concord suggests Shattuck actually had reliable sources about Dr. Prescott and Mr. Mulliken’s daughter.

Furthermore, we now have the 1824 newspaper as an earlier source on the doctor visiting his betrothed.

In fact, Shattuck was more accurate about the fate of Samuel Prescott and Lydia Mulliken’s relationship than that article.

TOMORROW: Torn apart by war.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

“Returning from Lexington before day light”

When Paul Revere described his ride with William Dawes to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap in 1798, he wrote: “We were overtaken by a young Docter Prescot, whom we found to be a high Son of Liberty.”

Revere wrote nothing about why Dr. Samuel Prescott was out on horseback in west Lexington after midnight.

In his 1824 History of the Battle of Lexington, Elias Phinney quoted Elijah Sanderson on how British army officers “attempted to stop a man on horseback, who, we immediately after understood, was Dr. Prescott’s son.”

Again, no reason given for young Prescott being out on the road at that time.

The first printed explanation for Prescott’s late night that I’ve found appeared that same year in the 24 Apr 1824 Concord Gazette and Middlesex Yeoman. In a 49th-anniversary retrospective on the opening battle of the Revolutionary War, that hometown newspaper stated:
The approach of the British army from Lexington, was known to the people of Concord at an early hour of the morning. This information was brought by Dr. SAMUEL PRESCOTT who was returning from Lexington before day light, (as was the custom on such occasions in those days) from a visit to the lady who afterwards became his wife.

He was met by the British advance guard near Mr. [Ephraim] HARTWELL’s in Lincoln, and in attempting to stop him a scuffle ensued, during which he had the reins of his horse’s bridle cut off; but being acquainted with the way, he jumped his horse over the fence, adjusted the bridle and came to Concord. Others who endeavored to get to Concord for the same purpose were stopped by the enemy.
Those unnamed ”others” included Revere, Sanderson, and their companions.

In recounting the British army search of Concord, the same article states:
One party went down the road to the house owned by the late ASA HEYWOOD, then occupied as a tavern. Suspicions were excited that young Dr. PRESCOTT was in the house; and as they considered him the principal cause of defeating the execution of their plan to take the town by surprise, they sought his life. He was aware of their intentions and secreted himself in a hole beside the chimney in the garret, and eluded their search. They broke the windows of the house and left it.
That anecdote is obviously based on the experience of Samuel Prescott’s older brother Abel, as recounted here. Both brothers had been physicians and impromptu alarm riders who died decades earlier, so it’s understandable for local lore to conflate them.

(I’m not sure if Asa Heywood, who had died earlier in 1824, ever owned the house where Jonathan Heywood’s widow Rebecca was living in 1775, or whether it was then a tavern, but I’m just not up to sorting through real estate records of Heywoods in Concord.)

There were other errors in the newspaper’s account, such as a claim that Lt. Col. Francis Smith was wounded in the fight (true) and “died in a few days” (false).

Nonetheless, this article is significant as the earliest statement that Dr. Samuel Prescott was out late visiting his fiancée on 18 April.

TOMORROW: More details emerge.

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Real Third Rider on the 18th of April

Dr. Samuel Prescott is usually described as the third alarm rider to carry Dr. Joseph Warren’s alert on 18–19 Apr 1775, but that label should really apply to another man. There was an earlier alarm rider completely lost to history.

The first rider was William Dawes, Jr., adjutant of the Boston militia regiment. Following Dr. Warren's instructions, he rode out through the town gates in the early evening of 18 April.

Warren then turned to his Plan B. He passed the same alert to Paul Revere, who put into motion an arrangement he had made with Richard Devens and other Patriots in Charlestown.

Revere in turn informed John Pulling, a vestryman of Christ Church in the North End, now better known as the Old North Church. Pulling summoned Robert Newman, sexton of that church. Around 10:00 P.M. those men hung two lanterns in the church’s tall steeple, a signal that the British army was starting their expedition by boat across the Charles River.

That launch for the British march hinted at where they were headed: west-northwest toward Cambridge, Lexington, and Concord rather than west-southwest toward Worcester. The committee of safety had just met in west Cambridge, with some delegates staying overnight, and top officials John Hancock and Samuel Adams were in Lexington. Both Concord and Worcester were storing multiple cannon and other military supplies.

The Patriots seem to have had good intelligence about the British government’s priorities. Lord Dartmouth, the secretary of state, had told Gen. Thomas Gage to start arresting leaders of the Massachusetts rebellion. Dr. Warren’s mission for Dawes, therefore, was to warn Hancock and Adams that troops were moving toward them. The Patriots didn’t know that Gage’s real focus was Concord, where his spies had located cannon spirited out of Boston armories back in September.

