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

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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Larson on American Inheritance in Boston, 31 May

On Wednesday, 31 May, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a talk by Edward J. Larson on his new book, American Inheritance: Liberty & Slavery in the Birth of a Nation, 1765–1795.

The publisher’s description of the book says:
New attention from historians and journalists is raising pointed questions about the founding period: was the American revolution waged to preserve slavery, and was the Constitution a pact with slavery or a landmark in the antislavery movement? . . .

With slavery thriving in Britain’s Caribbean empire and practiced in all of the American colonies, the independence movement’s calls for liberty proved narrow, though some Black observers and others made their full implications clear. In the war, both sides employed strategies to draw needed support from free and enslaved Blacks, whose responses varied by local conditions. By the time of the Constitutional Convention, a widening sectional divide shaped the fateful compromises over slavery that would prove disastrous in the coming decades.

Larson’s narrative delivers poignant moments that deepen our understanding: we witness New York’s tumultuous welcome of Washington as liberator through the eyes of Daniel Payne, a Black man who had escaped enslavement at Mount Vernon two years before. Indeed, throughout Larson’s history it is the voices of Black Americans that prove the most convincing of all on the urgency of liberty.
Larson is University Professor of History and Hugh and Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University. His books include The Return of George Washington: Uniting the States, 1783-1789; A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign; and Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion, which received a Pulitzer Prize.

This talk will be a hybrid event. The Zoom feed will start at 6:00 P.M. while in-person attendees can enjoy a reception in the preceding half-hour. Register for either form of access here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Brekus on “American ‘Choseness’,” 31 May

On Wednesday, 31 May, the Old North Church will host the 2023 Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lecture on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State, delivered by Harvard Divinity School’s Dr. Catherine Brekus.

Prof. Brekus’s topic will be “The Myth of American ‘Chosenness’.” The talk will be followed by a panel discussion featuring four more thinkers on religion and then a reception, all co-hosted by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Brekus is the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School, chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and an associate member of the Program in American Studies and the Department of History.

She is currently writing a book about the relationship between American nationalism and Christianity and co-authoring a biography of Sarah Edwards (1710–1758) with Harry Stout and Ken Minkema. Among her many articles and books are Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 and Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelicalism in Early America.

The panel members will be:
  • The Rev. Dr. Jaimie Crumley (moderator), Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah and the outgoing Research Fellow at Old North Illuminated in Boston.
  • The Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, Ph.D., assistant bishop in the Episcoal Church’s Diocese of Massachusetts.
  • Dr. Michael Hoberman, professor of American literature at Fitchburg State University and author of New Israel/New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America.
  • The Rev. Darrell Hamilton, Administrative Pastor at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain and Protestant Chaplain at Babson College.
Doors will open at the church at 5:00 P.M. Prof. Brekus will speak for half an hour starting at 5:30, and the panel discussion will fill the next hour. For in-person attendees, the reception will last until 8:00. This event is free for all, either in person or online. Register through this link.

Monday, May 29, 2023

In Memory of Jonathan Hale

On the night of 4 Mar 1776, the Continental Army moved onto the Dorchester peninsula and started to fortify a position on the heights.

On 5 March, the British military inside Boston started a countermove, then aborted it when the weather made an already difficult mission impossible.

On 6 March, Gen. William Howe ordered the king’s forces and Loyalists to prepare to evacuate the town.

On on 7 March, militia captain Jonathan Hale of Glastonbury, Connecticut, died in Roxbury.

Hale’s death wasn’t mentioned in any account of fighting, which leads to the conclusion that he died of illness, possibly a form of “camp fever.” He had turned fifty-five the previous month.

Capt. Hale’s body was buried in a local burying-ground later named for nearby Walter Street. The original headstone read:
Here lyes Buried ye. Body of Capt Jonathan Hale of Glastonbury in Connecticut who dyed March 7 1776, in ye. 56 year of his age.
Back in Glastonbury, this line was entered into the church records:
Capt. Jonathan Hale, died in the army at Jamaica plains, Roxbury, Massachusetts bay.
In the late nineteenth century the remains of other Revolutionary War casualties, unknown soldiers who had died at the Loring-Greenough House and other army hospitals, were moved to the same cemetery, and a single memorial installed for them.

The Hale grave marker disappeared by the end of that century, and the Sons of the American Revolution installed a new stone, shown above, courtesy of photographer BSN and Find a Grave.

I suspect there’s another stone memorializing Capt. Hale, in a curious way.

In the fall of 1776 the late captain’s son, also named Jonathan, did some service in the American military. I think he mobilized with a militia unit to defend either the Connecticut coast (Col. Erastus Wolcott’s regiment had that mission in late 1776) or New York City.

In September, this Jonathan Hale came back to Glastonbury. The church records record his death:
Oct. 1, Jonathan Hale, died a few days after he returned sick from the army.
A Hale genealogy also reports that the man’s teen-aged sister Jerusha died on 26 September. While the records don’t state what he died of, that’s consistent with him catching dysentery in camp and bringing it home.

The younger Jonathan Hale’s original grave marker survives, and it says:
In Memory of Mr. Jonathan Son of Capt. Jonathan & Mrs. Elizabeth Hale who died Oct. ye. 1st. AD. 1776, in ye. 31st. Year of his Age.
Nearby is another Sons of the American Revolution marker that says:
Revolutionary War Capt.
Jonathan Hale 2d
Col. Wolcott’s Regt.
Died Oct. 1776
AE. 30.
I suspect that latter stone mixes together the two Jonathan Hales, father and son. The father served in Wolcott’s regiment as a captain, but I see no contemporaneous record of the son being an officer. Yet that’s definitely the son’s death data. This stone thus serves as a memorial to the son’s military service, not mentioned on his own marker, and a cenotaph for the father, buried one hundred miles away.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Capt. Jonathan Hale at the Siege of Boston

Jonathan Hale was born in Glastonbury, Connecticut, on 1 Feb 1721, the eldest surviving child of Jonathan and Sarah (Talcott) Hale. As Jonathan grew up, his father held many public offices—town clerk, deputy to the Connecticut legislature, justice of the peace, and militia colonel among them.

The younger Jonathan Hale married Elizabeth Welles of Glastonbury in January 1744. Her father was likewise a legislator and militia colonel, so this marriage joined two of the town’s leading families. The groom’s father provided the couple with their own farmland.

Jonathan, Jr., and Elizabeth started having children the following December. Their first three were named, of course, Elizabeth, Jonathan, and Elizabeth—the first baby having died young. By 1770, Elizabeth had given birth to twelve children, eleven of them still alive.

Meanwhile, Jonathan’s younger brother Elizur went to Yale College and came back to Glastonbury to practice medicine. According to the 1885 guide to Yale graduates, “He is said to have been of dignified though rough exterior, witty and sarcastic, but benevolent and very useful.”

In 1772, Jonathan’s father died. He inherited more land and an enslaved man named Newport, and he got to drop the “Junior” after his name. By then he had become an officer in the Connecticut militia himself.

