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

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Thursday, August 31, 2023

“She entertaind me with a very fine Dish of Green Tea”

As I related yesterday, in July 1776 John Adams arranged for Elbridge Gerry to carry a pound of green tea home to Abigail, as long as his fellow Congress delegate was heading back to Massachusetts.

On 1 August, Abigail wrote back to her husband from Boston (where she had taken the whole family, plus servants and relatives) to be inoculated against the smallpox:
I Received a wedensday by Mr. Gerry your Letter of july 15. I have not yet seen him to speak to him. I knew him at meeting yesterday some how instinctively; tho I never saw him before. He has not call’d upon me yet. I hope he will, or I shall take it very hard, shall hardly be able to allow him all the merrit you say he possesses. It will be no small pleasure to me to see a person who has so lately seen my best Friend. I could find it in my Heart to envy him.
By 3 August, Gerry had called on Abigail Adams, he reported to both John and his cousin Samuel:
I have had the pleasure of seeing both Mrs. Adams and find them and Families in fine Health and Spirits. Mrs. Samuel Adams is removed from her own Habitation to a House near Liberty Tree, and with the greatest pleasure speaks of the Inconveniences she has suffered as trifling and such as must always be expected at the forming a mighty Empire. Mrs. John Adams with two of her little Heroes by her Side is perfectly recovered of the small pox; the others are in a fair Way.
But as for that pound of green tea? On 7 September Abigail wrote about visiting Elizabeth Adams:
I was upon a visit to Mrs. S. Adams about a week after Mr. Gerry returnd, when She entertaind me with a very fine Dish of Green Tea. The Scarcity of the article made me ask her Where she got it. She replied her Sweet Heart sent it to her by Mr. Gerry.
Unfortunately, the Samuel Adams Papers at the New York Public Library don’t contain any letters from Elizabeth during this summer. She probably sent some to Samuel (though not as many as Abigail sent John), but this family wasn’t as careful about saving documents. Indeed, John wrote about seeing his cousin burning sensitive papers before one of the Congress’s evacuations from Philadelphia. Therefore, we have no note from Elizabeth thanking “her Sweet Heart” for the tea, or from Samuel wondering what that was all about.

Meanwhile, Abigail’s letter to John continued:
I said nothing, but thought my Sweet Heart might have been eaquelly kind considering the disease I was visited with, and that [tea] was recommended as a Bracer. A Little after you mention’d a couple of Bundles sent. I supposed one of them might contain the article but found they were Letters.

How Mr. Gerry should make such a mistake I know not. I shall take the Liberty of sending for what is left of it tho I suppose it is half gone as it was very freely used. If you had mentiond a single Word of it in your Letter I should have immediately found out the mistake.
John had indeed not mentioned the tea in the letter he gave to Gerry to deliver, or in any other letter for two more weeks. So Gerry had left Boston by the time Abigail could ask.

While Abigail’s letter was en route to Philadelphia, one from John dated 5 September was heading north, showing how he’d figured out the same mystery:
I never conceived a single doubt, that you had received it untill Mr. Gerrys Return. I asked him, accidentally, whether he delivered it, and he said Yes to Mr. S.A.’s Lady.—I was astonished. He misunderstood Mrs. Y[ard]. intirely, for upon Inquiry she affirms she told him, it was for Mrs. J.A.

I was so vexed at this, that I have ordered another Cannister, and Mr. Hare has been kind enough to undertake to deliver it. How the Dispute will be settled I dont know. You must send a Card to Mrs. S.A., and let her know that the Cannister was intended for You, and she may send it you if she chooses, as it was charged to me. It is amazingly dear, nothing less than 40s. lawfull Money, a Pound.
Perhaps Sarah Yard, landlady of the Massachusetts delegates’ boardinghouse in Philadelphia, had asked Gerry to deliver the tea to ‘Mrs. Adams in Boston.’ He hadn’t met Abigail before. He may not have known she was in Boston that summer. So Gerry assumed the tea was for the wife of his colleague Adams from Boston.

We don’t have any letters between Elizabeth and Abigail Adams, unfortunately. But on 20 September Abigail wrote to John:
Yours of Sepbr. 5 came to Night to B[raintre]e and was left as directed with the Cannister. Am sorry you gave yourself so much trouble about them. I got about half you sent me by Mr. Gerry. Am much obliged to you, and hope to have the pleasure of making the greater part of it for you.
Back in 1773, about 22% of the tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party was green tea, but that accounted for 30% of the value. Green tea was thus a bit of a luxury even before wartime.

TOMORROW: What was on Elbridge Gerry’s mind.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

“Gerry carried with him a Cannister for you”

The month of July 1776 was a fraught time for John Adams.

Not just for the reason we all remember in story and song, but also because he knew that his wife Abigail and their children were undergoing inoculation against the smallpox in Boston.

John approved of Abigail’s plan in one of the letters he wrote on 3 July. John himself had been inoculated over a decade before and survived well, but of course he worried about his family.

Though inoculation was clearly safer than catching smallpox (and vaccinations have become safer still), there was still a chance that one of the people he loved might die.

So he waited anxiously for news. But of course he didn’t just wait. John wrote, asking how things were. He wrote on the 7th (twice), the 10th, the 11th, and the 13th. He seized every opportunity to send a letter north.

On 15 July, one of John’s fellow Congress delegates, Elbridge Gerry, was about to travel home to Massachusetts. John sent a short letter introducing Gerry to Abigail:
My very deserving Friend, Mr. Gerry, setts off, tomorrow, for Boston, worn out of Health, by the Fatigues of this station. He is an excellent Man, and an active able statesman. I hope he will soon return hither. I am sure I should be glad to go with him, but I cannot.
John wrote to Abigail again the next day, 16 July. And again on 20 July—twice. And again on 23 July. And 27 July. And 29 July, again twice. In one of those 29 July letters, John wrote:
How are you all this Morning? Sick, weak, faint, in Pain; or pretty well recovered? By this Time, you are well acquainted with the Small Pox. Pray how do you like it? . . .

Gerry carried with him a Cannister for you. But he is an old Batchelor, and what is worse a Politician, and what is worse still a kind of Soldier, so that I suppose he will have so much Curiosity to see Armies and Fortifications and Assemblies, that you will loose many a fine Breakfast at a Time when you want them most.
What was that all about? In a 5 September letter John explained:
Before Mr. G. went away from hence, I asked Mrs. [Sarah] Yard [owner of the Massachusetts delegation’s boardinghouse] to send a Pound of Green Tea to you. She readily agreed. When I came home at Night I was told Mr. G. was gone. I asked Mrs. Y. if she had sent the Cannister? She said Yes and that Mr. G. undertook to deliver it, with a great deal of Pleasure. From that Time I flattered my self, you would have the poor Relief of a dish of good Tea under all your Fatigues with the Children, and under all the disagreabble Circumstances attending the small Pox
But Gerry never delivered that green tea to Abigail.

TOMORROW: Canister misshot.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Last of the Jacob Osgood House?

Back in 2012, I picked up a local news report that the Andover board of health had issued orders for the owners of the house where Jacob Osgood lived during the Revolution to remove garbage bags piled up on the front lawn.

According to Andover Historic Preservation’s 2016 page about this house, the earliest part might have been built in 1699, and it was expanded with new decoration in the mid-1700s.

On 23 May 1783, James Otis, Jr., the former leader of the Massachusetts Whigs, was staying at this house, while hoping to recover from mental illness.