Old North’s two lanterns shone across the Charles River. Those lights were in the steeple only a short time. Newman and Pulling didn’t wait to be caught in the tower. Still, the signal lasted long enough for the Charlestown Patriots to spot it and take the next step in Plan B. On their side of the river, a man mounted a horse and started riding west toward Lexington.

And then that guy disappeared.

Not only do we not know what happened to that second rider, none of the people involved in sending him out preserved his name in their papers or reminiscences. I suspect that if British patrols had detained the man, or if he had betrayed the cause, the Patriots would have told the story in some way. Instead, there’s complete silence about the man’s identity in the record. That strikes me as likely a result of profound disappointment in the man rather than worry or anger.

Paul Revere made himself Plan C, a backup courier of Dr. Warren’s message to Hancock and Adams. He arranged for colleagues to row him across the Charles River to Charlestown. Arriving after 10:30, Revere consulted with Devens and other locals, got another horse, and started riding west, following the same route as the second rider.

After crossing the Charlestown neck into the west part of town, Revere almost fell into the hands of British army patrols. He had to wheel his horse and ride north, coming back onto the main road to Lexington after a few miles. Nevertheless, with a shorter route and a faster steed, Revere arrived in Lexington about half an hour before Dawes.

Presumably those same mounted British officers in west Charlestown stopped the second rider. Perhaps they detained him, as other officers would later detain Revere in Lincoln. Perhaps they simply scared him into abandoning his ride.

Either way, the third alarm rider that night was Paul Revere. And the second rider, the one who apparently never made it out of Charlestown, is completely forgotten.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Sons of Freedom join to sing…”

Yesterday I shared the first twenty-two verses of Lemuel Haynes’s poem ”The Battle of Lexington.”

First published in the William & Mary Quarterly in 1985, this poem has been partially reprinted in some textbooks. However, I’ve found the whole thing in only one anthology and no websites. So, in the interest of completeness, here are the remaining verses.
Altho our Numbers were but few
And they a Num’rous Throng
Yet we their Armies do pursue
And drive their Hosts along
One Son of Freedom could annoy
A Thousand Tyrant Fiends
And their despotick Tribe destroy
And chace them to their Dens
Thus did the Sons of Brittain’s King
Recieve a sore Disgrace
Whilst Sons of Freedom join to sing
The Vict’ry they Imbrace
Oh! Brittain how art thou become
Infamous in our Eye
Nearly allied to antient Rome
That Seat of Popery
Our Fathers, tho a feeble Band
Did leave their native Place
Exiled to a desert Land
This howling Wilderness
A Num’rous Train of savage Brood
Did then attack them round
But still they trusted in their God
Who did their Foes confound
Our Fathers Blood did freely flow
To buy our Freedom here
Nor will we let our freedom go
The Price was much too dear
Freedom & Life, O precious Sounds
yet Freedome does excell
and we will bleed upon the ground
or keep our Freedom still
But oh! how can we draw the Sword
Against our native kin
Nature recoils at such a Word
And fain wd. quit the Scene
We feel compassion in our Hearts
That captivating Thing
Nor shall Compassion once depart
While Life retains her String
Oh England let thy Fury cease
At this convulsive Hour
Consult those Things that make for Peace
Nor foster haughty Power
Let Brittain’s king call home his Band
of Soldiers arm’d to fight
To see a Tyrant in our Land
Is not a pleasing Sight
Allegiance to our King we own
And will due Homage pay
As does become his royal Throne
Yet in a legal Way
Oh Earth prepare for solemn Things
Behold an angry God
Beware to meet the King of Kings
Arm’d with an awefull Rod
Sin is the Cause of all our Woe
That sweet deluding ill
And till we let this darling go
There's greater Trouble still
This poem survived as a manuscript in Haynes’s handwriting. A lot of words are crossed out. One whole verse was composed, shifted, and finally rewritten for another place in the poem. (Except for the introductory line yesterday, I didn’t indicate the earlier language, but it all appears in the William & Mary Quarterly.) Thus, this was almost certainly Haynes’s working manuscript.

In her article on the first publication, Ruth Bogin deduced that Haynes wrote the poem in the spring of 1775 because he complained about the regulars’ actions in the Battle of Lexington and Concord but didn’t mention the greater destruction of Bunker Hill.

The poem also matches the political situtation early in the war, when American colonists still proclaimed their loyalty to King George III and appealed to him to reverse his ministers’ policies.

As we should expect from a future minister raised in a rural New England deacon’s household, these lines reflect a Congregationalist outlook on the conflict, fusing the current political crisis with the Last Judgment. In metre and length, the poem echoes common hymns.

That outlook is why Haynes described the royal government as “Nearly allied to…That Seat of Popery,” as if all oppression stemmed from Rome. Three years later, the U.S. of A. would sign a treaty with Catholic France, making that sentiment less tenable.

