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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Sunday, September 03, 2023

Where Have You Gone, Colonel Robinson?

After Boston’s first anti-Stamp Act protest in 1765, Lemuel Robinson changed the sign outside the tavern he owned in Dorchester (shown above) to show Liberty Tree.

The Sign of the Liberty Tree hosted the big banquet of the Boston Sons of Liberty in August 1769.

Robinson was captain of a Suffolk County artillery company under Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, then a colonel after the Massachusetts Provincial Congress called on Patriots to reorganize their militia structure.

By January 1775 Robinson was hiding two of the Boston train’s small cannon on his property under dung heaps. Two more cannon, plus two mortars, were moved out there soon after. Committee of safety records hint that it took some prodding before Robinson turned those weapons over to provincial agents to be moved further out to Concord.

During the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Robinson made his tavern a center for feeding militiamen arriving outside Boston from the southwest. He became an officer in the New England army, but also stepped on other officers’ toes with his aggressive recruiting tactics.

Robinson then shifted to representing Dorchester in the Massachusetts General Court.

The British military wasn’t the only danger that year. Smallpox was spreading as well. After the king’s troops sailed away, there was a major effort to inoculate people.

On 3 Aug 1776 Elbridge Gerry wrote to his colleagues in Philadelphia about how a number of people they knew had come through that treatment:
Generals [James] Warren, [Benjamin] Lincoln Mrs. [Elizabeth] Bodwoin and a Number of our other Friends are recovered. Mrs. [Mercy] Warren in a good Way, poor Colo. Lem. Robinson dyed by imprudently pumping Cold Water on his Arm after getting well of the Distemper.
So how should we classify Lemuel Robinson’s death? As a result of smallpox? During the smallpox epidemic? Or that more obscure cause, “imprudently pumping Cold Water on his Arm”?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post made me laugh. I too have enjoyed some of the causes of death listed in period newspapers. The "shock" of cold water was definitely considered a deadly danger -- though usually more was immersed than the arm! One wonders how anyone, ever, could have learned to swim.