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, January 31, 2024

“I then gave him a genteel Basting or Caneing”

The 18 Feb 1771 issue of Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette reported that the Customs Commissioners had promoted John Malcolm from the post of Tide Surveyor in Newport, Rhode Island, to Controller in Carratook, North Carolina.

Carratook was a much smaller port, but Controller was a position of more responsibility, especially when it came to money. Malcolm had joined the service less than two years before, so that indicated the commissioners had some confidence in him.

Just below that report (in much smaller type) ran this letter:
Messieurs EDES & GILL.

Please to insert the following in your much-esteemed Paper, and you’ll oblige your humble servant, JOHN MALCOM.

WHEREAS three Officers belonging to his Majesty’s Navy us’d me very ill sometime past, by cutting Buttons from my Hussar Cloak in a private Manner, and carrying them off in their Pockets, which I resented; and on Friday the 15th Instant [i.e., of this month] I met with one of them, whose Name was Davis, two other Officers being with him—

And as said Davis had not given me Gentleman-like Satisfaction as he sundry Times promis’d, I again demanded Satisfaction of him, and he struck me with a Stick—

I then gave him a genteel Basting or Caneing, and sent him off, bidding him if he pleas’d to go and acquaint his Commodore [James Gambier] that a Boston-born Man had given him the said Davis a genteel Trimming.

Boston, Feb. 1771
This newspaper item isn’t discussed in Frank W. C. Hersey’s article on Malcolm for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, or anywhere else that I can find.

The confrontation Malcolm described here bears some resemblance to his more famous street fight in early 1774, particularly his insistence on being treated like a gentleman and his whaling away with his cane when that didn’t happen.

One big difference, of course, is that Malcolm’s target in 1771 was a fellow employee of the royal government, albeit in another branch. If there was any political issue in this earlier fight, it was his suspicion that British officers looked down on him as a “Boston-born” colonial.

At this time, Malcolm aligned himself with the town—the same town that would attack him brutally a few years later. He was even using the Boston Whigs’ principal newspaper to promulgate that message.

[My photo above shows a “fist cane” that belonged to Thomas Hancock and was on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society five years ago.]

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

“Some excuse for such an outrageous action”

Another source on the circumstances of the mobbing of John Malcolm was Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, reporting to the Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for North America in London.

This text is from the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s publication of Hutchinson’s correspondence:
I am sorry that I must acquaint your Lordship with a barbarous & inhumane act of violence upon the person of John Malcom the night after the 25th. instant, by a great number of rioters in the Town of Boston. Mr Malcom is a preventive Officer for the port of Falmouth in Casco bay, and lately seized a Vessel, in that port, for want of a Register. I have heard no complaint of any irregularity in this execution of his Office, but a great number of persons, in that part of the Province, thought fit to punish him by tarring and feathering him, & carrying him about in derision.

As he was not stripped, and the chief damage he sustained was in his cloaths, upon his making complaint to me I only sent for one of the principal Justices of peace for the County, and directed him to make inquiry into the affair, and to oblige such of the Actors as he should have evidence against to find security to answer at the next Assizes for the County, or to commit them.

He has, since his being in Boston, made frequent complaints to me of his being hooted at in the streets for having been tarred & feathered and, being a passionate man, I have as often cautioned him against giving way to his passion, or making any other Return than neglect & contempt; but having met with a provocation of this sort, in the afternoon of the 25th. from a tradesman, who, he says, had several times before affronted him, he struck him with his cane.

The tradesman applied to a Justice, who issued a warrant to a Constable, but the Constable not being able to find him, a mob gathered about his house in the evening and, having broke his windows, he pushed through the broken window with his sword, and gave a slight scratch with the point to one of the Assailants; soon after which the mob entered his house and treated him in the manner related in the News paper which I shall inclose.

This account is given to me by the Relations of Mr Malcom, who are persons of good characters in the Town. He has, for some time past, been threatned by the populace with revenge for his free and open declarations against the late proceedings [i.e., the Boston Tea Party], and has, I believe, sometimes indiscretely provoked them, which it is pretended may be some excuse for such an outrageous action.

I am informed, to day, that, although he is terribly bruised, it’s probable he will recover. I will do every thing in my power to bring the guilty persons to condign punishment. I have not heard of any except the lowest class of the people suspected of being concerned in this Riot.