(The photo above shows the Rev. Lemuel Haynes’s grave in Granville, New York, courtesy of Find a Grave.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

“At Lexington they did appear Array’d in hostile Form”

Lemuel Haynes was born in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1753. His father was African, his mother a white New Englander who abandoned her baby after five months.

David Rose, a deacon in Granville, Massachusetts, and his wife Elizabeth took the baby into their home under indenture. Worshipping with the family, Lemuel learned to read at the local school.

(Some recent profiles of Haynes say David Rose was blind and little Lemuel read to him, but there’s no mention of such a disability in Timothy Mather Cooley’s 1837 biography.)

In 1774 Haynes came of age as a free man. He was in the Granville militia company when it marched east at the start of the Revolutionary War. In the fall of 1776, Haynes enlisted for short service and marched to Fort Ticonderoga, only to catch typhus and have to return home.

In 1779 Haynes started to pursue a religious career, working for Connecticut ministers in exchange for training. He was ordained in 1785, and three years later took a permanent post as minister in Rutland, Vermont. Well, it was permanent until 1818, when that congregation dismissed him, but then he moved on to Manchester, Vermont, and Granville, New York.

During his lifetime Haynes published sermons and poetry. More manuscripts came to light in the 1980s, including this poem.
The Battle of Lexington

A Poem on the inhuman Tragedy perpetrated on the 19th of April 1775 by a Number of the Ministerial Brittish Troops under the Command of Thomas Gage, which Parricides and Ravages are shocking Displays of ministerial & tyrannic Vengeance composed by Lemuel a young Mollatto Man Mollato who obtained what little knowledge he possesses, by his own Application to Letters.

Some Seraph now my Breast inspire
whilst my Urania sings
while She would try her solemn Lyre
Upon poetic Strings.
Some gloomy Vale or gloomy Seat
where Sable veils the sky
Become that Tongue that wd. repeat
The dreadfull Tragedy
The Nineteenth Day of April last
We ever shall retain
As monumental of the past
most bloody shocking Scene
Then Tyrants fill’d wth. horrid Rage
A fatal Journey went
& Unmolested to engage
And slay the innocent
Then did we see old Bonner rise
And, borrowing Spite from Hell
They stride along with magic Eyes
where Sons of Freedom dwell
For those not raised on John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Bishop Edmund Bonner oversaw the burning of Protestants under Queen Mary, two centuries before.
At Lexington they did appear
Array’d in hostile Form
And tho our Friends were peacefull there
Yet on them fell the Storm
Eight most unhappy Victims fell
Into the Arms of Death
Unpitied by those Tribes of Hell
Who curs’d them wth. their Breath
The Savage Band still march along
For Concord they were bound
While Oaths & Curses from their Tongue
Accent with hellish Sound
To prosecute their fell Desire
At Concord they unite
Two Sons of Freedom there expire
By their tyrannic Spite
Thus did our Friends endure their Rage
Without a murm’ring Word
Till die they must or else engage
And join with one Accord
Such Pity did their Breath inspire
That long they bore the Rod
And with Reluctance they conspire
To shed the human Blood
But Pity could no longer sway
Tho’ ’t is a pow’rfull Band
For Liberty now bleeding lay
And calld them to withstand
The Awfull Conflict now begun
To rage with furious Pride
And Blood in great Effusion run
From many a wounded Side
For Liberty, each Freeman Strives
As its a Gift of God
And for it willing yield their Lives
And Seal it with their Blood
Thrice happy they who thus resign
Into the peacefull Grave
Much better there, in Death Confin’d
Than a Surviving Slave
This Motto may adorn their Tombs,
(Let tyrants come and view)
“We rather seek these silent Rooms
Than live as Slaves to You”

Now let us view our Foes awhile
who thus for Blood did thirst
See: stately Buildings fall a Spoil
To their unstoick Lust
Many whom Sickness did compel
To seek some Safe Retreat
Were dragged from their sheltering Cell
And mangled in the Street
Nor were our aged Gransires free
From their vindictive Pow’r
On yonder Ground lo: there you see
Them weltering in their Gore
Mothers with helpless Infants strive
T’ avoid the tragic Sight
All fearfull wether yet alive
Remain’d their Soul’s delight
Such awefull Scenes have not had Vent
Since Phillip’s War begun
Nay sure a Phillip would relent [?]
And such vile Deeds would shun
But Stop and see the Pow’r of God
Who lifts his Banner high
Jehovah now extends his Rod
And makes our Foes to fly
TOMORROW: Fifteen more verses.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Dr. Abel Prescott and the Details

As recounted yesterday, the Concord official Abiel Heywood told the Rev. Ezra Ripley that British soldiers fired at Dr. Abel Prescott, Jr., and “wounded him in one arm.”

Ripley published that story in A History of the Fight at Concord in 1827, when Heywood was still alive, along with other survivors of the British raid who could correct the account.