War broke out to the north in 1775. At the end of that year, the enlistments of New Englanders who had joined the army besieging Boston expired. In some desperation, Gen. George Washington asked the nearby colonies to send militia regiments for a few weeks to keep the British army bottled up.

Erastus Wolcott of East Windsor, son of a former governor, was commissioned colonel of one of Connecticut’s militia regiments. Among his captains was Jonathan Hale of Glastonbury—now a fifty-four-year-old grandfather. The regiment appears to have set out in early January 1776. It was assigned to the southern wing of the American forces in Roxbury under Gen. Joseph Spencer.

The Rev. Joseph Perry, a chaplain with those militia forces, wrote in his diary for 27 February:
About one P.M. when almost ready to dine came an alarm by General Spencers’ Sergeant brought it. The account was that the Regulars had landed on Dorchester point. Coll. Wolcott was ordered forth with to turn out with his Regiment. The Coll. sent the alarm to his Captins in every quarter to parade before his house immediately for an attack. . . .

Every face looked serious but determined and the thing was real to us. In a few moments the whole Regiment would have been moving to the expected scene of blood, but were countermanded by order from Genrl Spencer informing it was a false alarm. The men got out of the rain and mud as fast as they could and all was peace again.
Continental commanders were preparing to move onto the Dorchester heights and antsy about anything disrupting that plan. Washington wrote to Gen. Artemas Ward suggesting that he put “Six or Eight trusty men by way of Lookouts or Patrols” on that peninsula, “For should the Enemy get Possession of those Hills before us they would render it a difficult task to dispossess them.”


Saturday, May 27, 2023

Dispatches from an Age of Equipage

The blog of the Yale University Press in London recently featured an essay by Penelope J. Corfield, author of The Georgians: The Deeds and Misdeeds of Eighteenth-Century Britain, that intrigued me.

Corfield is an Emeritus Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London, and President of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

In this essay Corfield wrote:
I decided to provide a cultural overview of what people in the eighteenth century thought of their own era. Obviously, the surviving evidence came chiefly from the literate, who were able to record their views – although I also take note of popular songs and sayings. But I searched widely among the less well known and the completely unknown, as well as among the famous. It was the equivalent of tapping into Georgian journalism, both reflecting and trying to influence contemporary attitudes.

And the method that I used was to collect all the eighteenth-century statements that I could find, which took the form of a dictum: ‘It is an age of xxx’ (a common formulation) or a ‘century of xxx’. All these commentaries had to be made in the moment and of the moment. I was not interested (for this purpose) in people’s retrospective verdicts. But I wanted to know what they thought at the time – without any fore-knowledge of the outcome. . . .

A fairly sizable group defined the times in terms of material goods. . . . Thus an onlooker defined the era in 1736 ‘an age of Equipage’ – the smart term for a coach and a team of horses; or in 1756 as ‘this age of Vauxhalls and Ranelaghs’, referring to the new vogue for attending public pleasure gardens.

But much the largest category throughout the collection was the one I classified as ‘mood’. Some of the most frequently repeated claims were those expressing doubt: as in ‘an age of uncertainty’; ‘an age of anxiety’; ‘worrying times’. One British commentator in 1800 was completely woeful: ‘Never was the world in so calamitous or so perilous a state as at this moment’. (Hard not to laugh; but it was written in all seriousness).

Other onlookers, meanwhile, were full of hope, detecting ‘light’; ‘improvement’; even ‘an age in which knowledge is rapidly approaching towards perfection’. (The last quotation came from the philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1776, when in euphoric vein).
In this essay, and in her book, Corfield ends up perceiving more optimism than pessimism in eighteenth-century Britain.

Friday, May 26, 2023

“Remembering the American Revolution” with H-Early-America

Back in the last millennium, humanities scholars banded together to use one of the most advanced forms of internet as it then existed: email lists, or listservs. They created a network of such lists called H-Net.

With the advent of the World Wide Web, historians’ attention moved to websites, and then blogs. And then social networks and podcasts. H-Net continues to have those email lists, no longer the nexus of scholarly discussion but still useful, and it’s evolving in new forms.

Meanwhile, scholarly publishing has also evolved. As usual, that field is under the pressure of having little money to work with.

This week I saw those two forms of scholarly discourse and media and braiding together as one H-Net list, H-Early-America, proposes to publish and be the repository of a collection of research essays. Here’s the call for papers:
In 2026, the United States will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. There will be a host of events throughout the country to commemorate this momentous milestone, but also deep soul searching about the meanings of the revolution, independence, and liberty, and the proper way to commemorate such an event.

To participate in these conversations, H-Early-America invites essay submissions for Remembering the American Revolution at 250, a peer-reviewed publication hosted and freely available on the H-Net Publications Platform. Published essays will appear online on an open-access model, ensuring a broad readership.

Remembering the American Revolution at 250 will bring together historians, public historians, and other practitioners as the country commemorates the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. We invite submissions in five broad categories:
  • Global Revolution: How are the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Founders remembered overseas? What are the stories of George Washington statues in Europe? How have states that joined the Union after 1776, such as Florida and Louisiana, remembered the revolution?
  • Texts of Revolution: How do we remember and interpret various, especially lesser-known, documents from the American Revolution? How have resource projects enhanced the availability and accessibility of these documents? How can we use these documents in our teaching?
  • Revolution—or Not?: How did those indifferent or antagonistic to the American Revolution or who viewed the British as the side of liberty view and remember the events? How have African Americans processed the tension between their remembrances of freedom and enslavement and national remembrances of independence and the Revolution? How did families with divided loyalties work through their differences?
  • Remembering Revolution: How have we remembered the American Revolution? What aspects of the Revolution have we willfully forgotten because they were unpleasant or inconvenient? How have books, historians, and popular media contributed to the remembering or forgetting of the American Revolution?
  • Revolution for a New Century: How do we adjust the teaching of the American Revolution as we face new challenges from political leaders? How do historic sites address the need to include a broader set of voices? How do we communicate the history of the Revolution to the U.S. public in the 21st century?
We are also interested in essays that discuss teaching, teaching experiences, or lesson plans, which we plan to publish in cooperation with the H-Teach Network.
The announcement goes on to say that all essays will go through peer review. For more detail, see the announcement on H-Net’s website. The editors will look at proposals on a rolling basis until 31 Oct 2023.

The editors of this volume are Abby Chandler of University of Massachusetts, Lowell; Darcy R. Fryer of the Brearley School; Patrick Luck of Florida Polytechnic University; and Niels Eichhorn, Vice President of Research and Publication at H-Net.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

From the “Lower Counties” to an Independent State

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the fewer-than-thirteen colonies represented in Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 “JOIN, or DIE.” cartoon in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

The snake parts included Pennsylvania but not Delaware. From one perspective, Delaware was merely a part or adjunct of Pennsylvania. From another, it was a separate polity. The question wasn’t settled until 1776.

The area on the west side of what we call the Delaware River was the home of the Lenape, Nanticoke, and possibly Tuscarora people at the start of the seventeenth century. In 1631 the Dutch established a colony near the site of today’s Lewes, but that lasted about a year.