William Tudor’s 1823 biography of Otis included a picture of the Osgood house and said:

…the greater part of the family were collected in one of the rooms to wait till the shower should have past. Otis, with his cane in one hand, stood against the post of the door which opened from this apartment into the front entry. He was in the act of telling the assembled group a story, when an explosion took place which seemed to shake the solid earth, and he fell without a struggle, or a word, instantaneously dead, into the arms of Mr. Osgood, who seeing him falling, sprang forward to receive him. . . .

His own room was on the left hand side of the front door, when looking at the plate; and at his death, he was standing in the door way of the room to the right. The lightning struck the chimney, followed a rafter of the roof which rested upon one of the upright timbers, to which the door post was contiguous. The casing of this door was split, and several of the nails torn out all which marks still remain as they were at the time.
This week Donovan Loucks sent me this new photograph of the Osgood house, showing much more damage than that.
He wrote:
The place is in terrible condition and has a red square with a white cross prominently displayed on the front so emergency personnel know it’s unsafe for entry. The front door is gone, the entry is piled high with refuse, and I suspect it’ll end up being demolished at some point.
The house had clearly deteriorated since 2012. It may be too late to preserve anything more than a few architectural elements.

Monday, August 28, 2023

“Education asks you to change.”

Drew Gilpin Faust, historian of the ante-bellum South and president of Harvard University from 2007 to 2018, recently spoke to N.P.R. about her memoir of growing up in Virginia and going to high school in Concord, Necessary Trouble.

One topic that arose in that interview was the recent trend in some states to ban any school history lessons that might make some students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race,” to quote from Florida’s law.

One problem with such laws is that, while ostensibly opposed to racial thinking, they actually protect it. Why would a 21st-century student feel “discomfort, guilt, [or] anguish” about 19th-century slaveholders or 20th-century segregationists except by prioritizing an old idea of race over their supposedly modern ideals?

As many classroom teachers have pointed out, it’s impossible to accurately teach large swaths of modern history without discussing the concept of race and thus potentially triggering some students’ “discomfort, guilt, [or] anguish.”

One alternative—inaccurately teaching that history to avoid mentions of race—would provoke “discomfort” and “anguish” for students whose family members were oppressed by racist behavior and laws and see the state-directed lesson disregarding those experiences.

Faust offers another argument against the approach behind such laws:
It’s a betrayal of the commitment to truth and to fact. And it so undermines the ability of people in the present to understand who they are. How do we have history that’s not uncomfortable? How do we have any kind of education that doesn’t make you in some way uncomfortable? Education asks you to change.

The headmistress of my girls school many years ago said to us, “Have the courage to be disturbed, to learn about the Holocaust and see what evil can mean, to learn about slavery and think about exploitation that is empowered by an ideology of race that we haven’t entirely dismantled. Understand what people did in the past so that you can, in the present, better critique your own assumptions, your own blindnesses, and make a world that’s a better world.”

If we don’t acknowledge those realities, we are disempowered as human beings.
To be sure, some politicians don’t want all human beings, or even most, to be empowered.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Jacob Bates and the Boston Selectmen

On 27 Aug 1773, 250 years ago today, Jacob Bates met with the Boston selectmen.

As I discussed back here, Bates had become celebrated on continental Europe for feats of horsemanship. There was even a German print devoted to him and his horses.

In late 1772 Bates arrived in Philadelphia. He placed notices in newspapers from 2 September to 2 November.

Then the performer moved on to New York from June through early August 1773.

Unlike some traveling performers who could roll into town, find a tavern to host them, and quickly start shows in a courtyard, Bates had to set up a large space to ride in, plus an enclosure around that space to prevent people who hadn’t paid from seeing. That’s what he wanted to talk to the selectmen about on that Friday.

In that discussion were John Scollay, Timothy Newell, Thomas Marshall, Samuel Austin, and John Pitts. (John Hancock and Oliver Wendell were absent.)

The town’s official records say:
Mr. Jacob Bates a famous Horsman, attended & craves leave of the Selectmen to erect a Fence in the Common which will inclose about 160 feet of Ground in order to show his feats in Horsmanship—
Boston was notoriously hostile to theater and suspicious of anything that smacked of it. Traveling performers did come through, such as the rope-flyer John Childs and the musician James Joan. However, they had to navigate local rules and not disrupt life for too long.

Did the selectmen find Bates’s request to fence off part of the fifty-acre Common for a show of horsemanship reasonable?
his request was not granted.
COMING UP: Getting back on his horse.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Dr. Benjamin Rush’s “Travels Through Life” Digitized

Here’s another source on the Revolution recently digitized: eight handwritten volumes of Dr. Benjamin Rush’s “Travels Through Life: or Account of Sundry Incidents and Events in the Life of Benjamin Rush…written for the use of his children.”

The American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia owns these volumes and has made them perusable over the web.

There’s a ninth and final volume nearby at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

George W. Corner transcribed and edited Rush’s memoir for publication by the A.P.S. in 1948, which was late for the first-person reminiscences of a noted Founder. The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush is still under copyright, therefore, and I haven’t come across any digitized edition on the web.

As a result, some of Rush’s anecdotes aren’t as well known and retold as one might expect. Here from near the start of handwritten volume 6, for example, is the doctor’s recollection of interactions with George Washington on 18 June 1775, right after he agreed to be the Continental Congress’s top general:
A few days after the appointment of General Washington to be commander in chief of the American Armies, I was invited by a party of Delegates and several citizens of Philada. to a dinner which was given to him at a tavern on the Banks of the Skuilkill below the city.

Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson, James Wilson, Jno. Langdon of New Hampshire and about a dozen more, constituted the whole company. The first toast that was given after dinner was “The Commander in chief of the American Armies.” General Washington rose from his seat, and with some confusion thanked the company for the honor they did him. The whole company instantly rose, and drank the toast standing.

This scene so unexpected, was a Solemn one. A silence followed it, as if every heart was penetrated with the awful, but great events which were to follow the Use of the Sword of liberty which had just been put into general Washington’s hands by the unanimous voice of his country.

About this time, I saw Patrick Henry at his lodgings, who told me that general Washington had been with him, and informed him, that he was unequal to the station in which his country had placed him, and then added with tears in his eyes “Remember Mr. Henry what I now tell you,- From the day I enter upon the command of the American armies, I date my fall, & the ruin of my reputation.”
My transcription differs from Corner’s in tiny details of punctuation and capitalization. But only by looking at the manuscript can we see, for example, that Rush:
  • added the words “New Hampshire” because, I presume, he didn’t think his readers would remember who John Langdon was.
  • started to write that Washington thanked his companions with “great confusion” before easing that down to “some confusion.”
  • first quoted Henry as saying Washington spoke of “what I this day tell you” and changed that to “what I now tell you,” probably because the phrase “the day” appeared in the next clause.
Rush biographer Stephen Fried, whose tweet alerted me to this digital offering, noted that the digitization of Rush’s memoirs “even shows the parts his kids tried to cut out,” and that “his infamous riffs on his fellow signers is in Vol 7.” Have fun.

Friday, August 25, 2023

“Not to repel Force by Force, unless in case of absolute Necessity”

Earlier this month the Clements Library in Ann Arbor announced that it had started posting digital images from the Papers of Gen. Thomas Gage.