Since Heywood described how as a fourteen-year-old he witnessed Prescott seeking refuge in his family home, and helping his stepmother bandage the doctor’s wound, we should rely on Heywood describing where the wound was, right?

But eight years later, Lemuel Shattuck published his History of the Town of Concord, and he summarized the same incident this way:
…they [British soldiers] fired at Mr. Abel Prescott, whom they saw returning from an excursion to alarm the neighbouring towns; but, though slightly wounded in his side, he secreted himself in Mrs. Heywood’s house and escaped.
Abiel Heywood was still alive and prominent then, too.

These days almost every description of Dr. Abel Prescott’s wound says it was in his side rather than his arm. And maybe it was, but an earlier source contradicts that.

Shattuck also wrote in a footnote: “Abel died of the dysentery in Concord, September 3, 1775, aged 25.” I think that was the first time the doctor’s death was described in print.

It’s notable how different authors have treated Prescott as a war casualty. In 1775 there was disagreement about whether to list him as wounded in battle. He wasn’t actually bearing arms against the enemy at the time, though as an alarm rider he was fulfilling a military purpose. Explaining the circumstance of his wounding, however, might say more than the Patriots wanted to about how they were prepared with an alarm system.

Disagreements over how to count Dr. Prescott may be why his name didn’t appear on Ezekiel Russell’s “Bloody Butchery” broadside, but did show up in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s official list of casualties to complain about.

The way authors described Dr. Prescott’s death continued to evolve. Shattuck stated baldly that the cause was “the dysentery.” There was an epidemic of that diarrheal disease in Massachusetts in late 1775, called “camp fever” because it was undoubtedly spread in the Continetal Army camps and brought home to rural towns by sick soldiers and others who had been in those camps.

Shattuck didn’t state that Dr. Abel Prescott contracted dysentery while treating soldiers, however, or say anything more about his military activity.

In contrast, at least since Ruth R. Wheeler in Concord: Climate for Freedom (1967), authors have connected Prescott’s injury in April with his death in the summer. Wheeler wrote: “in his weakened condition he fell a prey to dysentery and died in August.”

By stating that Dr. Abel Prescott, Jr., never recovered from his wound, recent authors have thus made him into another casualty of the battle on 19 Apr 1775. And given what we know about health, that might be accurate. But it’s also possible that Prescott recovered from his wound and contracted dysentery independently, like many other people in Massachusetts.

Finally, there’s a question about when Dr. Abel Prescott, Jr., died. As I’ve said, that household doesn’t show up in Concord’s published vital records. Shattuck stated a death date of 3 September. The Prescott Memorial (1870) echoed that date and reported his age as “26 years, 5 mos., 9 days,” but that was actually nine days short of five months. More recently somebody apparently took that count of days as exact and calculated Prescott’s death as happening on 21 September, and that date now appears on Find-a-grave, Wikipedia, and other websites. Finally, as quoted above, Wheeler wrote that young doctor “died in August.” In the absence of a contemporaneous source, I’m sticking with 3 September.

COMING UP: Back to Dr. Samuel Prescott.

Monday, April 17, 2023

“Mrs. Heywood, an aged lady, and her son-in-law”

Yesterday we left Dr. Abel Prescott, Jr., trying to return home to Concord after alerting militia officers in Framingham and Sudbury that British regulars were on the march.

As Prescott rode closer, he spotted some of those soldiers, reportedly near the South Bridge. According to town minister and chronicler Ezra Ripley in 1827, this happened “A few minutes after the fight at the [North] bridge,” meaning those soldiers might have been on edge after hearing shots.

Ripley wrote:
Perceiving that he was watched, and that by pressing forward he should be likely to fall into their hands, he [Prescott] turned his horse about, on which they fired upon him, and wounded him in one arm.

He rode directly to the house of Mrs. Heywood, who with her son-in-law, now the Hon. Abiel Heywood, and living witness of this affair, quickly attended to his wound.

But observing the British advancing to the house, Mrs. Heywood, an aged lady, and her son-in-law left it, and sought a place of greater safety.—

Mr. Prescott ran up stairs and concealed himself in a dark place, behind the chimney and a dry cask. He heard them searching for him and uttering bitter threats, but they did not find him.
When I read this passage, I had questions about who “Mrs. Heywood” was and why her “son-in-law” had the same surname. Here’s what I figured out.

On 28 Aug 1744, the Rev. Daniel Bliss married Sarah Stone and Jonathan Heywood of Concord. He had been born in 1717, she around 1727. They had six children. The fifth was Abiel, born on 9 Dec 1759.

On 8 Jan 1768, Sarah Heywood died, aged forty-one. Some of her children were still young; Abiel had recently turned eight.

On 23 August of the same year, Jonathan remarried. His new wife was listed as “Rebeckah Rise, of Sudbury,” in the Concord records and as “Mrs. Rebecca Rice” in the Concord records.