The next night there was an attempt to raise another mob to search for Ebenr. Richardson lately found guilty by a Jury of Murder, but judgment being suspended His Majesty’s pardon was applied for & obtained. He is now in some very inferior employment in the service of the Customs in Pensilvania and, it is thought, a report of his being in town was spread for the sake of raising a mob. Some of the more considerate people appeared and opposed the leaders in the beginning of the affair and put a stop to it.

I am the more particular in these accounts, because I have heretofore been thought negligent in not transmitting the earliest advice of every attack upon the Officers of the Customs, though of the lowest rank. The town continuing in this state the friends of the Consignees of the East India Company judge it unsafe for them to appear there, though they are sensible that any further compliance with the demands of the people could not have been justified, and that the whole proceedings with respect to them have been unjust & tyrannical. There is no spirit left in those who used to be friends to Government to support them or any others who oppose the prevailing power.
Among the notable additions to the record from this letter are that the name of pardoned killer Ebenezer Richardson was still toxic enough to arouse the Boston crowd. Gov. Hutchinson was correct that the man had gone to Philadelphia to work for the Customs office there.

However, in November 1773 the Boston newspapers ran articles from the Pennsylvania Journal suggesting that its coverage had made that town too hot for him, and he might go to New York or elsewhere. It wasn’t out of the question, therefore, that Richardson could be back in Boston. (He did return to Massachusetts by the summer of 1774 and was found in Stoneham that September.)

Hutchinson’s letter also says, based on an account from Malcolm’s relatives, that the “tradesman” he struck (George R. T. Hewes) had “affronted” him “several times before.” Neither the immediate newspaper stories nor Hewes’s later recollections indicate that history, but it’s clear that Hewes knew who Malcolm was.

Notably, Malcolm’s own narrative skipped over that first encounter entirely, except to deny the “False pretence of his haveing the Same day used a Boy Ill in the Street.” Instead, he began the confrontation with people coming to his house and breaking windows for no good reason.

TOMORROW: John Malcolm’s street fights.

Monday, January 29, 2024

“Applyed to a particular Justice to Exert his Authority”

On 25 Jan 1774, the day that a Boston mob attacked John Malcolm, the merchant John Rowe wrote this in his diary:
John Malcom having done some violence to A man with A Sword enragd the Multitude that they took him & put him into a Cart, Tarr’d & featherd him—carrying thro the principall Streets of this Town with A halter about him from thence to the Gallows & Returned thro the main Street—making Great Noise & Huzzaing.

I did not see the Numbers attending but tis Supposed by the People that did there were upwards of Twelve hundred people. tis Said that Malcom behav’d with Great Fortitude & Resolution—this was Look’d upon by Mee & Every Sober Man as an Act of Outragious Violence & when severall of the Inhabitants applyed to a particular Justice to Exert his Authority & Suppress the People & they would support him in the Execution of his Duty he Refusd.
As you can see on the original page from the Massachusetts Historical Society, Rowe put a little asterisk next to the word “Justice” and at the bottom of the page this footnote:
After I spent some time identifying that magistrate from those initials, I discovered that Clifford K. Shipton had already done so in his Sibley’s Harvard Biographies profiles.

That reluctant justice of the peace was Belcher Noyes (1709–1785), who lived near Dock Square, the neighborhood where the riot started. After graduating from Harvard College, Noyes followed his father into medicine but soon spent more of his time, and made more of his money, speculating on land in Maine, as documented at the Maine Memory Network above. In 1773 Noyes was in his sixties, not politically active, and clearly reluctant to become involved.

Rowe’s diary entry is also interesting for showing the merchant himself trimming back toward the royal side weeks after he had pleased the crowd in Old South Meeting-House by asking “whether Salt Water would not make as good Tea as fresh.” Here Rowe, for most of his career an active smuggler, takes the side of Customs Surveyor Malcolm.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

“An ancedote of a hair’s breath escape” from George R. T. Hewes

It’s not that surprising that the two books based on the memories of George Robert Twelves Hewes, A Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party (1834) and Traits of the Tea Party (1835), contain anecdote after anecdote placing Hewes at major events in pre-Revolutionary Boston.

After all, people’s memoirs often play up their role in history or their knowledge of events.