In 1638 Sweden tried imperial expansion and set up a colony at what’s now Wilmington. The Dutch returned in strength and took back the territory in 1655. Then the English seized Delaware from the Dutch in 1664.

That English expedition was acting on behalf of Prince James, Duke of York, later James II. Baron Baltimore, proprietor of Maryland, argued that the land should belong to his colony, but a duke had more clout than a baron. York turned his territory over to William Penn in 1682.

Penn was pleased that Philadelphia now enjoyed access to the sea along the Delaware River. He included his new “lower counties” in the Pennsylvania general assembly. But the old and new parts of the province didn’t work well together. In 1704 a separate Delaware assembly began meeting at New Castle.

In the top-down view of the Penn family and the imperial government in London, Pennsylvania and Delaware remained a single entity. They always had the same appointed governor. In 1765 the ministers in London named John Hughes as stamp master for all of Pennsylvania, including the ”lower counties.”

Franklin’s emblem showed a similar perspective. Though as a member of the Pennsylvania assembly he knew that the lower counties met separately, he didn’t think Delaware needed to be treated as a whole colony on its own. It was just an appendage to rapidly growing Pennsylvania, lacking western lands and a major port.

Other newspapers copied the Pennsylvania Gazette emblem, also leaving out Delaware. When Isaiah Thomas and Paul Revere adapted the original snake into a more dangerous kind for the Massachusetts Spy masthead, they added Georgia—but still filed Delaware under “P.”

What changed the way people looked at Delaware? I think the arrival of continent-wide Congresses was a big factor. (Ironically, the “JOIN, or DIE.” emblem was created to promote the first such gathering, the Albany Congress, which didn’t really work.)

Colony legislatures, not governors, sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 and later gatherings. That meant Delaware acted separately from Pennsylvania. The two delegations had equal votes in the Congresses. American Whigs happily counted twelve colonies at the First Continental Congress, thirteen at the second.

By 1776, those politicians were proclaiming that power rose from the people—or at least that top slice of the people who elected representatives. From that bottom-up perspective, Delaware was already separate from Pennsylvania. During that year, the Delaware legislature’s declarations and resolutions formally established the state as independent not only from Britain but also from its northern neighbor.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

“No body ever heard of a quarter Master in History as such”

As part of last weekend’s History Camp Valley Forge, I signed up for a tour of “F.O.B. Valley Forge” led by Army War College professor Ricardo A. Herrera, author of Feeding Washington’s Army: Surviving the Valley Forge Winter of 1778.

I’ve visited Valley Forge before, but I was pleased to view the terrain again with an expert guide.

While standing in front of the oversized mounted statue of Gen. Anthony Wayne, Herrera spoke about how the Continental Army’s supply problems that winter were exacerbated by the lack of a quartermaster general. Thomas Mifflin resigned from that administrative post (for the second time) in November 1777.

In March 1778, Gen. George Washington finally twisted the arm of his most trusted lieutenant, Nathanael Greene, to take that job. It had been filled by civilians before, and Greene insisted on a promise that he could return to his army rank afterwards.

A year later, on 29 Apr 1779, Greene made his ongoing feelings about the assignment clear in a letter to Washington:
There is a great difference between being raisd to an Office and decending to one; which is my case. There is also a great difference betwext serving where you have a fair prospect of honor and laurels, and where you have no prospect of either let you discharge your duty ever so well. No body ever heard of a quarter Master in History as such or in relateing any brilliant Action.
But Greene was doing the job. His first big action as quartermaster general, Herrera explained, was to launch a “grand forage,” sending troops out into the countryside around Valley Forge to collect every type of supply that the army needed, paying in Continental scrip whether farmers were happy about that or not.

Greene put Wayne in charge of the main part of that effort. Col. Henry Lee and Cmdre. John Barry scoured other areas. That campaign for supplies kept the army together in the spring of 1777.

As I looked up at the statue of Wayne, I wondered whether there was a similar statue of Greene, given his importance. So I did some quick web-searching. Washington, Wayne, and Steuben appear to have been the only generals with standalone statues in Valley Forge National Park until this century.

In 2015, a statue of Greene by Susie Chisholm was put up near the Washington Memorial Chapel. It’s life-sized, not oversized. It’s on foot, not mounted. And I suspect it’s at that location because the chapel and its grounds are episcopal property, not part of the national park. (The National Park Service is in the business of preserving statues and monuments, not installing new ones.) Chapters of the Sons of the American Revolution funded this memorial.

And that public artwork is making sure that somebody has heard of a quartermaster.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Vaughn on “Tea, Taxes and World History,” 24 May

On Wednesday, 24 May, the American Revolution Institute in Washington, D.C., will host a talk by Prof. James M. Vaughn of the University of Chicago on “On Tea, Taxes and World History: The British East India Company and the Origins of the American Revolution.”

The event description says:
In May 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which instituted a tax of three cents per pound on all British tea sold in America. The act effectively granted a monopoly on the sale of tea in the American colonies to the British East India Company, which was looking to reduce its excessive stores of tea and relieve its financial burdens.

To commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Tea Act’s passage, James Vaughn, a historian of the British Empire at the University of Chicago, examines the developments in Britain, British North America and South Asia leading to the passage of the act, and discusses why a relatively mundane piece of parliamentary legislation renewed the imperial crisis and led to the outbreak of the American Revolution.
Vaughn is a professor at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on the British Empire and Atlantic world during the eighteenth century. He is the author of The Politics of Empire at the Accession of George III: The East India Company and the Crisis and Transformation of Britain’s Imperial State and co-editor of Envisioning Empire: The New British World from 1763 to 1773.

Vaughn is currently preparing “a book on the American Revolution and the origins of liberal democracy in global context.”

This talk will also be available for viewing online, starting at 6:30 P.M. Register through this page.

Monday, May 22, 2023

More Reporting from Rennsylvania

Yesterday I posted about how an error crept into our cultural reading of the Pennsylvania Gazette’s “JOIN, or DIE.” snake emblem.

Here, thanks to History Dame (as seen on Instagram and Twitter), are three products on sale at the Franklin Institute that use images derived from the Library of Congress’s copy of that newspaper.

A T-shirt:

A sticker:
A tote bag:
As you can see, the speck in the paper touching the “P.” in a single copy of the newspaper at the Library of Congress keeps coming out as an “R”.

Ryan Strause shared several other examples, from various manufacturers and gift shops, during his talk on this topic at History Camp Valley Forge. For some a graphic designer even recreated the picture with modern type, including an “R”. Now that he’s alerted me to this quirk, I’m never going to be able to unsee it.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Reporting from Rennsylvania

Yesterday at History Camp Valley Forge, the first presentation I attended was Ryan Strause’s talk about correcting the record on the Pennsylvania Gazette’s “JOIN, or DIE.” image from 1754.

Most of this talk was about Strause’s personal story of noticing a misperception that affected reproductions of Benjamin Franklin’s emblem and doggedly urging institutions to correct it.

The underlying historical story is quicker but might hold wider lessons.

Back in 1754, one copy of the Pennsylvania Gazette was printed on paper that had a speck in it. Unluckily, this speck was right next to the “P.” for Pennsylvania in the snake cartoon. That made the “P.” on that copy look on a first glance like an “R”.