Calculating from Rebecca Heywood’s reported age when she died in 1801, she had been born in 1714. So Jonathan Heywood had married an older woman as his second wife, not a younger one. Rebecca Rice might also have been a widow, but I can’t find an earlier marriage in Sudbury.

Jonathan Heywood died on 18 July 1774, short of his second sixth anniversary. According to the custom of the time, his property was to be held for the benefit of his children, but his widow could continue to live in the family house. His minor children, including fourteen-year-old Abiel, would have a guardian appointed to protect their interests.

Thus, Ripley used the term “son-in-law” in an old-fashioned sense to mean stepson. And “aged lady” to mean a widow of about sixty-one.

The “house of Mrs. Heywood” was the house where Rebecca Heywood lived for more than a quarter-century after her husband Jonathan died. Abiel Heywood, and quite possibly some of his siblings, were there with his stepmother on 19 Apr 1775 when Dr. Abel Prescott arrived, wounded in the arm and hunted by regulars.

Abiel Heywood grew up, went to Harvard, also trained as a doctor, but spent most of his time on Concord civic affairs. On the occasion of his first marriage, at age sixty-two, he bought his first pair of pantaloons, abandoning Revolutionary-style knee breeches. He lived long enough to tell stories at the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of war.

TOMORROW: Assessing Dr. Prescott’s wound.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Getting to Know Dr. Samuel Prescott

One of the questions after my online talk for the Army Heritage Center Foundation last week led me to discussing Dr. Samuel Prescott and how little we know about him. So I decided to look into what we do know.

Dr. Prescott is remembered for joining Paul Revere and William Dawes on their ride west from Lexington center in the small hours of 19 Apr 1775. Revere’s 1798 account is largely responsible for that clear identification. The silversmith wrote: “We were overtaken by a young Docter Prescot, whom we found to be a high Son of Liberty.”

Some authors have claimed that Prescott was already active in the Patriot resistance, carrying messages. I’ve never seen evidence of that beyond the fact that Revere called him “a high Son of Liberty.” But look at how that clause began, “whom we found…” Revere and Dawes, who were active in the network and in Revere’s case had been out to Concord before, didn’t know Prescott. They had to get to know him.

Note also how Revere, aged forty, recalled this rider as “a young Docter Prescot.” Samuel Prescott was only twenty-three years old. In fact, he was the fourth Dr. Prescott in Concord, after his father, Dr. Abel Prescott (1718–1805), and his brothers, Benjamin (1745–1830) and Abel, Jr., who had just turned twenty-six. (Their mother had died the previous July.)

(I’m following the dates that appear in The Prescott Memorial, published by a family member in 1870. Find-a-Grave gives a different date in 1749 for Abel, Jr.’s birth without citing a source. The family doesn’t appear in Concord’s published vital records.)

Revere warned his companions that there were British army officers on the road that night, so they should be prepared. And:
I likewise mentioned, that we had better allarm all the Inhabitents till we got to Concord; the young Doctor much approved of it, and said, he would stop with either of us, for the people between that & Concord knew him, & would give the more credit to what we said.
The elder Dr. Abel Prescott had treated people in that region for decades, succeeding his own father and elder brother. He had probably brought his sons along on calls for training.

In Lincoln, while Prescott and Dawes visited a house together, Revere spotted two riders up ahead. He thought they were behaving like the army officers who had nearly stopped him in Charlestown. He called for his companions to join him, thinking three Patriots could handle two officers. Instead, “in an Instant I was surrounded by four.”

Revere continued:
The Docter being foremost, he came up; and we tryed to git past them; but they being armed with pistols & swords, they forced us in to the pasture;—the Docter jumped his Horse over a low Stone wall, and got to Concord.
Revere had nothing more to say about Prescott. Concord sources confirm that he reached his home town with the Bostonians’ warnings and then continued on west to Acton and Stow.

Meanwhile, Dr. Abel Prescott, Jr., mounted and carried the same news to Framingham and Sudbury, south of Concord. Later in the morning he tried to return to Concord over the South Bridge, only to find regulars from the 10th Regiment of Foot guarding that position.

TOMORROW: Wounded and hiding.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Watching April Morning with Experts

Since it’s Patriots’ Day season, I’m looking for appropriate content to share.

Just in time, this year brings us a video analysis of the 1988 television movie April Morning from Penn State Altoona history professor Jared Frederick and Minute Man National Historical Park ranger Jarrad Fuoss.

Howard Fast published April Morning in 1961, one of several novels set in the Revolution that he wrote over his long career. At the time Fast was coming out of the shadow of the H.U.A.C. blacklist, still leftist but having broken with Soviet Communism. Ideas of human rights show up a lot in the novel, though there’s some blur between eighteenth-century community rights and more modern ideas of individual rights.