What’s remarkable about the Hewes books is that contemporaneous documents often bear out the little shoemaker’s memories. Details he recalled six decades later turn out to be consistent with the records of the time.

For both those books Hewes described how he had gotten into an argument with a Customs officer and suffered an injury, prompting his fellow Bostonians to attack that man. He had his own riot in pre-Revolutionary Boston!

Yet, as the account from the Massachusetts Spy shows, that’s exactly what happened on 25 Jan 1774. Hewes’s memories weren’t fully accurate—for example, he recalled this confrontation happening before the Boston Tea Party instead of six weeks after it. But they’re impressivelt consistent.

Here’s how James T. Hawke recorded Hewes’s memory in A Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party:
One day, said he, as I was returning from dinner, I met a man by the name of John Malcom, who was a custom-house officer, and a small boy, pushing his sled along, before him; and just as I was passing the boy, he said to Malcom, what, sir, did you throw my chips into the snow for, yesterday?

Upon which Malcom angrily replied, do you speak to me, you rascal; and, as he raised a cane he had in his hand, aiming it at the head of the boy, I spoke to Malcom, and said to him, you are not about to strike that boy with your cudgel, you may kill him; upon my saying that, he was suddenly diverted from the boy, and turning upon me, says, you d——d rascal, do you presume too, to speak to me?

I replied to him, I am no rascal, sir, be it known to you; whereupon he struck me across the head with his cane, and knocked me down, and by the blow cut a hole in my hat two inches in length.

At this moment, one Captain [Isaac?] Godfry came up, and raising me up, asked who had struck me; Malcom, replied the by standers, while he, for fear of the displeasure of the populace, ran to his house, and shut himself up.

The people, many of whom were soon collected around me, advised me to go immediately to Doctor [Joseph] Warren, and get him to dress my wound, which I did without delay; and the doctor, after [he] dressed it, observed to me, it can be considered no misfortune that I had a thick skull, for had not yours been very strong, said he, it would have been broke; you have come within a hair’s breath of loosing your life.

He then advised me to go to Mr. [Edmund] Quincy, a magistrate, and get a warrant, for the purpose of arresting Malcom, which I did, and carried it immediately to a constable, by the name of Justine Hale [sic], and delivered it to him, to serve, but when he came to the house where Malcom was locked up, it was surrounded by such a multitude he could not serve it.

The people, however, soon broke open the door, and took Malcom into their custody. They then took him to the place where the massacre was committed, and their flogged him with thirty-nine stripes. After which, they besmeared him thoroughly with tar and feathers; they then whipped him through the town, till they arrived at the gallows, on the neck, where they gave him thirty-nine stripes more, and then, after putting one end of a rope about his neck, and throwing the other end over the gallows, told him to remember that he had come within one of being hanged. They then took him back to the house from whence they had taken him, and discharged him from their custody.

The severity of the flogging they had given him, together with the cold coat of tar with which they had invested him, had such a benumbing effect upon his health, that it required considerable effort to restore his usual circulation. During the process of his chastisement, the deleterious effect of the frost, it being a cold season, generated a morbid affection upon the prominent parts of his face, especially upon his chin, which caused a separation and peeling off of some fragments of loose skin and flesh, which, with a portion of the tar and feathers, which adhered to him, he preserved in a box, and soon after carried with him to England, as the testimonials of his sufferings in the cause of his country.

On his arrival in England soon after this catastrophe Malcom obtained an annual pension of fifty pounds, but lived only two years after to enjoy it.

On relating this adventure, the very excitement which the affront must have wrought upon him, evidently began to rekindle, and he remarked with emphasis, I shall carry to my grave the scar which the wound Malcom gave me left on my head; and passing my finger over the spot to which he directed it, there was obviously such a scar, as must have been occasioned by the wound he had described.
Hewes’s knowledge was of course more accurate about his own experiences than other details. Malcolm was awarded a sinecure but not a pension, and he lived many more than two years.

A year after that first book, Hewes sat for more interviews with the Bostonian journalist Benjamin Bussey Thatcher, and those conversations produced this version:
John [Malcom]…lived (says Mr. Hewes) at the head of Cross Street, where he worked in some capacity for a man by the name of Scott, when one day, as Hewes was returning from dinner to his shop, (for he continued at hard work all this time—as industrious and as impartial as ever,) he met Malcom at the mouth of the street.