Even more unluckily, that one copy of the Gazette page ended up in the collection of the Library of Congress. That institution’s image was easy to find and to reproduce, with no permission fees. And in black-and-white reproductions, the “P.” with a speck looked even more like an “R.”

By the early 21st century, if not before, the Library of Congress’s cataloguing information even said the letters along the snake were “S.C., N.C., V., M., R., N.J., N.Y., N.E.” And that of course appeared to be an authoritative source.

As a result, many modern reproductions of the cartoon, whether photographic or recreated, showed an “R” in place of a “P.”

Even though an “R” made no sense historically. Even though other surviving copies of the same printed page showed the “P.” Even though period artwork based on the 1754 Pennsylvania Gazette image showed the “P.”

Thanks for Strause’s efforts, the Library of Congress’s cataloguing information has been corrected, and the correction is presumably working its way through the culture, like a snake digesting a rodent.

For a while yet, though, we’ll still see “S.C., N.C., V., M., R., N.J., N.Y., N.E.” flags, beach towels, T-shirts, and textbook illustrations.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Recruiting at Samuel Gettys’s Tavern

Yesterday I visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. What, you might ask, does that city have to do with Boston 1775?

After all, the boundaries of Gettysburg weren’t drawn until 1786, and it wasn’t incorporated as a borough for another twenty years after that.

Way back in 1761 a man from Ireland named Samuel Gettys settled at the intersection of roads between Philadelphia and Fort Pitt and between Shippensburg and Baltimore. He opened a tavern for soldiers, traders, hunters, and others traveling in that part of western York County.

When the Continental Congress resolved to recruit companies of riflemen to join the New England army besieging Boston, Gettys’s tavern was where most of the men of Capt. Michael Doudel’s company signed up, on 24 June 1775.

Those men marched out of York on 1 July, arriving in Cambridge twenty-four days later.

On 29 July, a letter back home to Pennsylvania reported, Doudel’s company was ordered “to march down to our advanced post, on Charlestown Neck, to endeavor to surround the enemy’s advanced guard, and bring off some prisoners, from whom we expected to learn the enemy’s design in throwing up the abattis in the Neck.”

Doudel led thirty-men to the right of the British position on Bunker’s Hill. By “creeping on their hands and knees, [they] got into the rear of the enemies sentries without being discovered.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Henry Miller led an equal number “in getting behind the sentries on the left.” The two lines of riflemen got to “within a few yards of joining” and surrounding the British advance guard.

But then “a party of regulars came down the hill to relieve their guard” and spotted Doudel’s riflemen. They fired from a distance of twenty yards. The Pennsylvanians fired back.

Then, it appears, almost all the soldiers dashed back to their own lines. The Continentals claimed “two prisoners and their muskets.” The British captured Cpl. Walter Cruise; there were soon rumors he was dead or executed, and it took well over a year before he made it back to the American side, as I’ve discussed elsewhere.

Shortly after that, Capt. Doudel fell ill, resigned, and returned home. Lt. Miller took command of the company for the rest of the siege of Boston.

After the war, the people of western York County started to agitate for their own governmental structure. In 1800 the state of Pennsylvania set off Adams County, named after President John Adams, and established the county seat as Gettysburg, named after the late tavern owner.

(The historical marker shown above is in York, where the Doudel’s company mustered before marching north. Fortunately, the area around where Samuel Gettys’s tavern stood has plenty of other historical markers and monuments.)

Friday, May 19, 2023

Meeting the Medmenham Monks

This month’s research topics took me to this page at the History of Parliament site about the fabled “Monks of Medmenham Abbey.”

John Wilkes played a big part in this story, as in many other British events of the 1760s and 1770s. Regardless of what one might think of his politics, Wilkes appears to have spread chaos almost everywhere he went. And on 15 June 1762 he was writing to one of his allies, Charles Churchill, “next Monday we meet at Medmenham.”

That article explains that Medmenham Abbey was “the headquarters of the co-called ‘Order of St Francis of Medmenham’, also known (erroneously) as the Hellfire Club.” (Another club name was the “Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe.”)

The first Duke of Wharton had founded what he called the Hellfire Club back in 1718, and in the nineteenth century an author with a penchant for the lurid applied the same label to the Medmenham group and others. But those gentlemen never used the term “Hellfire Club” for themselves.

The blog reports:
Quite what went on at Medmenham has long been the subject of occasionally lurid speculation and as one historian has suggested, it is a topic that ‘attracts cranks and repels scholars’ [N.A.M. Rodger, The Insatiable Earl, p.80]. At its most extreme some have suggested, almost certainly without foundation, that devil worship took place there, while at the other end it has been proposed that it was a somewhat eccentric antiquarian-cum-erotic meeting place of senior politicians, who assembled to indulge in boating parties, cavort with sex workers brought in from London for the purpose, share their interest in classical authors and plot. . . .

The founder of the fraternity was Sir Francis Dashwood [shown above], chancellor of the exchequer during the premiership of the earl of Bute, and later a member of the Lords as Baron le Despencer. Dashwood had leased Medmenham, close to his own seat at West Wycombe, in 1751, and proceeded to renovate the dilapidated abbey buildings, turning the site into a summer pleasure ground, where he could invite friends for parties on the Thames and picnicking among the ruins.

It was an important juncture. That year the heir to the throne, and focal point of the main opposition alliance, Frederick Prince of Wales, had died unexpectedly, leaving the opposition without an obvious rallying point.
The Medmenham gathering appears to have flourished in the 1750s. But then it foundered on its members’ own success after George II died. Frederick’s son, George III, came to the throne and installed a favorite, the Earl of Bute, as prime minister.

Bute made Dashwood his chancellor of the exchequer and found appointments for other men in the Medmenham circle, or just outside it. But he didn’t find a job for Wilkes.

This essay suggests that disappointment was enough for Wilkes to go into opposition in the worst way. However, Wilkes was already a champion of William Pitt, which would have made him a bad fit for Bute’s policies.

Wilkes and Churchill founded The North-Briton weekly in 1762 as a vehicle for attacking Bute. He also started to tell stories about the Medmenham club’s salacious activity. Other members objected, called Wilkes a liar or a cad.

One might think the fact that Wilkes was one of the group’s most licentious members would have undercut his own credibility. However, as the History of Parliament blog has said about Wilkes’s later career, lots of people already knew about his habits. Being a libertine was baked into his public image, so further revelations didn’t change his standing. If anything, Wilkes’s stories seemed more reputable because he was known for being disreputable.

Whatever the impetus for his break with the established political structure, Wilkes’s legal and political struggles over the next decade and a half created important forums for Britons to debate such issues as free speech, fair elections, government use of lethal force, and more. The Boston Whigs reached out to him for mutual support even though they would have detested his personal habits.

As for the Medmenham gatherings, Dashwood seems to have calmed down after becoming Baron le Despencer in 1763 and later postmaster general. In that decade he also became a close friend of Benjamin Franklin. Some authors link Franklin to the Medmenham monks, but by the time he was close to Despencer the club had really fallen apart.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

“Indigenous Histories in New England” in Deerfield, 23–24 June

The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife has announced the program of its 2023 conference on “Indigenous Histories in New England: Pastkeepers and Pastkeeping,” to take place on 23–24 June in Deerfield.