The William L. Clements Library has made available volumes 1-11 of the English Series of the Thomas Gage Papers from a famed British commander-in-chief in the decade leading up to the American Revolution and who also was governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1774 to 1775.

The papers are being digitized through a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize more than 23,000 items from one of the Clements Library’s largest and most utilized collections.
These first volumes cover the dates from October 1754 to April 1768. They contain Gage’s “correspondence with military officers and politicians in England, including Secretaries of State, Secretaries at War, the Treasury, the Board of Trade, the Board of Ordnance, the paymaster general, commanders-in-chief, and others.” (Correspondence with North American officials, officers stationed in North America, and civilians are in the separate American Series.)

Gage’s letters back and forth with his main bosses, the Secretary of State for North America (different men over time) and the Secretary at War (always Viscount Barrington, shown here), were transcribed and published in two volumes back in 1931. The full series contains many more documents.

Here’s the meat of one letter written on 24 Oct 1765 by Christopher D’Oyly (1717–1795), deputy secretary in the War Office:
In the Absence of my Lord Barrington, who is now at a Distance in the Country, it falls upon me as a Duty to transmit to you His Majesty’s Commands upon a Matter of the highest Importance to the Tranquility of the Colonies of North America…

It having been represented to His Majesty in Council, that violent & dangerous Riots have arisen in the Town of Boston…with a View to prevent the Execution of an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, for levying a Stamp Duty…you do forthwith issue your Orders to the several Officers commanding all the Regiments Posts & Detachments under your Command in America, that, in case by the Exigency of Affairs in any of the Provinces in America it should be necessary to procure the Aid of the Military in support of the Civil Power, and that, for that Purpose the Governor of the Province where that may happen, should apply to the Commanders of His Majesty’s Land Forces in America, the said Commanding Officers should, upon such Requisition made by the Governor of the Province to them give the said Governor their concurrence & Assistance for the Purpose abovementioned.

Having thus for signified to you the King’s Pleasure, in the strictest conformity to the abovementioned Order in Council, permit me to apprize you of the Precautions constantly observed by the Secretary at War, in every Case, wherein he had found himself obliged by the urgent solicitation of the Civil Magistrates in the Mother Country to grant them the Assistance of a Military Force, to aid them in the suppression of any Riots & Disturbances which have occasionally happened here.

In the first place the commanding Officer hath always been directed to take no step whatever, either with respect to the Marching, or quartering the Troops under his Command, but at the express requisition of the Civil Magistrate.

Secondly, that when so marched & quartered, the Forces are to take no Step whatever towards opposing the Rioters, but at the same Requisition; and Thirdly, that they are not to repel Force by Force, unless in case of absolute Necessity and being thereunto required by the Civil Magistrate.
In sum, Viscount Barrington was happy to pass on the government’s orders that the army help out in enforcing the law, but local civil authorities had to take the lead—and thus the heat. That restraint reflected the values of the British constitution as top officials in London saw it.

D’Oyly’s letter ended up playing no part in the Stamp Act crisis. Gage didn’t receive it in New York until six months later, on 3 May 1766. By that time the city had already suffered its own Stamp Act riot, the law was dead on the continent, and the new ministry in London was moving to scrap it.

I see that John Phillip Reid quoted these orders in In Defiance of the Law: The Standing-army Controversy, the Two Constitutions, and the Coming of the American Revolution (1981). Back then a researcher had to travel to Ann Arbor or London to read this letter. But now we can see D’Oyly’s words from the comforts of our own homes.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

“Had not you better write it down?”

Before getting too far from the literary salon of Sir John Riggs-Miller and Anna, Lady Miller, I want to note that the novelist Frances Burney (1752–1840, shown here) left a very lively portrait of visiting the couple’s home in Batheaston in her diary.

This visit happened on 8 June 1780. Burney had published her first novel, Evelina, two years before. It was a big success, and Hester Thrale had taken the young author under her wing, conducting her around London and out to Bath.

They visited the Riggs-Millers on a day without a poetry competition. The famous vase was off being cleaned, Burney was pleased to record. But there was eccentric conversation enough.

Along with other detail the novelist recorded a conversation with a young fan, whom she described as “Miss Miller, a most beautiful little girl of ten years old.” In fact, this girl was eleven or twelve, born to the Riggs-Millers in 1768. Alas, I haven’t found a record of her first name.

Burney wrote:
Miss W—— begged her to sing us a French song. She coquetted, but Mrs. Riggs came to us, and said if I wished it I did her grand-daughter great honour, and she insisted upon her obedience. The little girl laughed and complied, and we went into another room to hear her, followed by the Misses Caldwell. She sung in a pretty childish manner enough.

When we became more intimate, she said, “Ma’am, I have a great favour to request of you, if you please!”

I begged to know what it was, and assured her I would grant it; and, to be out of the way of these misses, I led her to the window.

“Ma’am,” said the little girl, “will you then be so good as to tell me where Evelina is now?”

I was a little surprised at the question, and told her I had not heard lately.

“Oh, ma’am, but I am sure you know!” cried she, “for you know you wrote it! and mamma was so good as to let me hear her read it; and pray, ma’am, do tell me where she is? and whether Miss Branghton and Miss Polly went to see her [SPOILER] when she was married to Lord Orville?”

I promised her I would inquire, and let her know. “And pray, ma’am, is Madame Duval with her now?”

And several other questions she asked me, with a childish simplicity that was very diverting. She took the whole for a true story, and was quite eager to know what was become of all the people. And when I said I would inquire, and tell her when we next met,

“Oh, but, ma’am,” she said, “had not you better write it down, because then there would be more of it, you know?”
Burney interpreted the little girl’s questions as indicating that she believed Evelina and all the other characters in the novel were real.

I think the child of a writer who hosted other writers understood how fiction works. She was prodding the young novelist to hurry up and write a sequel.

Burney produced her second novel in 1782, but Cecilia wasn’t a sequel to Evelina.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Two Online Discussions of John Adams

Here are a couple of online events focusing on John Adams folks might be interested in.

On Thursday, 24 August, the hosts of the History Camp discussions will talk about Remembering John Adams: The Second President in History, Memory and Popular Culture with author Marianne Holdzkom.

The copy for the book says, “The second president is one-dimensional at times, and perhaps best known to the public as ‘obnoxious and disliked,’ but he is always fascinating.” That phrase comes from the musical 1776, which gives Adams the central role. It doesn’t come from any of Adams’s contemporaries writing about him. Indeed, the closest antecedents are in memories Adams himself wrote about how his political opponents viewed him, and he tended to puff up the severity of the opposition he faced.

According to reviews like this one, Holdzkom considers how Adams appears in his descendants’ writings, in more recent historians’ books, in the two big Broadway musicals and the H.B.O. miniseries, and even in Ezra Pound’s Eleven New Cantos.

This discussion will become available through the History Camp website and allied pages at 8:00 P.M.

On Tuesday, 29 August, the American Revolution Institute will share an online lecture by Prof. Jeanne E. Abrams of the University of Denver based on her book A View from Abroad: The Story of John Adams and Abigail Adams in Europe.

The Adamses spent a few years together in Europe in the 1780s during his diplomatic work. Abrams will discuss how in this time “the Adamses and their American contemporaries set about supplanting their British origins with a new American identity.”