The American Revolution is often presented as a national coming of age, and many novels about it are coming-of-age stories, April Morning among them. Structurally it’s interesting in that it takes place over about a day and a half, all in Lexington on 18–19 April 1775. Because of the young hero, straightforward narrative and writing style, and all-American backdrop, the novel has often been assigned in high school.

In 1988 the book was adapted for the Hallmark Hall of Fame series. Chad Lowe, then one of many handsome young actors vying for stardom, played the lead. Tommy Lee Jones provided weight as the hero’s father. Jones had won an Emmy for playing Gary Gilmore in 1983; he would make Lonesome Dove the next year and become a movie star with The Fugitive four years later. The supporting cast included Robert Urich and Rip Torn. (Trivia: Earlier in the decade Lowe had starred in a sitcom called Spencer while Urich starred in the detective show Spenser.)

Reel History is a YouTube channel that seeks to elevate the “reaction video” genre by adding informed historical commentary to movies set in the past. Or, as the creators’ website explains:
Jared often joined friends Andrew and Tracey Collins at their household for movie nights. Inevitably, historian Jared would initiate impromptu color commentary on historical films. One evening, Andrew declared, "Why don't we put a camera in front of you and start a YouTube channel?"
This discussion about April Morning is the first of a series within the series called “Reel History with a Ranger.” As a National Park Service veteran, Frederick is inviting people from the agency to analyze movies relevant to their sites. Fuoss brings both a lot of knowledge about the Battle of Lexington and Concord and a lot of experience explaining that history clearly to the public.

The resulting video is about an hour long, and only a little of that is the actual movie. Those scraps serve as pegs for Fuoss’s detailed description and analysis of the real battle, which is the real treat. You can watch the movie later if you still need to.

(Incidentally, this video could make American viewers feel their age. The commentators are named Jared and Jarrad. I can’t remember any classmate named Jared when I grew up, and indeed Social Security records show that it was rare for boys born in the same decade as me. But it was the 58th most popular male name in both the 1980s and 1990s before sharply declining in bell curve fashion. Thus, being in a room with two people named Jared is an experience familiar to one age cohort but not anyone older or younger.)

Friday, April 14, 2023

“More of a spectacle than a science”

Lily Ford’s Public Domain Review article “‘For the Sake of the Prospect’: Experiencing the World from Above in the Late 18th Century” drifted across my vision a while back.

She made an interesting observation about different national experiences of ballooning:

The first successful manned balloon flights were conducted in France with state support. The ascents themselves became known as “experiments”, and were concerned with an exploration of the upper air. In Britain, the Royal Society withheld support from such endeavours, so the first British ascents were underwritten, in the words of one early balloonist, by “a tax on the curiosity of the public”. This affected the cultural profile of ballooning in England: it was always more of a spectacle than a science.
British balloonists, including the Boston-born Dr. John Jeffries, nonetheless tried to do science in the air. Ford’s focus was one such man, the first to try to convey the experience of human flight through graphic design:
Thomas Baldwin, an early balloonist who hired [Vincent] Lunardi’s balloon for an ascent over Chester in 1785, inscribed a long book about his one day in the air to "the principal inhabitants of Chester" who had covered his costs. Uniquely in this period, Baldwin attempted to describe his experience not only verbally, but using images: three expensively produced plates depicting the view from the balloon, the balloon in the view, and the charted passage of the balloon over the landscape.
The first image in his Airopaidia, “A Circular View from the Balloon at its greatest Elevation”, departs from established conventions of landscape representation. At a quick glance it resembles an eyeball in its spherical regularity. . . . “The Spectator is supposed to be in the Car of the Balloon, suspended above the Center of the View” (Baldwin:iv). The ground is visible in the “iris”, a central roundel which contains, upon inspection, the plan view of a town and its river. This is Chester, fondly placed at the centre of this entirely new kind of view. The town is framed by a thick “Amphitheatre, or white Floor of Clouds” (Baldwin:iv). Drawing clouds was clearly not one of Baldwin’s strengths.
Baldwin even recommended laying the book on the floor or ground and looking straight down on this picture to understand it.

A later image is closer to the aerial views that have become entirely familiar in an age of airplanes and satellites.
The main point of this picture was the path of the balloon over the landscape, as shown by the looping black thread across the landscape.

Indeed, I suspect Baldwin created this image using a map of the area around Chester rather than sketching what he actually saw from the air. Cartographers had actually produced aerial views simply through mental effort.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Jason Russell House in Arlington Open for Patriots’ Day

Earlier this month it wasn’t clear if the Jason Russell House would be open during Patriots’ Day, but the Arlington Historical Society has announced its visiting hours.

There will be guided tours of the Jason Russell House on Sunday, 16 April, from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. and on Monday, 17 April, from noon to 4:00 P.M.