The Dublin Seminar website states:
This year’s seminar will address the gaps in Indigenous voice and visibility in public views of the past. We will critically consider who has claimed responsibility for “keeping” the Indigenous past in New England, including how it has been represented, how historical research can be decolonized and improved, and what museums and tribal nations have done to engage the public in better understandings.
The conference schedule starts with an optional visit on Friday morning to Amherst College Library, where its Special Collections staff will introduce the Amherst College Collection of Native American Literature.

Sessions inside the Deerfield Community Center begin at 1:30 P.M. on Friday. That afternoon and evening offers three panel discussions:
  • Indigenous Histories and Intergenerational Collaboration: Honoring Neal Salisbury, Pastkeeper, Spacemaker
  • Confronting Colonization at a Commemorative Moment: Reflections on Plymouth 400
  • Re-Covering and Re-Visioning: Indigenous Histories in New England Museums
On Saturday, a series of scholars will present their research in sessions built around these themes:
  • New Stories for Familiar Histories
  • Relocation, Resistance, & Resilience
  • Archives and Identity: Reciprocal Conversations
  • Land and Indigenous Values
Registration at the conference includes lunch on Saturday with fellow attendees.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Beatty on In Dependence in Boston, 19 May

On Friday, 19 May, the Old State House will host a discussion between Jacqueline Beatty and Daniel Carpenter about Dr. Beatty’s new book, In Dependence: Women and the Patriarchal State in Revolutionary America.

The event description explains:
Through a close review of thousands of legislative, judicial, and institutional pleas across 70 years of history in three urban centers, Dr. Beatty illustrates the ways in which women in the Revolutionary era asserted their status as dependents, demanding the protections owed to them as the assumed subordinates of men. In Dependence shows how women’s coming to consciousness as rights-bearing individuals laid the groundwork for the activism and collective petitioning efforts of later generations of American feminists.
Jacqueline Beatty is an Assistant Professor of History at York College of Pennsylvania. She received her bachelor’s degree from Boston College and returned to this metropolis for part of her research into women’s lives in Boston, Charleston, and Philadelphia.

Daniel Carpenter is the Allie S. Freed Professor of Government and Chair of the Department of Government at Harvard University. Like Beatty, he has examined citizens’ petitions to their governments. His Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790-1870 received the James P. Hanlan Book Award from the New England Historical Association, among other honors.

This is an in-person event starting at 5:30 P.M. at the Old State House, with the program scheduled for 6:00. It is co-sponsored by Mass N.O.W. and the Royall House and Slave Quarters, and financially supported by the Lowell Institute. The event is free to the public, but advance registration is recommended.

For people who can’t attend at the Old State House, here are a couple of other ways to learn about In Dependence.

A Commonplace Article on Phillis Wheatley

Yesterday my article “Phillis Wheatley’s ‘Mrs. W—’: Identifying the Woman Who Inspired ‘Ode to Neptune’” appeared on Commonplace, the web magazine on early America.

This year marks the sestercentennial of the publication of Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.

That anniversary has prompted a lot of new scholarship, including David Waldstreicher’s biography, a reissue of Vincent Carretta’s biography, and the issue of Early American Literature I linked to yesterday. This article is my small contribution to that work.

Some folks might spot how I developed this article from material originally posted here on Boston 1775 in 2015. Since this blog could disappear with the flick of a switch at the Alphabet corporation, I looked for a more lasting place to share those findings.

It’s gratifying to see this article on Commonplace since I’ve been reading that web magazine for over twenty years now. In citing that site, I always have trouble remembering how to spell the title, and it turns out there’s a good reason for that: “Commonplace originally launched in 2000 as Common-Place: The Journal of Early American Life.”

The founding editors were Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore, and the original institutional sponsor was the American Antiquarian Society. Today it’s an initiative of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture as well as the A.A.S. It no longer follows the model of academic journals with a collection of articles all published together each quarter, but rolls out material weekly and in a newsletter for subscribers. On this article I had the benefit of working with editor Joshua Greenberg and copyeditor Jordan Taylor, and I can recommend the process.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

“Finding Mrs. Phillis” in Cambridge, 20 May

On Saturday, 20 May, the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge will host an event called “Finding Mrs. Phillis” with Toni Bee and Nicole Aljoe.

Bee is a poet, teacher, and Poetry Ambassador for Cambridge. Aljoe is a professor of English and Africana Studies at Northeastern University. They’re two of the three coauthors of “Reading and Teaching Phillis Wheatley Peters in Boston,” published in a recent issue in Early American Literature.

The event description says:
Through a historical eye and a creative mind, the Professor and the Poet will lecture on the correspondence between General George Washington and Poet Phillis Wheatley Peters. This event includes a lecture, house tour, and poetry workshop.
It is scheduled to start at 2:00 P.M. and end at 4:00. Register to attend here.

The phrase “Mrs. Phillis” comes from Gen. George Washington’s letter to Phillis Wheatley, sent from that Cambridge mansion during the siege of Boston on 28 Feb 1776.

As the owner of a slave-labor plantation, Washington was used to addressing and referring to enslaved people by their first names—even when he knew they had surnames—and with no honorifics like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” For example, as he freed his wartime bodyservant in his will, Washington referred to that man as “my Mulatto man William (calling himself William Lee).”

The commander-in-chief was completely unprepared to receive a letter and poem from a black woman, someone he knew had been enslaved until recently. She signed herself “Phillis Wheatley.” Had she been white, the general would certainly have started his reply to her with “Dear Miss Wheatley.”

Instead, Washington wrote, “Dear Mrs. Phillis,” casting the poet into an in-between space, neither fully respected nor completely disrespected.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Carp on “A figurative and literal tinderbox”

In a long article at the Smithsonian Magazine, Erik Ofgang discusses Benjamin L. Carp’s argument in The Great New York Fire of 1776: A Lost Story of the American Revolution.

As is clear from the article title, “Did George Washington Order Rebels to Burn New York City in 1776?,” this analysis digs into the question of why the city burned so soon after the British army returned.
“I feel that it was definitely set deliberately,” said Carp on a recent afternoon outside of Trinity Church, which has been rebuilt twice since the 1776 fire. A historian at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center, Carp knows he hasn’t proved this theory “beyond all reasonable doubt,” but he points out that legal standard isn’t the norm for historians. He believes many accepted historical truths—including the “dinner table bargain” of 1790, in which Thomas Jefferson supposedly brokered a deal between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison—are built on similar or flimsier evidence.

In his meticulously researched, peer-reviewed book, Carp recounts how New York City, which was centered around modern-day Lower Manhattan and didn’t yet include any boroughs, was a figurative and literal tinderbox in the days before the fire. The vast majority of buildings were wooden. In the aftermath of the Continental Army’s retreat on September 15, the city was crawling with ardent Loyalists, New England radicals, British soldiers and Rebel spies—not to mention rumors that a fire was coming.