He was engaged in an altercation with a boy who was dragging a hand-sled before him—the snow being a foot deep, or more, on the ground. The lad complained of his having turned over his chips, the day before, into the snow, and wanted to know what good that could do him.

“Do you talk to me in that style, you rascal!” said Malcom; and he was raising his cane, to give emphasis to his answer, over the boy’s head, just as Hewes came up. The latter was unarmed, and small, but it was no way of his, cost what it might, to see foul play. He stepped up to Malcom without ceremony, and warned him not to strike the lad with that cudgel. Malcom, in a rage already, now left his smaller game, and fronted Hewes:

”And do you presume to insult me, too, you scoundrel!—what have you to do with it?”

“I am no scoundrel, Sir,” said Hewes,—“and be it known to you”—

Malcom, at this, levelled a blow with his cane, which struck Hewes over the top of his head, cutting a hole two inches long through his hat, and brought him to the ground.

One Captain Godfrey came up at this moment, and helped him to rise. There was a bad wound on his temples, and the blood ran down his face in streams. “Who did this?” cried Godfrey, in a voice of thunder.

Hewes was known for a good Son of Liberty, as well as Malcom was for a Tory, and the by-standers, who were fast gathering by this time, quickly interfered. Malcom contrived to get a weapon into his hand and keep them at bay, till he could flee to is house, where he fastened himself in.

Hewes, meanwhile, had gone to Dr. Warren (Joseph) [footnote: in Orange-Tree Lane.] who was a relative (his grandmother’s sister’s son) and an old acquaintance of his; and the Doctor, after dressing his head, had advised him to get a warrant out against Malcom. He got one, accordingly, of Justice [Richard] Dana.

Constable Hale undertook to execute it. He found the house surrounded by a crowd of people. Malcom, from his back window, begged him to let him alone till morning, as he was afraid they would tear him to pieces, if he ventured out. He concluded to do so, and Hewes went away with him.

This, probably, only made the matter worse. The people became more furious, while Malcom, on the other hand, armed himself to the teeth, with sword, pistols, and broad-axe, took possession of the upper story, and threatened destruction to the first person who trespassed on the premises.

An acquaintance of his got in at the back-door, at length, by deceiving his wife, by a stratagem induced him to put his weapons by, seized him by the back in that condition, and hallooed to the people, who stood waiting to help him, which they did with a relish. They got a horse-cart, and lowered him out of the window by ropes into that.
This detail about the window appeared in the 27 January Boston News-Letter, but that newspaper retracted it the next week. According to Hewes, he had left the scene by that time. So either he heard a rumor of Malcolm being lowered out a window or read it in a newspaper, or Thatcher found the detail in the newspaper or some report based on it and inserted it into the book.
They called for feathers, and two pillow-cases-full were shortly produced—probably from Malcom’s own stores. They started for Henchman’s Wharf, and there took in a quantity of tar, the purpose of which…was soon explained by their stripping poor Malcom naked above the breast, and plastering over his upper extremities.

Thence they carted him to Butcher’s Hall [i.e., the Customs house]; thence to Shubael Hewess,’ who kept a butcher’s-market at that period on the Main Street, in a wooden house near the Old South Church, with a jutting upper story, which still stands there (and was pointed out by our veteran, on his last visit to the city.)

Here, as in King Street, a flagellation was tried. Then, they drove to Liberty-Tree—to the gallows on the Neck—back to the Tree—to Butcher’s Hall again—to Charlestown ferry—to Copp’s Hill,—flogging the miserable wretch at every one of these places, if not some more—a fact which the papers of the day overlook, for obvious reasons, though the Gazette acknowledges that he was “bruised” in such a manner “that his life is despaired of.”

Hewes states that when they left him at the door of his own house, after a four-hours’ torture, the poor creature was almost frozen, and was rolled out of the cart like a log. Dr. [Silvester] Gardiner, who met Hewes soon after, told him that it took three days to get his blood into circulation again; adding, in the same breath, the consolatory compliment, that he, as the cause of it, would infallibly be hanged, and ought to be.