That event is scheduled to take place from 6:30 to 8:30 P.M., leaving ample time for questions. Sign up through this page.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

A Revolution in Relating to the Environment

Last month the Journal of the Early Republic’s Panorama website published an essay by Blake McGready titled “Searching for a Reusable Past: Public History and the Revolutionary Origins of the Climate Crisis.”

McGready argues that historical sites are missing an opportunity to alert visitors to the effects of environmental changes, particularly the oncoming climate change.
Revolutionary-era sites can reach their audiences and remind them of the fearsome stakes of this moment by asking different, environmentally focused questions: How do ecological processes challenge understandings about space and boundaries? How has the natural, nonhuman world shaped the past, and how does it continue to shape our present? And what kinds of environmental relationships did the American Revolution produce?

Valley Forge rangers are already working to direct visitor attention towards the ways human-made environmental change exacerbates parkwide flooding. The Washington’s Headquarters railway embankment, erected for the Pennsylvania Railroad, now prevents the sloping land from reaching the riverside. During storms these tracks become a levee, pinning floodwaters into the lowlands around the structure. The construction of upriver single-family housing developments, which has accelerated during COVID-19, continues to clear trees and fill open space, intensifying runoff during storms. Structures like Washington’s Headquarters that sit at the confluence of creeks and rivers have become targets as water levels rise.
That example doesn’t strike me as ideal. Most people go to historic sites to feel transported back to the period when those places were “important,” not to hear about subsequent changes—like railway embankments and suburban development, in this case. Now I happen to like learning about both the history and the preservation of a site, but the latter is still the chocolate syrup, not the ice cream.

People would probably think about environmental change more if they’re part of the story from the start, as in perhaps a comparison of how the Valley Forge landscape was suddenly altered by the arrival of thousands of men building huts in 1777. How does that compare to the area’s current population? 

I know there are environmental historians working on integrating those factors into the larger Revolutionary narrative, as McGready discusses later:
public historians might reimagine the Revolution as a contest over environmental relationships. In 1779 General John Sullivan led the Continental Army’s invasion of Iroquoia, an expedition whose torrent of destruction devastated Seneca and Cayuga agroecosystems. Haudenosaunee women’s farming techniques produced superior yields compared with those of white colonists, nurtured healthier soils, supplied more nutritious diets, and cultivated sustainable practices for generations. Colonists, fastened to seasonal cycles of subsistence and profit, applied abusive farming practices to their lands. . . . By discussing the Sullivan Campaign, public historians can pull environment into their conversations about the American Revolution’s legacies, and invite audiences to think about how environmental relationships have been made and can be remade.
We do a lousy job of discussing the Sullivan Campaign already, though. Its sites aren’t preserved like others. We’re uncomfortable remembering the vicious attacks on civilian communities. The campaign’s success at breaking the Iroquois Confederacy makes it easy to treat it as a sideshow.

Examples aside, I think McGready’s main point is worth considering. It made me remember a visit to Bodiam Castle in southern England over a decade ago. Back then, U.S. media was still treating the likelihood of climate change as worthy of debate. In contrast, between the car park and the castle I came across a sign baldly stating that all the lovely riverine landscape in front of me was going to be underwater in a quarter-century or so.

That sort of message—coming with the authority of the site, tied to the visitor’s immediate experience, and linked to the hope to preserve that place—might be the most powerful approach.

Monday, August 21, 2023

“Complying with her constitution’s earnest call”

Sarah Robinson (1720–1795, shown here) was the younger sister of Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu.

In 1748 Robinson started sharing a house in Bath with Lady Barbara Montague (c. 1722–1765). This lady’s Montague family was different from the Montagu family that Sarah’s sister married into.

Two years later, Robinson penned her first novel, The History of Cornelia—published, like all her work, anonymously or pseudonymously, and for money.

In 1751 Sarah Robinson married George Lewis Scott (1708–1780), one of George III’s instructors—a job she had helped to secure for him, apparently.

However, that marriage broke up within a year, with the Robinson family stating it was never consummated. The unhappy couple grumbled about each other for the rest of their lives. (George Lewis Scott would later introduce Thomas Paine to Benjamin Franklin, but that’s another story.)

The woman now called Sarah Scott went back to “Lady Bab” in Bath and back to earning money with her pen. By the end of that decade she was also translating from the French, creating educational materials, writing history books about Protestants on the continent. Scott’s most successful novel appeared in 1762: A Description of Millenium Hall and the Country Adjacent. Almost everything she wrote had a moralizing element.

By 1778 Lady Bab had died, but Sarah Scott had gained a comfortable income through family gifts and inheritance. She stopped publishing, but she kept up her lively literary correspondence with her sister.

In October of that year, Catharine Macaulay left Bath for Leicester, and the next month word got back that the celebrated historian had married William Graham. But that wasn’t all people heard.

On 27 November, Sarah Scott sent this news to Elizabeth Montagu, as transcribed in The Correspondence of Catharine Macaulay, edited by Karen Green:
Mrs Macaulay’s marriage was reported in good time to change conversation, of which the Duel between the two gaming counts had been the sole topic, and it was entirely worn out.

A Gamester appears to me so far from being a loss to the world that I consider the marriage as the more melancholy event of the two, because it is a dishonor to the sex. If I had not more pride than revengefulness in my temper I might derive much consolation from the moral certainty that her punishment will equal her offence.

The man she has married is in age about 22, in rank 2nd Mate to the Surgeon of an India man. He is brother to a Dr [James] Graham, who etherized and electrified her, till he has made her electric per se.

She wrote a letter to Dr Wilson acquainting him with her marriage, and her reasons for it, which she tells him in the plainest terms are constitutional; that she had been for some years struggling with nature but found that her life absolutely depends on her complying with her constitution’s earnest call (perhaps she calls it nature’s, but I shall not, for it is not the nature of woman, and woman cannot find her excuse in the nature of a beast) and she would have chosen him, if his age, as he must be sensible, did not disqualify him for answering a call so urgent.
In other words, Macaulay had discovered that all those medical symptoms that had crippled her for years—fatigue, weakness, “pains in my ears and throat,” “irritations of my nerves,” and above all “a Billious intermitting Autumnal fever”—would go away when she had sex. Really good sex. Sex with a man less than half her age just returned from the sea. Sex that her doting seventy-five-year-old patron, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Wilson, simply wouldn’t have been able to supply.

Which of course ticked Wilson off, as Scott’s letter went on to describe:
The Doctor shews the letter, but I have not seen it, and the Gentlemen declare it cannot be shown to a woman. Old Wilson is rewarded for his folly; he is in the highest rage, and having some years ago by Deed given her the furniture of the house they lived in and 300 peran[num] for her life, he intends to apply to the law to be released from this engagement; on pretence of its having been given without value received. It will make a curious cause, . . .

If there is any zeal still remaining in the world for virtue’s cause the pure Virgins and virtuous Matrons who reside in this place, will unite and drown her in the Avon, and try if she can be purified by water, for Dr Graham’s experiments have shown that fire has a very contrary effect on her, being a Salamander it is the element truly congenial to her. Were she flesh and blood one could not forgive her, but being only skin and bone she deserves no mercy.
Given Sarah Scott’s own unorthodox domestic history, perhaps she shouldn’t have looked down on Catharine Macaulay’s choice of a second husband. But, as the two poems that Christopher Anstey shared a week later demonstrate, all the fashionable people in Bath were gossiping about the Grahams.

COMING UP: The lawsuit.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

“Did you see Mr. Anstey’s verses at Bath-Easton?”