When the inferno finally broke out, many witnesses said they saw people starting smaller fires, carrying incendiary devices or interfering with efforts to put the fires out. These accounts are found in diary entries, contemporary newspaper articles and later testimonials. Additionally, Carp counts more than 15 distinct fire ignition points reported by witnesses.
The article tackles questions about the nature of historical evidence and changing perspectives.

This month will bring a couple more opportunities to hear Ben Carp speak about this and other Revolutionary issues. (He likes to prepare different lectures for different venues, so don’t be shy about signing up for both.)

Thursday, 18 May, 6:30 P.M.
Lost Stories: How the New York City Fire of 1776 Illuminates Unfamiliar Lives of the American Revolution
Fraunces Tavern Museum, in person and online
Register here

Tuesday, 30 May, 7:00 P.M.
Urban Geographies of the American Revolution
Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library, in person and online
Register here

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Kongo, “Angolans,” and the Stono Region

Another mystery of the article about early American fossil discoveries that I quoted yesterday was why the author identified the enslaved people who recognized elephantine teeth as coming from the “Kingdom of Kongo.”

The main source on that historic episode, the naturalist Mark Catesby, didn’t mention where in Africa those workers had come from.

However, that discovery occurred in the Stono region of South Carolina around 1725. The same region was the site of a significant uprising by enslaved people in 1739.

As this P.B.S. description says, white slaveholders identified the initial leader of that rebellion a ”an Angolan named Jemmy.”

The History Bandits website states:
The leaders of the initial insurrection were reportedly “Angolans” and suspected to have connections with Spanish Florida. They spoke Portuguese, which many South Carolinians understood to be “a dialect of Spanish, such as Scots is to English” and demonstrated certain adherences to the Catholic faith. One South Carolina planter around this time complained that “many Thousands of the Negroes profess the Roman Catholic Religion,” having learned its tenants [tenets] in Africa before being brought to the New World.
The period term “Angolan” appears to have been a misnomer:
In the early eighteenth century, however, most actual Angolan slaves were shipped directly from the Portuguese colony across the southern Atlantic to Brazil. When South Carolinians employed the term “Angolan,” they were more likely referring to the coast of West Central Africa, which British ship captains called the “Angolan Coast.” The port of Kabinda, near the mouth of Zaire River, served as the main point of embarkation for the slave trade in the region . . .

the slaves themselves came from the vast African interior. Distinguishing actual identities and backgrounds of African slaves is often impossible. Given that the leaders of the Stono Rebellion spoke Portuguese and practiced Catholicism, it seems likely that they came from the Kingdom of Kongo, the only region of West Central Africa with a long history of exposure to both the Catholic Church and Portuguese traders.
Thus, while it appears to be an assumption that the people who identified the mammoth teeth were from Kongo, there’s solid historical reason for making that assumption. That would be consistent with a knowledge of elephants. In Fossil Legends of the First Americans, Adrienne Mayor noted that the Congo region was the home of “living Loxodonta elephant species.”

However, there were also elephants in the Senegambia region and other parts of western Africa, home to most people shipped to North America. The slaveholders of the Stono region appear to have seen the “Angolans” as a troublemaking fraction of the people they claimed, not typical. Thus, while the people who saw the resemblance between mammoth and elephant teeth could well have included captives from Kongo, I don’t think that was the only possibility.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

“The Grinders of an Elephant” in South Carolina

Back in February, the Smithsonian Magazine website published a thought-provoking article titled “The First Fossil Finders in North America Were Enslaved and Indigenous People.”

Christian Elliott wrote:
Around 1725, a crew of enslaved people digging in swampy ground along South Carolina’s Stono River discovered something unusual: an enormous fossilized tooth. The find puzzled the group’s enslavers, who suggested it was a remnant from the biblical great flood. But it looked familiar to the excavators, who noted its resemblance to the molar of an African elephant—an animal they’d encountered back home in the Kingdom of Kongo.

“They must have thought, ‘Well, we have them in Africa, [and] I guess they have them here, too,’” says Adrienne Mayor, a folklorist and historian of ancient science at Stanford University. “It must have been exciting for them.”

Mayor first learned about the Stono discovery while writing Fossil Legends of the First Americans, a 2005 book on pre-Darwinian fossil knowledge—what she likes to call “science before science.” In a 1731 account, British botanist Mark Catesby detailed his recent trip to Virginia to study native plants. When word reached him of the colossal teeth dug up at Stono, Catesby decided to make the trip south to see the fossils for himself. Unconvinced by the landowners’ proposed identification, he decided to ask the discoverers what they thought, too.

“By the concurring opinion of all the … native Africans that saw them, [the teeth] were the grinders of an elephant,” Catesby recalled. The botanist agreed with the assessment based on the fossils’ similarities to elephant teeth he’d recently seen on display in London.
In her book Fossil Legends of the First Americans, Mayor wrote: “The plantation owners no doubt identified the remains as a giant victim of Noah’s Flood, the common interpretation in those days,” In contrast, the article suggests, Catesby disagreed.

I was intrigued, so I looked for the full passage from Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. He actually wrote:
There is no Part of the Globe where the Signs of a Deluge more evidently appears than in many Parts of the Northern Continent of America, which, though I could illustrate in many Instances, let this one suffice. Mr. Woodward, at his Plantation in Virginia, above an Hundred Miles from the Sea, towards the Sources of Rappahannock River, in digging a Well about seventy Feet deep, to find a Spring, discovered at that Depth a Bed of the Glossopetrae, one of which was sent me.

All Parts of Virginia, at the Distance of Sixty Miles, or more, abound its Fossil Shells of various Kinds, which in Stratums lie imbedded a great Depth in the Earth, in the Banks of Rivers and other Places, among which are frequently found the Vertibras, and other Bones of Sea Animals.

At a Place in Carolina called Stono, was dug out of the Earth three or four Teeth of a large animal, which, by the concurring Opinion of all the Negroes, native Africans, that saw them, were the Grinders of an Elephant, and in my Opinion they could be no other; I having seen some of the like that are brought from Africa.
Catesby didn’t record what the enslaving planters of Stono thought about the fossils at all. We don’t know if those people insisted on believing in antediluvian giants, accepted the enslaved workers’ identification, withheld judgment, or didn’t care. Mayor guessed at their reaction based on “the common interpretation in those days.” The Smithsonian web article turned that guess into a definite statement.

It’s notable that while Catesby clearly thought the Africans were right about elephant teeth, he found that consistent with the received notion of the Biblical Flood. At another point in his book he built on the assumption of “the World to have been universally replenished with all animals from Noah’s ark after the general deluge.” Elephants apparently hadn’t repopulated North America after coming off the ark at Mount Ararat, but those teeth showed Catesby that elephants had once been on that continent.

TOMORROW: The “Kingdom of Kongo”?

[The image above is the impression of a mammoth tooth sent to Thomas Jefferson in 1817.]

Friday, May 12, 2023

Adverts 250, New and Improved!

Several years ago Carl Robert Keyes, professor at Assumption University, launched a couple of web-based history projects called Adverts 250 and Slave Adverts 250.