The Doctor…was doubtless ignorant of one or two things which it is but justice to his patient to mention. Hewes could not be blamed, certainly, for complaining to the Justice and taking the warrant, had he done it at his own suggestion, instead of Dr. Warren’s, or any body’s else. The assault was unprovoked and outrageous; and the wound so serious that the indentation it made in his skull is as plainly perceptible to this moment as it was sixty years ago. Indeed, as the Doctor told him when he dressed it, it was within one of his life. “Cousin Hewes,” said he, good-humoredly, “you are the luckiest man I know of, to have such a skull—nothing else could have saved you;” and nothing else did. It was the narrowest of all his dodgings of death.

Nor was he accessory in any way to the disgraceful treatment which Malcom received; so far from it, that when he first heard of his miserable situation, his instant impulse was to push after the procession as fast as he could, with a blanket to put over his shoulders. He overtook them at his brother’s house and made an effort to relieve him; but the ruffians who now had the charge of him about the cart, pushed him aside, and warned him to keep off.

Malcom recovered from his wounds, and went about as usual. “How do you do, Mr. Malcom?” said Hewes, very civilly, the next time he met him. “Your humble servant, Mr. George Robert Twelves Hewes,” quoth he—touching his hat genteelly as he passed by. “Thank ye,” thought Hewes, “and I am glad you have learned better manners at last.”

Nor was that the only benefit which accrued to this unfortunate politician. The frost caused an affection which caused a considerable portion of the skin to peel off. This, with a quantity of the Tar and feathers that adhered to him, it is understood he carefully preserved, boxed up, and carried with him to England, as a testimonial of his sacrifices for the royal cause.
Hewes’s memory appears to be the only source for the statement that Malcolm preserved samples of his own skin (though Ann Hulton did write that “They say his flesh comes off his back in Stakes [steaks]”). Again, it’s not clear how Hewes would know that as a fact without any other record of it surviving. But authors love to include it.

Again, on details of his own experience, Hewes could be remarkably reliable. For example, there’s the constable he summoned to serve a writ on Malcolm, noted as “Constable Hale” and “Justine Hale” (which historian Alfred F. Young guessed was a typo for “Justice Hale”). Among the men the Boston town meeting elected as constables in 1773 was Augustus Hail.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

“The Custom house would drench us with this Poison”

Within a week after he was attacked by a mob, Customs officer John Malcolm petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for compensation.

He filed a memorial “setting forth great Abuses he has receiv’d, and praying to be enabled to take Measures for immediate Relief, and for Redress.”

The Council approved this petition on 1 February and sent it down to the assembly. The lower house voted “That the Petitioner have Leave to withdraw his Petition”—i.e., rejected.

On 17 March, almost two months after the riot, Malcolm published thanks to God that he was finally well enough to go back to church.

After another few weeks, on 4 May, H.M.S. Active sailed out of Boston harbor, “with whom went Passenger, the famous ’Squire Malcom,” according to the Boston Post-Boy.

In London, Malcolm told his story to a more sympathetic audience. He petitioned Lord North on 28 July. In the new year, he even presented his case to King George III.

The London newspapers reported on Malcolm’s sufferings, including a detail that hadn’t appeared in any American account so far:
A Correspondent says he has been informed, by a Gentleman lately arrived from Philadelphia, that when Mr. John Malcomb, an Officer of the Customs at Boston, was leading, tarred and feathered, to the Gallows, with a Rope about his Neck, he was asked by one of the Mob whether he was not thirsty, which was natural to a Man expecting to be hanged.

The unfortunate Officer of the Customs, as well as he could speak, answered yes; and immediately a large Bowl of strong Tea was put into his Hands, with Orders to drink the King’s Health. Whether it was owing to Loyalty or Thirst is not material; poor Malcomb Half emptied the Bowl.

He was then told he must mend his Draught, and drink the Queen’s Health. Though he had done his utmost for the King, he found he must do something for the Queen; and having taken off Half the Remainder of the Bowl, he presented it back to the Persons from whom he had received it.

Hold! hold! cries his Friend, you are not to forget the rest of the Royal Family; come, drink to the Prince of Wales. Replenish, replenish, cries the loyal American; and instantly poor Malcomb saw two Quarts more of what he was heartily sick of. Make Haste, cries another loyal American; you have nine more Healths to drink before you arrive at the Gallows.