What happened in Batheaston didn’t stay in Batheaston.

Within three weeks after Christopher Anstey read his ode “Winter Amusements” and its pointed follow-up at the Riggs-Millers’ salon on 3 Dec 1778, those poems were circulating in manuscript. Along with knowledge of what recently remarried lady he had written about.

On 29 December, the Blue Stockings Society hostess Elizabeth Montagu wrote to her sister-in-law Mary Robinson:
I have sent you some Verse of Mr Ansteys on ye subject [of Catharine Macaulay]. The first copy he put into ye Urn at Mrs Millers at Bath Easton & being desired when he drew them to read them a second time, instead of so doing he read ye other copy.
The previous year, the artist Richard Samuel had depicted both Montagu and Macaulay, along with seven other female British authors, as the Muses.

In January 1779 Anstey’s ode appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine, the Westminster Magazine, the Scots Magazine, and other periodicals, usually linked to the Batheaston salon.

I haven’t found any hint of Anstey’s second poem being printed until the Riggs-Millers published the fourth volume of their Poetical Amusements in 1781. But people continued to hear about it.

On 14 January, Horace Walpole (shown above) wrote to the Countess of Ossory:
Did you see Mr. Anstey’s verses at Bath-Easton? They were truly more a production of this century; and not at all too good for a schoolboy. In the printed copy they have omitted an indecent stanza or two on Mrs. Macaulay. In truth Dame Thucydides has made but an uncouth match; but Anstey has tumbled from a greater height than she. Sense may be led astray by the senses; but how could a man write the ‘Bath Guide,’ and then nothing but doggerel and stupidity?
I suspect that when Walpole wrote, “they have omitted an indecent stanza or two,” he was referring to Anstey’s follow-up rather than lines suppressed from the original ode.

Now one rule about spreading unabashed gossip in eighteenth-century Britain was that when Horace-freakin’-Walpole said you’ve gone too far, you were deep into rudeness.

But what people wrote about Macaulay’s new marriage in poems and magazines was nothing compared to what they wrote in letters.

TOMORROW: Passion’s wild career indeed.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

“A sweet pretty nostrum, quite pleasant and new”

After Christopher Anstey won Lady Anna Miller’s biweekly poetry contest at Batheaston on 3 Dec 1778, as described yesterday, he waved aside calls to read his ode “Winter’s Amusement” again.

Instead, he pulled out what he later called an “Epode.” That word signals that it was part of the ode, though written with a different metre and tone.

When both poems were published in The New Foundling Hospital for Wit (1786), Anstey’s lines were simply headed: “LINES Repeated by the Author, on Being Asked to Read the Preceding Stanzas a Second Time.”

That’s the version I’m following rather than the one in the collection of Anstey’s work published by his son in 1808, on the assumption that it’s closer to the original:
Must I read it again, Sir?—So—here do I stand,
Like the priest that holds forth with a skull in his hand—
Repeat such a dreadful memento as this is,
To spleen the young fellows, and frighten the misses?
When beauties assemble to laugh and be gay,
How cruel to preach upon beauty’s decay!
How hard, that the fairest of all the creation,
Should suffer one wrinkle by anticipation!
What delicate nymph but must shrink when she hears
Her charms will all fade in the winter of years?
What languishing widow would e’er wish to know
Her charms were all faded a long while ago?
Unless one could bring some receipt to supply
Fresh Cupids to bask in the beam of her eye.
Recall the lost rose, or the lily replace,
That have shed their dead leaves o’er her ever green face!
And this (thank the gods) I can promise to do,
By a sweet pretty nostrum, quite pleasant and new,
Which learned historians and doctors, I find,
Have lately reveal’d for the good of mankind.
A nostrum like which, no elixir yet known,
E’er brac’d a lax fibre, and strengthen’d its tone.
Nore’er was so grand a restorative seen,
For bringing back sixty—to lovely sixteen!
To you then, ye fair, if old Time should appear,
And whisper a few little hints in your ear,
That Cupid his triumphs begins to resign,
Your nerves are unstrung, and your spirits decline,
You have no other physical course to pursue,
Than to take—a young husband your springs to renew;
You may take him—I think—at—about twenty-two!
For when both the spirits and nerves are in fault,
Platonic affection is not worth a groat.
The conjugal blessing alone is decreed
The truest specific for widows indeed;
And I trust they will find it, as long as they live,
The best of amusements that winter can give!
The opening line shows that Anstey wasn’t surprised to win the poetry competition that day. He’d already prepared this encore.

While people might have wondered about the relevance of Anstey’s ode to people they knew, they couldn’t miss his allusion to “learned historians and doctors”—the famous historian Catharine Macaulay had recently left nearby Bath and married Dr. William Graham.

Macaulay had indeed been a “languishing widow,” complaining about her “nerves,” albeit more than a decade from “sixty.”

Graham was indeed “about twenty-two!” In fact, he was twenty-one, but that didn’t rhyme.

Even the phrase “Platonic affection” was a jab. The previous year, a London publisher had issued this print of Macaulay with her then-housemate, the Rev. Thomas Wilson, calling them “The Political Platonic Lovers.”

TOMORROW: Audience response.

(The photograph above by Ian is here via Flickr shows a statue in the form of a large ornamental vase standing in the Royal Victoria Park in Bath. Many sources say this is the vase the Riggs-Millers brought back from Rome and used at their literary salons, or a replica of that vase. It’s neither of those things. It doesn’t look like the engraving the couple published in 1775, and it’s not even hollow. Like Anstey’s second poem, it’s a heavy-handed follow-on to an original.)

Friday, August 18, 2023

“Oft where the crouded stage invites, The laughing Muses join”

Christopher Anstey (1724–1805, shown here by William Hoare ignoring his daughter and her dolly) was the son of a Cambridgeshire minister who showed a great talent for Latin poetry at school and university.

The market for Latin poetry being small, Anstey was lucky enough to inherit considerable estates. He married and had a large family. In the 1760s he started to spend time in Bath, at first for his mood and then because he liked it.

In 1766, Anstey published The New Bath Guide: or Memoirs of the B–n–r–d Family in a Series of Poetical Epistles, a long satirical poem that became hugely popular.

Ten years later, having moved to Bath, Anstey wrote An Election Ball, in Poetical Letters from Mr. Inkle at Bath to his Wife at Gloucester. He dedicated that satire to John Riggs-Miller, host of a literary salon at Batheaston.

Anstey was a regular at the Riggs-Millers’ every-other-Thursday parties, including one on 3 Dec 1778. That was a little more than two weeks after Catharine Macaulay married Dr. William Graham in Leicester, a development that people in greater Bath were already gossiping about.

The poem that Christopher Anstey threw into the Riggs-Millers’ Roman vase for judgment that day was an ode titled “Winter’s Amusement.” That might have seemed a mere comment on the season. But as the lines were read aloud, the audience detected a more serious message: people should avoid passion and folly in love, especially as they grow older.
Ye beauteous nymphs, and jovial swains,
Who, deck’d with youthful bloom,
To gay assemblage meet to grace
Philander’s cheerful dome,

Mark how the wintry clouds hang o’er
Yon frowning mountain’s brow;
Mark how the rude winds warp the stream,
And rock the leafless bough.

The painted meads, and flow’ry lawns,
Their wonted pride give o’er;
The feather’d flocks in silence mourn;
Their notes are heard no more.