(Or, in Twitter terms, #Adverts250 and @SlaveAdverts250.)

Adverts 250 is a blog on which each date features an advertisement from one of colonial America’s newspapers published 250 years before, along with commentary by Keyes or his students. As an example, this recent 9 May entry featured Thomas Walley promoting a wide range of goods in the Boston News-Letter.

On that blog, and on a dedicated Twitter feed, the Slave Adverts 250 project reprints every advertisement mentioning slavery from exactly 250 years before. Here is the collection from 10 May 1773; that was a Monday, when a lot of Boston’s newspapers came out.

Keyes just announced on Twitter that he’d used some of his recent sabbatical time to upgrade the Adverts 250 website. Now the top of the page offers drop-down menus for finding advertisements on particular days. (WordPress’s archive function got one no closer than the month.) Other options at the top lead to featured early American printers, to the guest curators’ posts, and to special topics. 

Those additions make the Adverts 250 website even more useful and worth exploring. Reading newspapers is one of the best ways to put oneself into a particular place and time, and advertising brings you right into daily life.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Early American Science in Kansas City

The Linda Hall Library in Kansas City is featuring a small but mighty display of publications titled “Promoting Useful Knowledge: The American Philosophical Society and Science in Early America.”

The items include:
The label on the Thomas almanac says, “after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Thomas had to move his press from Boston to Worcester to prevent his own arrest and that of his printers, and to prevent the presses from being seized and destroyed by the British.”

Thomas left Boston just before the war began to feel safe from the British army. Timothy Bigelow and other Worcester Patriots assured him he could sell newspapers in their town.

Thomas hoped to gain the printing business of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, but then Benjamin Edes set up in Watertown and Samuel and Ebenezer Hall moved their press from Salem to Cambridge. Thomas got the contract to print the congress’s report on the opening battle and nothing else, but he did become Worcester’s postmaster.

Back to the Linda Hall Library exhibit. Its anchor is a copy of Poor Richard’s Almanack for 1753, describing Benjamin Franklin’s first electrical experiments and showing a transit of the planet Mercury.

That almanac was loaned to the library by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia after a bet on the outcome of last winter’s Super Bowl. (The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 38–35.) The story behind the exhibit is thus itself notable.

I was also intrigued by the story behind the Linda Hall Library. Herbert and Linda Hall left a multimillion-dollar bequest to establish “a free public library for the use of the people of Kansas City.” In post–World War Two America, the trustees decided that institution should be dedicated to scientific and technical information.

The Linda Hall Library started by purchasing the collection of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded in 1780 by James Bowdoin and other Enlightened gentlemen from newly independent Massachusetts. Which probably explains why it holds so many almanacs from New England.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Henry Knox in Miniature?

One of the big themes of my presentation at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site’s Henry Knox Symposium last weekend was that we shouldn’t keep repeating what older books have said about Henry Knox’s early life.

Instead, we should look at the surviving evidence and think about what makes sense, even if it contradicts statements those books make without offering documentary support.

In that spirit, in my presentation I used this portrait of Knox from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but I labeled it as “miniature said to show Henry Knox.”

That’s because I remembered hearing Matthew Keagle of Fort Ticonderoga, another speaker at the symposium, raise questions about this image a few years back.

I talked to Dr. Keagle again to make sure I get the details correctly as I take the liberty of repeating those questions. Basically, if we don’t repeat what older papers say about this portrait and look at its visual details, what does that evidence show us?
  • a plump man in a Continental Army uniform.
  • one epaulet, not two.
  • red facing lapels, not gold.
  • white waistcoat, not gold.
To be sure, it took a while for the Continental Army to develop uniform standards, but getting those details right mattered to Knox. He also the army as a colonel of artillery and was a general by the end of 1776, so the uniforms he wore reflected that high rank. The details of this picture don’t appear to match army standards.

The Met credits this miniature as a watercolor on ivory by Charles Willson Peale, who painted more portraits of Knox (two epaulets, gold facings and waistcoat, frankly fat) at the end of the war. This painting came to the museum as a gift in 1968 from J. William Middendorf, II, who was about to leave investment banking for work as a U.S. ambassador and Secretary of the Navy.

According to this catalogue of Middendorf’s collection as exhibited just before that gift, he had purchased the miniature from the estate of Philadelphia antiques dealer Arthur Sussel in 1959. And that seems to be as far back as the provenance goes. Perhaps there’s more in someone’s files.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Fort Ti American Revolution Seminar, 23–24 Sept.

Fort Ticonderoga has announced its 19th Annual Seminar on the American Revolution, to take place on the weekend of 23–24 September 2023. Unlike last year, this appears to be an in-person event only.

The seminar actually starts on the evening of Friday, 22 September, with a opening reception and Curator Matthew Keagle’s presentation of highlights from the Robert Nittolo Collection related to the War for American Independence.

The scheduled presentations on Saturday are:
  • Justin B. Clement, “The Black Servants of Major-General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette”
  • Isabelle J. Courtney, “In the Wake of the British Retreat: Sir Guy Carleton’s Book of Negroes and the Enslaved Population of Rhode Island”
  • Dr. Jen Janofsky and Wade P. Catts, “‘Naked and Torn by the Grapeshot’: Fort Mercer and the History, Archaeology, and Public Perceptions of a Mass Burial Space at Red Bank Battlefield Park
  • Dr. Friederike Baer, “Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War”
  • Dr. Armin Langer, “Alexander Zuntz in America: A Hessian Army Supplier Turned New York Jewish Community Leader and Businessman”
  • Jack Weaver, “The Customs and Temper of Americans?: Germans and the Continental Coalition, 1775–1776”
And on Sunday morning:
  • Dr. Timothy Leech, “Was There an Internal Patriot Coup in Massachusetts beginning April 20, 1775?”
  • Dr. Stephen Brumwell, “Fighting Rebellion from America to Jamaica: The Experience of Alexander Lindsay, Lord Balcarres”
  • Mark R. Anderson, “The Rise, Disgrace, and Recovery of Timothy Bedel”
  • Don N. Hagist, “New Views of Fort Ticonderoga and Burgoyne’s Campaign”
In addition, for an additional cost on Friday there’s a bus tour of “Forts, Raids, Battles and Mayhem: The Schoharie Valley, 1775-1780,” led by Jeff O’Conner and Bruce Venter of America’s History L.L.C.

Basic registration is $150, but there are discounts for being a Fort Ti member, registering early, and registering online, so that if one checks all the boxes the cost goes down to $100. Registering early enough also signs one up for box lunches on both days and the informal group dinner on Saturday evening. Register starting here (but if you’re a Fort Ti member, sign into the website first).

Monday, May 08, 2023

History Camp Boston 2023, 12–13 Aug.

On Saturday, 20 May, I’ll speak at History Camp Valley Forge. There’s still time for folks in the greater Philadelphia area to sign up for that event.

Closer to home, History Camp Boston 2023 will take place on Saturday, 12 August, once again in the Suffolk University Law School Building at 120 Tremont Street.

I’ve participated in every History Camp in the Boston area since the first in 2014. It’s a fun way to learn, share knowledge, hear about new ideas, and enjoy the company of other people as passionate about history as you are.