For God’s Sake, Gentlemen, be merciful, I am ready to burst; if I drink a Drop more, I shall die.

Suppose you do, cries one of the Mob, you die in a good Cause, and it is as well to be drowned as hanged, and immediately the drenching Horn was put to his Mouth, to the Health of the Bishop of Osnabrug; and, having gone through the other eight, he turned pale, shook his Head, and instantly filled the Bowl which he had just emptied [i.e., vomited].

What, says the American, are you sick of the Royal Family? No, replies Malcomb, my Stomack nauseates the Tea; it rises at it like Poison.

And yet, you Rascal, returns the American, your whole Fraternity at the Custom house would drench us with this Poison, and we are to have our Throats cut if it will not stay upon our Stomachs. The merciful Americans desisted, and the Procession was continued towards the Gallows.
This anecdote was reprinted in Boston newspapers, including the Patriot Massachusetts Spy, in December. I haven’t found any local response saying it was untrue. However, it’s possible that at the time everyone saw this story—not attributed to Malcolm nor any Bostonian who actually witnessed the attack—as a joke using a newsworthy event to make a point about the Customs service and the Tea Act.

London artists seized on that detail about the tea. The “New Method of Macarony Making” print I showed yesterday included a Boston rioter pressing a big pot of tea on Malcolm. In the print above, “The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, or Tarring and Feathering,” the mob is actually pouring tea down Malcolm’s throat.

Furthermore, in the background of that print men are emptying tea chests off the side of a ship into the water—the earliest visual depiction of the Boston Tea Party. And as a reminder of the town’s ten-year history of trouble, “LIBERTY-TREE” holds an upside-down paper marked “Stamp Act.”

Malcolm hadn’t been personally involved in the stand-off over the East India Company tea, but he worked for the Customs Commissioners who had forced the issue. For Londoners, the attack on Malcolm and the destruction of dutied tea both showed the Bostonians’ contempt for the imperial government—“Paying the Excise-Man” with violence instead of their fair share of taxes.

TOMORROW: A retrospective on the riot.

Friday, January 26, 2024

“In a most Deploreable and Dangerous Setuation”

Yesterday I quoted the Massachusetts Spy report on the 25 Jan 1774 mob attack on John Malcolm.

Here’s the Customs officer’s own account, as quoted by Frank W. C. Hersey from a “memorial” (memorandum) to the Massachusetts government asking for compensation:
…a Number of People assembled at the House of your memorialist in Boston and after insulting him with opprobrious Language, under a False pretence of his haveing the Same day used a Boy Ill in the Street, they Broke his windows and endeavourd forcibly to Take him out of his House, but from the Natural Opposition he made, or Some friendly Interposition they thought Proper to Desperse—

That about Eight OClock in the Evening of the same Day a vast Concourse of people again beset the House of your memorialist, Who were Armed with axes Clubs &ca and Broke open the door and Windows of the Lower appartments on which he Retired to an upper Chamber to make what Deffence he Could but One Mr Russell Declareing himself to be the friend of your memorialist, Came Into the Room with all the appearances of Friendship, shook hands and at same Time Desired he might be permitted to Look at the sword of your memorialist which was the only weapon he had for his immediate Deffence, which request being granted he siezed the sword and Calling out to the people assembled as afore said, they immediately Rushed in, and by violence forced your memorialist out of the House, and Beating him with Sticks then placed him on a sled they had Prepaird and Draged him before the Custom House where they gave three Huzza’s they afterwards Took him out of the sled and put him into a Cart, and Notwithstanding the severitty of the weather, Tore of his Clothes, and Tarrd and Featherd his Naked body, and in that setuation Carried him before the Provience House and ordered him to Curse The Governor and say he was an Enemy to his Country but your Memorialist Refused—

from thence they prosceeded with him to Liberty-Tree so Called, where they again ordered him to Curse the governor and the board of Commissioners, and say they were Enemyes to this Countrey, and Commanded him also to Resigne his Commission; all which he Refused.