Save where beneath the lonely shed,
Or desolated thorn,
The red-breast heaves his ruffled plumes,
And tunes his pipe forlorn.

Yet shall the sun’s reviving ray
Recall the genial spring;
The painted meads resume their pride;
The feather’d flocks shall sing.

But not to you shall e’er return
The pride of gaudy years;
When pining Age with icy hand,
His hoary mantle rears.

When once, alas! his churlish blast
Shall your bright spring subdue,
I know not what reviving sun
Can e’er that spring renew.

Then seize the glorious golden days
That fill your cups with joy!
Bid every gay and social scene
Your blissful hours employ.

Oft where the crouded stage invites,
The laughing Muses join;
Or woo them while they sport around
Eugenia’s laurel’d shrine.

Oft seek the haunts where health and joy
To sportive numbers move;
Or plaintive strains breathe soft desire,
And wake the soul to love.

Yet ah! where-e’er you bend your way,
Let fair Discretion steer:
From Folly’s vain delusive charms,
And Passion’s wild career.

So when the wintry hours shall come,
When youth and pleasure fly,
Safe shall you ward th’ impending storm,
And Time’s rude blast defy.

Perpetual charms, unfading spring,
In sweet reflection find;
While innocence and virtue bring
A sun-shine to the mind!
(I’m following the title and text printed in The Scots Magazine in January 1779 rather than in the 1808 collection of Anstey’s work.)

The judges at the salon chose Anstey’s ode as that day’s best offering. Lady Miller asked him to read it again. Instead, he pulled another poem out of his pocket.

TOMORROW: The epode.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

“They hold a Parnassus-fair every Thursday”

Anna Riggs (1741–1781) was the daughter of a London Customs official, granddaughter of a wealthy Irish Privy Councilor.

Riggs’s mother was, according to the novelist Frances Burney, “a most prodigious fat old lady,…very merry and facetious.” Horace Walpole said she was “an old rough humorist who passed for a wit.”

In 1765 Riggs married John Miller (c. 1744–1798), from a genteel but poor Irish family. He served as a junior officer in a light-horse regiment during the last three years of the Seven Years’ War and then tried studying the law.

Miller was “full of good-natured officiousness,” Walpole said, but that didn’t promise financial success. Fortunately, Anna inherited a fortune from her grandfather.

The Riggs-Millers (John took on Anna’s surname in honor of her money) bought an estate in the village of Batheaston, near Bath. They spent a lot of the Riggs family money fixing up the manor and laying out ornamental gardens.

By 1770 this lifestyle had become too expensive or, in Walpole’s words, “the whole caravan were forced to go abroad”—the Riggs-Millers, their infant girl, and Anna’s mother, plus select servants. The family spent a couple of years in France and Italy, expanding with the birth of a boy in Paris. Anna Riggs-Miller bought an antique vase dug up “by a labouring man in 1769 at Frescati, near the spot where is supposed to have stood the Tusculanum of Cicero.”

The couple came back to Batheaston full of continental sophistication. Well, a version of it, per Walpole:
Alas! Mrs. Miller is returned a beauty, a genius, a Sappho, a tenth Muse, as romantic as Mademoiselle [Madeleine de] Scuderi, and as sophisticated as Mrs. [Elizabeth] Vesey. The Captain’s fingers are loaded with cameos, his tongue runs over with virtù
Anna published her Letters from Italy in three volumes in 1776.

By 1775 the Riggs-Millers were hosting literary salons at Batheaston. The main ritual of these gatherings was a poetry contest staged around that antique vase. Once again, here’s Walpole, from a 15 Jan 1775 letter in which he also remarked on news from Massachusetts about something “called minute-men”:
They hold a Parnassus-fair every Thursday, give out rhymes and themes, and all the flux of quality at Bath contend for the prizes. A Roman vase, dressed with pink ribbons and myrtles, receives the poetry, which is drawn out every festival; six judges of these Olympic games retire and select the brightest compositions, which the respective successful acknowledge, kneel to Mrs. Calliope Miller, kiss her fair hand, and are crowned by it with myrtle, with—I don't know what.

You may think this is fiction or exaggeration. Be dumb, unbelievers! The collection is printed, published. Yes, on my faith, there are bouts-rimés on a buttered muffin, made by her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland; receipts to make them, by Corydon the venerable, alias George Pitt; others, very pretty, by Lord Palmerston; some by Lord Carmarthen; many by Mrs. Miller herself, that have no fault but wanting metre; and immortality promised to her without end or measure.

In short since folly, which never ripens to madness but in this hot climate, ran distracted, there never was anything so entertaining or so dull—for you cannot read so long as I have been telling.
Between 1775 and 1781 the Riggs-Millers published four volumes of Poetical Amusements at a Villa Near Bath, along with the smaller collections On Novelty and Hobby Horses, giving the proceeds to charity. The frontispiece of the first volume showed the “Roman vase,” above.

Literary reviewers and poets who weren’t invited to the salons tended to disdain the whole enterprise. Nonetheless, notable writers like William Mason and David Garrick contributed work. The poet Anna Seward credited that biweekly salon for discovering her. In 1778 John Riggs-Miller was made a baronet (on the Irish establishment).

In October 1778, as I described back here, the celebrated historian Catharine Macaulay left Bath after sharing the Rev. Thomas Wilson’s house for years. The next month, in the town of Leicester, she married William Graham, a doctor less than half her age. By the end of the year, the posh people of Bath were gossiping about the newlyweds. And in that same period Sir John and Lady Miller hosted one of their regular salons.

TOMORROW: “Winter’s Amusement.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

“The accomplishments of her mind”

On Friday, 18 August, the American Revolution Institute will host one of its “Lunch Bite” seminars, looking at a copy of Catharine Macaulay’s 1776 pamphlet An Address to the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland: on the Present Important Crisis of Affairs.

As the event description says, “Using events such as Parliament’s passing of the Stamp Act and the Boston Massacre, Macaulay’s pamphlet was written as an appeal to Great Britain to change its policies towards the colonies.”

Research Services Librarian Rachel Nellis will also discuss Macaulay’s life, including her connections to John and Abigail Adams and Mercy Warren.

Macaulay was well known as a Whig historian of Britain by the late 1760s. As a measure of her stature across the British Empire, she was the one woman designated to receive a copy of the town of Boston’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre report.

In the summer of 1770, the merchant Moses Gill told John Adams that Macaulay would be interested in a letter from him as the author of essays recently reprinted in London as A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law.

Adams got worked up about that prospect. He wrote a draft letter into his diary and “heavily corrected” it in many little ways before sending it off.

And then he didn’t hear anything back for months. In February 1771 a cousin of Abigail Adams named Isaac Smith, Jr., was visiting London. Smith wrote:
I have had the pleasure of meeting with Mrs. McAulay, at their house; who enquired of me with regard to you, and informed me, sir, that she should write to you, as soon as she had published a fifth Vol. which she has now in her hands.

She is not so much distinguished in company by the beauties of her person, as the accomplishments of her mind.
Macaulay didn’t get to her reply until 19 July, so she started with an apology: “A very laborious attention to the finishing the fifth vol of my history of England with a severe fever of five months duration the consequence of that attention has hitherto deprived me of the opportunity of answering your very polite letter…”

Macaulay praised Adams’s book (while getting the title wrong). She stated: “A correspondence with so worthy and ingenious a person as your self Sr will ever be prised by me as part of the happiness of my life.” And they did exchange a few letters before the outbreak of war.