Admission includes the exhibit “Menotomy—Road to Revolution.” The cost is $8 for adults, $4 for children aged six to eighteen, and free for younger children.

The house itself was studied by the Dendrochronology Laboratory at Oxford University in 2012. That examination showed that some of the timbers were cut around 1684 and probably used to build an older structure. Then Jason Russell bought the property and erected this house in the 1740s, using some older salvaged beams and some new wood.

By 1775 Russell was in his late fifties and too disabled to serve in the regular militia for this western part of Cambridge. Nonetheless, he chose not to leave his house, near the road on which the British columns marched west in the morning.

In fact, Russell welcomed militiamen from towns to the south (Dedham, Needham) and the northeast (Essex County) onto his property. Those men planned to shoot at the withdrawing redcoats, despite warnings that their ambush position was so close to the road they could be outflanked. They were.

British soldiers killed twelve men on this site. Another eight survived by holing up (down?) in the basement.

The dead, including Russell, were buried in one grave. In 1848 the people of West Cambridge, as the town was then known, erected a granite obelisk on that site. However, they knew the names of only three of the men interred there. The rest were from other towns, so they didn’t have local descendants and neighbors to remember them. The Centennial of 1875 stimulated more research, providing the names all the men who died in the battle there.

As I previously noted, the Arlington Historical Society is also sponsoring a lecture on Tuesday, 25 April, at 7:30 P.M. in the town’s Masonic Temple on “The Battle of Menotomy” by A. Michael Ruderman.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

“General Gage and the Guns” Tonight

Tonight, April 12, I’ll deliver an online talk for the Army Heritage Center Foundation in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on “General Gage and the Guns of the Boston Train.”

This is one of several talks I’ve developed from The Road to Concord. This one looks at events through Gen. Thomas Gage’s eyes, examining how he tried to stymie the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s effort to build a military force.

Here’s Gage reporting to Viscount Barrington, the longtime British secretary of war, on 25 Sept 1774:
I write to your Lordship by a private Ship fearing the Post to New York which must convey my Letters from hence for the Packet not quite safe, tho’ it has not yet been stopped; but People have been so questioned, and impeded on the Road, there is no knowing how soon the Post may be examined, for there seems no Respect for any Thing.

Affairs here are worse that even in the Time of the Stamp-Act, I don’t mean in Boston, for throughout the Country. The New England Provinces, except part of New Hampshire, are I may say in Arms, and the Question is now not whether you shall quell Disturbances in Boston, but whether those Provinces shall be conquered, and I find it is the General Resolution of all the Continent to support the Massachusett’s Bay in their Opposition to the late Acts. From Appearances no People are more determined for a Civil War, the whole Country from hence to New York armed, training and providing Military Stores.

Every Man supposed averse to their Measures so molest’d & oppressed, that if he can get out of the Country, which is not an easy Matter, he takes Shelter in Boston.
Clearly, Gen. Gage warned his superiors that in Massachusetts the Crown government was facing opposition that was widespread, armed, and militant. He didn’t even trust the royal mail. Neighboring colonies were joining the rebels. He was losing potential allies in the countryside as they sought safety in Boston.

When Gage’s messages reached London, however, Lord North and his ministers viewed them as alarmist. They didn’t accept his reports as factual. They lost faith in him.

Ironically, some later historians have judged Gage to be too cautious. He was indeed reluctant to act until the secretary of state, Lord Dartmouth, told him he had to—but that was in large part because he knew how strong his opponents could be. In the fall of 1774 and winter of 1775, Gage was cautious because the situation warranted it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

A Taste of Shumate’s Sugar Act

At the Journal of the American Revolution, John Gilbert McCurdy (author of Quarters) just reviewed Ken Shumate’s new book, The Sugar Act and the American Revolution.

I’m pleased to know about this study because I’ve long seen histories mention the Sugar Act of 1764 as colonial Americans’ first grievance of the decade. It prompted James Otis’s pamphlet The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, which established “no taxation without representation” as the logical foundation for colonial resistance (without using that phrase, which didn’t appear until 1768).

And yet in looking at the more widespread resistance to the Crown in the late 1760s, and reading the colonists’ own arguments, the taxes and restrictions on sugar (and molasses, and rum, and later coffee and wine) show up barely at all.

Shumate’s study offers some explanations. First, the traders of the 1760s were used to an imperial tax on molasses, which was first instituted in 1733. The main purpose of that law was to discourage trading with French, Spanish, and Dutch West Indies, so objecting to it didn’t come across as patriotic or law-abiding. It was easier to smuggle quietly.