that your Memorialist asked the People what he who was their friend had Done to Desplease them, they answered he was an Enemy to the Countrey and that they would soon serve all the Custom House officers in Like manner—

that from Liberty Tree they Carryed your Memorialist to the Gallows, put Round his Neck a Rope and threatned to Hang him if he would not Do as they had before ordered him, but he still Refused Desiring and praying they would put their threats in Execution Rather than Continue their Torture, they then Took the rope off his Neck and Tying his hands Fastned him to the Gallows, and beat him with Ropes and Sticks in most savage manner, which Compeled him to Declare he would do any thing they Desired, upon which they unbound him, and obliged him to Curse the governor and the Board of Commissioners, and Declaring at the same Time they would serve the governor in the Same manner, and Extorted a promise from him to assist &ca

and Returning with him to Liberty Tree then they made him Repeat several oathes, among which one was that he would not Discover [i.e., identify] any of the persons then present; and Carting him through the Town stopd before the Provience House and made him Repeat the above mentioned oathes.

Dureing these Transactions several Humane gentlemen at Divers Times offerd him gairments to Cover him but his Tormentors would not suffer that Indulgence, at Length they Carried yr memorialist to his House, in a most mizerable setuation Deprived of his senses

that your Memorialist is now Confined to his bed, in a most Deploreable and Dangerous Setuation in Consequence of the afore said Treatment,…
Malcolm’s account agrees in most respects with the newspaper report, as unsympathetic as that was to him.

Ann Hulton, sister of Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton, also described the attack in a letter, including some details Malcolm didn’t mention:
  • “his arm dislocated in tearing off his cloaths”
  • “This Spectacle of horror & sportive cruelty was exhibited for about five hours.”
  • “they demanded of him to curse his Masters The K: Govr &c which they coud not make him do, but he still cried, Curse all Traitors.”
  • “They say his flesh comes off his back in Stakes [steaks]”
Living in Brookline, Hulton was almost certainly passing on secondhand information. Some of her added details might be correct while others, such as Malcolm being encouraged to curse “The K[ing]:,” were probably exaggerated.

One detail in both Malcolm and Hulton’s accounts was that the Customs man was “naked” when he was tarred and feathered. The Spy stated he was stripped “to buff and breeches.” The latter is probably more accurate for our understanding, the term “naked” being less absolute in meaning then.

TOMORROW: Bringing tea into it.

(The picture above is an engraving published in London in October 1774. Titled “A New Method of Macarony Making as practised at Boston in North America,” it depicted the attack on Malcolm without using his name. This cartoon shows one of the attackers wearing a hat with the number “45” on it, linking this incident back to support for John Wilkes’s court cases in the early 1760s.)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Attack on Customs Officer John Malcolm

I’m interrupting what turned into Amputation Week at Boston 1775 to address a Sestercentennial event.

On 25 Jan 1774, the Boston crowd attacked Customs officer John Malcolm. Coming weeks after the Tea Party, this assault became one of the most notorious incidents in the months of political debate in London leading up to war, with multiple prints published. It helped to cement Parliamentarians’ image of Bostonians as showing no respect for the law.

Today the event is not as widely remembered. The main victim was a Loyalist, he wasn’t killed, and that day’s violence, though horrible, was soon overshadowed by years of warfare.

Here’s the first report of the attack in the 27 January Massachusetts Spy:
Mr. [Isaiah] THOMAS,

Last Tuesday about two o’clock Mr. George-Robert-Twelves Hewes was coming along Fore-street, near Captain [Isaac] Ridgway’s [inn at Dock Square], and found the redoubted John Malcom, standing over a small boy, who was pushing a little sled before him, cursing, damning, threatning and shaking a very large cane with a very heavy ferril on it over his head.

The boy at that time was perfectly quiet, notwithstanding which Malcom continued his threats of striking him, which Mr. Hewes conceiving if he struck him with that weapon he must have killed him out-right, came up to him, and said to him, Mr. Malcom, I hope you are not going to strike this boy with that stick.

Malcom returned, you are an impertinent rascal, it is none of your business. Mr. Hewes then asked him, what had the child done to him. Malcom damned him and asked him if he was going to take his part? Mr. Hewes answered no further than this, that he thought it was a shame for him to strike the child with such a club as that, if he intended to strike him. Malcom on that damned Mr. Hewes, called him a vagabond, and said he would let him know he should not speak to a gentleman in the street.