Then, as I related back in January, the forty-seven-year-old widow Macaulay married William Graham, the twenty-one-year-old brother of her physician. How did that affect the Adamses’ impression of her? This seems like a good time to return to that storyline.

Meanwhile, the seminar about Macaulay’s 1776 pamphlet will take place online and at Anderson House in Washington, D.C., on Friday at 12:30 P.M. Register to attend either way through this page.

TOMORROW: The talk of Bath.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

“An underrated part of Wheatley’s story”

This year seeing the Sestercentennial of the publication of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, we continue to see more discussion of her.

Here’s an extract of Deborah Kalb’s interview of David Waldstreicher, author of the new biography The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley:
Early on I decided I needed to read anything and everything Phillis Wheatley read, especially anything she referred to or I could be sure made an impression on her.

That meant getting myself an education in Greek and Roman classics that I never had previously (and which I now think of as a gift that Phillis gave me).

At a certain point, listening to the Fagles translation of Homer’s The Odyssey on a cassette tape in my old car while commuting, I realized that this Mediterranean world, replete with a traffic in women, long dangerous voyages, shipwrecks, and poets who tell the tale, may have seemed to her not so much ancient and strange as familiar.

As I put it eventually, “the classical revival provided her with a way of talking about her experience as an enslaved woman without talking about it directly.”

I knew that an underrated part of Wheatley’s story was that she propelled herself, much like a Homeric bard, into interactions with leading men of her day: Lord Dartmouth, Franklin, George Washington, leaders in Boston, and others she wrote poems about, such as the evangelist George Whitefield (the elegy she wrote after his death made her famous outside Massachusetts).

But the book really came together when I began to read the Boston newspapers. Knowing when she wrote various poems, I began to be able to plot her responses to events in real time.
Waldstreicher proposes that over a dozen poems in those newspapers might have been written by Wheatley.

Also recently, the Newport Historical Society shared Amelia Yeager’s essay on reading between the lines of Wheatley’s letters to Obour Tanner to learn more about that enslaved resident of Newport than sparse home-town records supply. Tanner was about the same age as Wheatley, also born in Africa and kidnapped across the ocean, and the two young women appear to have bonded quickly.

Wheatley died young, with her second book manuscript and any letters she’d saved soon lost. In contrast, Tanner lived for a long time and kept her letters from Wheatley. In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, the Massachusetts Historical Society discussed Wheatley’s life and letters, and those documents are now part of the M.H.S.’s collection.

Monday, August 14, 2023

“The ever-memorable Anniversary”

The Boston Gazette published on Monday, 17 Aug 1767, included this local report:

Friday last being the ever-memorable Anniversary of the 14th of August, a great Number of Gentlemen met at Liberty-Hall, under the sacred Elm, which was decently decorated, and drank the following Toasts.
  1. The King.
  2. The Queen and Royal Family.
  3. The Sons of Liberty.
  4. All Mankind.
  5. Friends to America in Great-Britain.
  6. May an Abhorrence of Slavery still and ever remain the best Criterion of a true British Subject.
  7. None but Tories Slaves.
  8. America.
  9. The 14th of August 1765.
  10. May the 26th of August 1765, be veil’d in perpetual Darkness.
  11. May every House of Respresentatives in America strenuously defend what they have wisely resolv’d.
  12. Union, Stability and Fidelity among the Sons of Liberty throughout America.
  13. May the Man who will not defend the Cause of his Country, in Case of Danger, be held in universal Contempt by every Son of Virtue and Liberty.
  14. May that Day which sees America submit to Slavery, be the last of her Existence.
That Friday, 14 August, was the second anniversary of Boston’s first public protest against the Stamp Act, which inspired a wave of similar protests all along the North American coast and even into the Caribbean. Boston’s political organizers were proud of that.

They weren’t proud of the mob that had nearly destroyed Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s house twelve days later. In these toasts they mentioned that event once, but they thought they got away with it all right.

As for the numerous mentions of “Slavery,” these gentlemen meant political slavery, or giving up their traditional British rights. They didn’t mean, you know, slavery slavery.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Black Reviews White’s Revolutionary Things

H-Early-America has just shared Jennifer M. Black’s review of Ashli White’s new book, Revolutionary Things: Material Culture and Politics in the Late Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World.

White looks at “the material culture that shaped French, American, and Haitian political contests between 1770 and 1810,” covering “diverse objects such as military clothing, maps, ceramics, wax figures, and politically charged accessories.”

Black writes:
Part 1 examines everyday items that became politically charged due to who procured them, where, how, and why. . . .

Part 2 examines clothing and accessories to show how revolutionary individuals understood, demonstrated, and interpreted their own political alignments and those of others. . . .

Part 3 turns to visual culture, especially maps, prints, and wax figures, to understand how contemporaries shared news about the ongoing revolutions.
The review sums up:
In her focus on the objects’ production, distribution, use, and context, White departs from typical material culture histories of this period, which tend to focus on how certain objects conveyed status or represented cultural and intellectual themes for contemporaries. In this way, White provides a fresh and interesting discussion of these highly politicized objects. But the approach may be somewhat frustrating for material culture scholars accustomed to close readings of particular objects’ attributes and symbolism—there are few of these, and mostly toward the end of the book. . . .

Still, this book makes several important contributions to the extant literature. White’s transnational and comparative focus allows her to isolate racial difference as a factor that shaped individual experience and, for example, affected contemporaries’ reactions to revolutionary violence. . . . Moreover, White’s transnational focus allows her to trace objects that moved across the Atlantic and circulated among varied revolutionaries. Thus, the book is as much a history of material culture in the military as it is about politics and revolutions.
Some of the most knowledgable and diligent researchers into Revolutionary-era material culture I know are reenactors since they literally use the objects of the time or the closest replicas they can make or obtain. It sounds like this book might be useful for exploring the cultural context of those goods and how that changed with events.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Lt. Inman and the Hector

Antoine Vanner at the Dawlish Chronicles website just highlighted how Lt. Henry Inman (1762–1809) of the Royal Navy ended his Revolutionary War.
He was on shore duty in the West Indies in April 1782 and thereby missed participation in the large fleet action, The Battle of the Saintes, off Dominica. This had culminated in a crushing British victory over the French.

In the course of this engagement, the French “74” line-of-battle ship Hector was captured. Though badly damaged in the action she was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Hector. Under the command of Captain John Bourchier (approx. 1755–1819) she was ordered to return to Britain. Henry Inman joined her as First Lieutenant.

Getting the battered HMS Hector seaworthy for the Atlantic crossing involved removal of 22 of her guns and replacement of her masts with shorter ones, presumably so as not to over-strain her hull. Her crew was significantly short-handed, some 300 men, many of whom were invalids. In normal circumstances, a ship of this size would carry a crew of 500 to 700 men and it is therefore obvious that her fighting ability was very seriously impaired. She sailed in late August…

On the evening of September 5th HMS Hector was found by two 40-gun French frigates, L’Aigle and Gloire. These fresh, undamaged vessels quickly perceived HMS Hector’s decrepitude and one placed herself on her beam, and the other on her quarter and began to pour fire into her. Poorly manoeuvrable, HMS Hector was badly placed to avoid several rakings but she returned fire sufficiently to damage both attackers. It was a very creditable performance for a ship so weakly manned and armed. Even so, had the French vessels continued the bombardment from a distance they might have sunk HMS Hector. Instead they made the mistake of attempting to board and their efforts were bloodily repulsed. The action was broken off after six hours and both French ships bore off. . . .