For 2023 I’m offering this talk:
William Dawes, Before and After His Ride

William Dawes, Jr., is known today only as the other rider who carried news of the British army march to Lexington in April 1775. In fact, like his famous colleague Paul Revere, Dawes was active throughout Massachusetts’s Revolution. Before April 1775 he was a militia organizer, a political fashion icon, and even an arms smuggler whose secret mission for the Patriots’ Committee of Safety helped bring on the same march to Concord he helped to warn about. During the war he took on responsibilities administering and supplying the state’s armed forces. And afterwards he was active in reestablishing one of Boston’s oldest military institutions. Hear all about one of the hands-on figures who made the Revolution happen.
Scrolling through the list of planned presentations, I see people speaking about the Stamp Act, witch trials and their records, the 1774 uprising in western Massachusetts, John Hancock, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, tea etiquette, and designing a local program to honor Revolutionary War veterans. Not to mention topics from other periods of the American past.

And there could be more. The hallmark of History Camp is that anyone can propose presentations or workshops until the schedule fills up. The proposal deadline is 10 June, so you still have more than a month to design a talk, panel discussion, hands-on activity, or other session.

On the Sunday after History Camp Boston, 13 August, people can sign up for one of three special tours at an additional cost:
  • The Maritime History of Boston and Salem, including ferry rides to Salem and back
  • The Witch Trials: Salem Village and Salem Towne, including bus transportation to and from Salem and admission to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead
  • Centuries of the Soldier and the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, including a bus to and from the museum and admission
Registration for History Camp Boston costs $80, with additional charges for lunch, a T-shirt, and/or a table to sell books and other wares. You can find all the information starting here.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Replaying the Revolutionary War with Twenty-Sided Dice

This month I noticed a Kickstarter page for a table-top role-playing game called “Nations & Cannons: The American Crisis,” set during the Revolutionary War.

The crowdfunding campaign by Flagbearer Games is well over its target goal, but there are still a few days to sign up for different rewards.

I confess I’ve found Dungeons and Dragons mystifying ever since I saw another kid at summer camp surreptitiously pirating an entire manual on the office photocopier. In high school some friends played the game, but they invited me along only once (I made some unorthodox suggestion about stealing armor, as I recall).

All that means is that I have no idea what this jargon means:
Nations & Cannons is a complete historical campaign setting for D&D 5e, equipped with a brand new base class, the Firebrand, and six new subclass options for the core classes. It also includes new character creation options for a game where everyone is human. Roles, such as Officer, Scout, and Pioneer, mechanically replace the fantasy races. Heritages, such as Québécois, Colonial, and Haudenosaunee, determine your cultural background and provide an opportunity to showcase all of the different peoples and languages spoken in North America in the 1700s. Last, but certainly not least, Nations & Cannons comes with complete rules for black powder firearms, grenades, and of course, cannons! . . .

Nations & Cannons replaces spells with Gambits—extraordinary acts of ingenuity, guile, or gumption. Gambits function identically to spellcasting so that they are compatible with games that use traditional magic rules for 5e. While there aren't any Wizards, Rangers and Firebrands are casters that use gambits to create dynamic moments in combat, while exploring, or in a social encounter.
But I’m sure there are people happily in the intersection of T.T.R.P.G. and RevWar hobbies.

And the cloth hanging of Henry Pelham’s map of the siege of Boston is very tempting.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Visiting the Roxbury High Fort

Today I’m speaking at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site’s Henry Knox Symposium, so I’ll share one more post about Henry Knox.

Last weekend I took this photo of a monument to Knox that’s less visible and probably much less well known than the series of stones marking the path (in some places, conjectural) of the “noble train” of cannon he brought from Lake Champlain in early 1776.

This is the marker on the hill in Roxbury that Knox helped to fortify in the late spring of 1775, immediately after he came out of Boston. He was working as a gentleman volunteer without an army commission. (He could have enlisted in any company as a private, but he wanted to be an officer, as he had been in the Boston militia regiment.)

On 5 July young Knox met Gen. George Washington and Gen. Charles Lee, who had arrived in Cambridge a couple of days before. They were inspecting the Continental siege lines. They were favorably impressed by the Roxbury fort and by Knox. That was the beginning of his rise in the Continental military and the national government.

The Roxbury fort was also probably where Knox had his first experience with large artillery pieces. There’s a myth that the provincial army didn’t have large cannon until Knox’s mission to Lake Champlain.

In fact, Pvt. Samuel Bixby of Sutton worked on the Roxbury earthworks and wrote in his diary for 1 July 1775:
We are fortifying on all sides, and making it strong as possible around the Fort. We have two 24 lbs. Cannon, & forty balls to each. We have hauled apple trees, with limbs trimmed sharp & pointing outward from the Fort. We finished one platform, & placed the Cannon on it just at night, and then fired two balls into Boston.
Bixby mentioned “the 24 pounder in the Great Fort above the meeting house” again on 2 August. On 21 September and 6 October he described firing an “18 pounder” set up in “the lower fort.”

The largest guns Col. Knox brought back from New York were one 24-pounder and six more 18-pounders. The 24-pounders already in Roxbury were the Continentals’ biggest cannon, and they had been there even before Washington arrived.

Clearly the British inside Boston had a lot more artillery and ammunition. (In response to the single October shot from the 18-pounder mentioned above, Pvt. Bixby recorded, “the enemy returned 90 shots.”) But the provincial army did have some big cannon in Roxbury at the start of the siege.

Friday, May 05, 2023

“O may each bliss the lovely pair surround”

Margaret Draper’s Boston News-Letter was published on Thursdays, and thus couldn’t report on the marriage of province secretary Thomas Flucker’s daughter Lucy to bookseller Henry Knox until a week after the event, in the 30 June 1774 issue.

[I rewrote that sentence to be absolutely clear that the date refers to the newspaper, not the wedding. There’s enough confusion already.]

The News-Letter ran one thing that Boston’s other newspapers didn’t have, however. After the same one-line announcement of the marriage it published this poem:
Blest tho’ she is with ev’ry human grace,
The mein engaging, and bewitching face,
Yet still an higher beauty is her care,
Virtue, the charm that most adorns the fair;
This does new graces to her air inspire,
Gives to her lips their bloom, her eyes their fire;
This o’er her cheek with brighter tincture shows
The lily’s whiteness and the blushing rose.
O may each bliss the lovely pair surround.
And each wing’d hour with new delights be crown’d!
Long may they those exalted pleasures prove
That spring from worth, from constancy and love.
There’s no clue about who wrote these lines. Henry Knox himself wasn’t known for writing poetry. Knox biographers say a friend of the couple composed this tribute to the bride, but no one ventures a guess as to which friend.

One possible clue to the poet is that the News-Letter was by then known for supporting the Crown, so Loyalists were more likely to write for the newspaper and read what it published. But that still leaves a lot of possibilities. 

The internet tells me that Whit Stillman borrowed these lines for his movie and novelization Love and Friendship, built off of Jane Austen’s unfinished Lady Susan.