Then in 1764 prime minister George Grenville revised the law, actually cutting the duty in the hope that more American merchants would see obeying the law as the economical alternative. Then in early 1766 the Marquess of Rockingham’s government reduced the duty still further. There was literally less to complain about. To be sure, that last revision meant the government was taxing molasses from the British islands, too, but the North Americans were so pleased with Rockingham’s repeal of the Stamp Act that they didn’t raise a fuss.

Another big factor in the colonial response, I think, was that that Sugar Act’s taxes and trade restrictions affected only a small portion of the population. Molasses traders and rum distillers were a special interest. The biggest threat to their business actually came from distillers on the British Caribbean islands producing their own rum instead of shipping all the raw material to the mainland.

In contrast, the Stamp Act affected everyone in the colonies who filed or responded to lawsuits, read newspapers, got married, and more, which meant everyone. Though rum made from molasses was popular, tea was even more popular, so Charles Townshend’s 1767 tax on that import produced more widespread, longer-lasting opposition.

As McCurdy writes:
Although strict enforcement actually increased with the 1766 revision, the Americans raised few objections to the Sugar Act. Instead, between 1768 and 1772, the law brought in nearly £165,000 from duties on molasses, sugar, madeira, and other goods. But taxing British sugars did little to stem the tide of foreign products as 97 percent of the four million gallons of molasses that came into America derived from foreign sources.

Colonial ambivalence toward the Sugar Act continued despite the Townshend duties of 1767. Although Boston merchants demanded that no British goods would be imported until all taxes were repealed — including the Sugar Act — resistance from merchants in Philadelphia and New York forced them to drop this demand. Indeed, it was not until after the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and the Coercive Acts of 1774 that Americans turned against the Sugar Act.
Looking back, writers started to treat the Sugar Act as the start of their troubles. At the time, however, colonists saw bigger things to complain about.

Monday, April 10, 2023

How Americans Took Sides over Georgium Sidus

The Age of Revolutions just published M. A. Davis’s article “American Uranus: The Early Republic and the Seventh Planet.”

Like my political snakes article on the same site, this starts with eighteenth-century science and moves into the political implications of that new understanding.

In the middle of the war over American independence, the astronomer William Herschel (shown here) extended the reach of Britain in a new way: he discovered a planet beyond Saturn.

All previous planets had been known since antiquity, so this was a very big deal. Herschel himself had reported this object as a comet, just a very big one in a near-circular orbit far from Earth.

“You will find I hope that we have not been idle,” wrote Royal Society president Joseph Banks, sending the news to a member busy negotiating the Treaty of Paris: Benjamin Franklin. For those men, scientific discovery transcended new national borders.

Thomas Jefferson also admired Herschel, noting “the number of double stars” he had discovered. But he didn’t like the name that Herschel gave to that new planet, telling the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles that the British “foolishly call it Georgium sidus,” after King George III.

At that time Jefferson was calling that planet “Herschel,” after its discoverer. Not surprisingly, that suggestion had come from a French astronomer, Jérôme Lalande. No matter that Herschel himself had chosen the name Georgium sidus [George’s star], after his patron, who granted him £200 per year.

There were still other names proposed. The Swedish astronomer Erik Prosperin suggested “Neptune,” which some colleagues connected to the strength of Britain’s Royal Navy. Davis’s article reports that in 1791 the Jeffersonian National Gazette of the U.S. used “Cybele.” That was the mother goddess of ancient Phrygia. Anything to avoid honoring King George.

Davis writes:
Not every American hesitated to use the British term for the new planet, even in the Early Republic. In 1795, the Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser, an vigorously Federalist paper from Philadelphia, mentions the “‘tenth muse,’ lately arrived from ‘Georgium Sidus.’”

Given the Anglophilia of the Federalist press, perhaps this is not surprising – but the divide over the new planet was not quite that simply partisan. On April 20, 1801, DC’s National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser had no problem referring to (in Herschel’s obituary) his role as “discoverer of the new planet Georgium sidus.” And the National Intelligencer, in an age of partisan divides in the press, was an enthusiastically Republican paper and one closely affiliated with Jefferson! Jefferson’s preferred “Planet Herschel” appeared next in the Alexandria Gazette, Commercial & Political in 1811 – a Federalist paper.
Of course, 1811 wasn’t a good time for U.S.-British relations. American writers continued to call the planet “Herschel” most of the time through the 1840s. Only then did a dark horse candidate gain favor.

Back in 1781, the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode had responded to William Herschel’s announcement by going back into older star charts and finding the planet catalogued there, mistaken for a star. By stringing those sightings together, Bode calculated its slow orbit. He also proposed a name for that planet. Since the mythological Saturn was Jupiter’s father, Bode apparently reasoned, the next planet out should be Saturn’s father.

Now technically the Latin name for Saturn’s father was “Caelus.” That god’s standard Greek name was “Ouranos.” But Bode used Uranus, and that’s the name Americans came around to. Even Britain’s National Almanac Office adopted Uranus in 1850.