Hector’s survival had been dearly bought. 46 of her crew had been killed or wounded, an especially serious concern when so many of her complement were already invalids. Captain Bourchier had been so badly wounded as to be incapacitated and effective command now passed to the twenty-year-old Henry Inman. The ship herself had been weakened yet further – the hull had sustained more injury, as had the masts, rigging and sails.

It was in this state that HMS Hector was to encounter the massive hurricane that swept through the Central Atlantic on September 17th. Battered by high seas, she lost her rudder and all her masts. Leaks were sprung and incoming water reached a level at which a major portion of the provisions and fresh water was spoiled. Survival now became a matter of continuous pumping, a labour that demanded physical exertion on an open wind and spray-lashed deck which would have been severe for a fit and healthy crew, but almost impossible for one so debilitated.
Go to the Dawlish Chronicles to read about the end of H.M.S. Hector.

Friday, August 11, 2023

“Only the tax on tea retained”

In a conversation earlier this week I shared, and not for the first time, an observation about Lord North’s repeal of the Townshend duties in 1770. Parliament scrapped the duties on everything but tea—yet tea was what accounted for the bulk of the revenue, so it wasn’t that big a change.

That fact had stuck with me since I read this passage in Oliver M. Dickerson’s 1958 article in the New England Quarterly, “Use Made of the Revenue from the Tax on Tea”:
In its original form this act [written by Charles Townshend] included import duties upon glass, white lead, painters’ colors, and paper as well as tea. Total collections on articles other than tea were so unimportant that they were repealed in 1770 and only the tax on tea retained.
Dickerson did more work with Treasury records on American colonial revenue than anyone else in his time, so his remark seemed reliable.

At the same time, I couldn’t help recalling that Dickerson developed a real animus toward the British Customs service, which enforced and collected those tariffs. He revived the Boston Whigs’ accusation that Customs officers had shot at the crowd in King Street in his 1954 paper, “The Commissioners of Customs and the ‘Boston Massacre’,” also published in the New England Quarterly. After 1770, not even the Boston Whigs believed that anymore.

So was Dickerson’s conclusion backed up by data or just his impression? Would his impression be solid? I wanted to see the numbers Dickerson used for his conclusion about the Townshend duties. Unfortunately, the paragraph I quoted above had no citations.

Later in the same paper, however, Dickerson quoted a figure for total collections under Townshend’s revenue act, and then another for “Total reported collections of American taxes from all sources, 1765-1774.” Both those citations pointed to his own book, The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution, published in 1951.

Luckily, I have a copy. Even more luckily, I remembered where I’d shelved it.

The data pertinent to the passage above appears in Table 11 on page 198: “Tax Collections Under the Townshend Revenue Act at Four Principal Ports, 1768–70, Exclusive of Paper, Continental Colonies Only.”

The totals for Boston and Salem:
  • white glass: £684
  • green glass: £169
  • lead and painters’ colors: £168
  • tea: £5,524
The Massachusetts ports thus accounted for about 31% of all money the Customs service collected on the continent from the Townshend duties, and tea was responsible for 84% of that money.

In New York, tea duties brought in 88% of the total. In Philadelphia, 84%. Only in Charleston, which brought in far more highly-taxed green glass and far less tea than the other three ports, did the other commodities come close to reaping as much revenue as tea.

(The Townshend Act also put a tariff on paper. Or, to be exact, papers. Dickerson wrote frankly ahead of this table: “This omits paper, as the task of computing the tax on sixty-seven kinds of paper at forty-three different ports is more difficult than the results justify. The paper duty at best was a nuisance tax and the yield was small.”)

Thus, Dickerson did present data to support his conclusion. In removing most of his predecessor’s import duties in 1770, Lord North kept more than three-quarters of the actual taxation. I don’t know if the American Whigs were privy to those figures at the time, but the situation helps to explain why they weren’t mollified.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

“The public may be assured that this will be his last exhibition”

Yesterday I quoted Jacob Bates announcing that his last display of horsemanship in Philadelphia would be on 23 Sept 1772, and he was pulling out some new tricks for the occasion.

It’s possible Bates left the city and visited some nearby towns, putting on more shows that didn’t make the newspapers.

But that definitely wasn’t his last show in Philadelphia because the 2 November Pennsylvania Packet announced:
To the PUBLIC.

MR. BATES intending in a short Time to leave the Province, and being desirous of manifesting his Gratitude to this City,—proposes to exhibit on Thursday next, (if the weather is good,—otherwise on the succeeding Saturday) at the upper End of MARKET-STREET,—All his various Feats in HORSEMANSHIP,—having Confidence in the generous Attendance of the Citizens; as the Sum which may be then collected, shall be deposited in the Hands of three Gentlemen of Reputation, who will apply it in the advancing inclement Season, to the Relief of such modest Poor, as have experienced better Days.

• The Doors to be opened at Three o’Clock, and to mount precisely at Four.
There’s no sign of where Bates spent the winter and spring. He surfaced next in the second largest British city in North America, New York.

On 17 June 1773, an advertisement in the New-York Journal announced:
The Original PERFORMER;
Who has had the honour of performing before the Emperor of Germany, the Empress of Russia, the King of Great-Britain, the French King, the Kings of Prussia, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, and Poland, and the Prince of Orange; also, at the courts of Saxony, Bavaria, Brunswick, Mecklenbergh, Saxe-Gotha, Hilbourghausen, Anspach, and every other court in Germany; at all which he received the greatest applause, as can be made manifest by the CERTIFICATES from the several courts, now in his possession, and is allowed, by the greatest judges in the MANLY ART he professes, to excel any Horseman that ever attempted any thing of the kind.

THIS AFTERNOON, at Five o’clock, he will perform at the Bull’s-Head, in the Bowery Lane.

The doors will be opened at four o’clock, and he will mount precisely at five.

The seats are made proper for Ladies and Gentlemen.

He will take it as a particular favour, if Gentlemen will not suffer any dogs to come with them.

TICKETS for the first place, at One Dollar each; and for the second, Four Shillings; to be had at the bar of the Coffee-House, at Mr. Rivington’s, and at the place of performance. No money will be taken at the doors, nor admittance without tickets.
Bates advertised several more performances in the New York papers over the following weeks, usually stating that he planned only one or two more shows.

Earlier this month Carl Robert Keyes, who studies advertising in the colonial press, posted an essay on one of those ads, dated 5 August. That one stated it “was intirely the Printer’s mistake in advertising last week that Mr. BATES would perform only once more.” Was it really? Prof. Keyes asks.

One detail to add to that consideration: The printer whom Bates was throwing under a wagon for supposedly misreporting his schedule was James Rivington, who’d sold tickets to his first performances in June. (Later Bates also sold through another printer, Hugh Gaine.)

Another wrinkle: Bates announced he had “changed his tickets,” and none “of the old tickets should be taken at the door.” Does that suggest a falling-out with his printer? Or had he just ordered another batch of tickets printed?

On 9 August the New-York Gazette repeated:
WILL perform on Tuesday next, if the weather should permit,—if not, he will ride on the Friday following. The public may be assured that this will be his last exhibition, and that he will leave the town on his way to Boston, the day after his finishing performance.
COMING: A warm Boston welcome.