Mr. Hewes returned to that, he was neither a rascal nor vagabond, and though a poor man was in as good credit in town as he was. Malcom called him a liar, and said he was not, nor ever would be. Mr. Hewes retorted, be that as it will, I never was tarred nor feathered any how.

On this Malcom struck him, and wounded him deeply on the forehead, so that Mr. Hewes for some time lost his senses.

Capt. [Isaac?] Godfrey, then present, interposed, and after some altercation, Malcom went home, where the people gathering round, he came out and abused them greatly, saying, you say I was tarred and feathered, and that it was not done in a proper manner, damn you let me see the man that dare do it better! I want to see it done in the new-fashioned manner.

After Malcom had thus bullied the people some time, and Mr. [Hezekiah] Usher the constable had persuaded him into the house, Mrs. [Ann] Malcom threw up a sash, and begged the people to go away, and Malcom came suddenly behind her and pushing his naked sword through the opening, pricked Mr. Waddel [John Wardell, d. 1816?] in the breast; the bone stopping its course, which would otherwise have reached his vitals. Mr. Waddel on this made a stroke at the window with his cane, and broke a square of glass, through which breach he again made a pass, and slightly wounded Mr. Waddel, who a second time returned the blow, and Malcom withdrawing the people dispersed.

Mr. Hewes after having his wound taken care of, went to Justice [Edmund] Quincy and took out a warrant for Malcom, and gave it to a constable, who went to Malcom’s house to serve it, but found the doors shut against him, and was told by him, from a window, that he would not be taken that day, as he should be followed by a damned mob, but would surrender to-morrow afternoon.

Here the matter appeared to subside, till in the evening the people being informed of the outrages he had committed, the threatnings and defiances he had uttered, and among other things, that he would split down the yankees by dozens, and receive 20l. sterling a head for every one he destroyed, they mustered and went to his house, which being barred against them, and he menacing with his loaded pistols, which he declared he would fire upon them if they came near him, they got ladders and beating in an upper window, entered the house and took him without loss of blood, and dragging him out put him on a sled, and amidst the huzzas of thousands, brought him into King-street.

Several Gentlemen endeavoured to divert the populace from their intention, alledging that he was open to the laws of the land which would undoubtedly award a reasonable satisfaction to the parties he had abused; they answered he had been an old, impudent and mischevious offender—he had joined in the murders at North-Carolina—he had seized vessels on account of sailors having a bottle or two of gin on board—he had in office, and otherwise, behaved in the most capricious, insulting and daringly abusive manner—and on every occasion discovered the most rooted enmity to this country, and the defenders of its rights—that in case they let him go they might expect a like satisfaction as they had received in the cases of [Ebenezer] Richardson and the soldiers [at the Massacre], and the other friends of government.

With these and such like arguments, together with a gentle crouding of persons not of their way of thinking out of the ring they proceeded to elevate Mr. Malcom from his sled into a cart, and stripping him to buff and breeches, gave him a modern jacket [i.e., tar and feathers] and hied him away to liberty-tree, where they proposed to him to renounce his present commission, and swear that he would never hold another inconsistent with the liberties of his country; but this he obstinately refusing, they then carted him to the gallows, passed a rope round his neck, and threw the other end over the beam as if they intended to hang him: But this manoeuvre he set at defiance. They then basted him for some time with a rope’s end, and threatened to cut his ears off, and on this he complied, and they then brought him home.

See reader, the effects of a government in which the people have no confidence!
Immediately after that account Thomas printed three short letters describing ways that Malcolm had threatened people or abused his government position. Obviously people were anxious to justify the attack on the following day, and the printer was happy to help.

TOMORROW: John Malcolm’s version.

[The image of the crowd removing Malcolm through a window into a cart around town was published in France in the mid-1780s to illustrate a page on the “Origine de la Révolution Américaine.”]

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

“Breathe their Last within the walls of his Detestable General Hospital”

As I quoted yesterday, in September 1775 commanders of the northern wing of the Continental Army besieging Boston were upset with how Surgeon-General Benjamin Church was ordering sick and wounded men moved to his hospitals in Cambridge.

Gen. John Sullivan and Dr. Hall Jackson complained that there were sick people at those hospitals! Meaning men would be more likely to catch infections there than anywhere else.

In addition, the doctors looked down on New Hampshire men as country bumpkins, and Dr. Church and his assistant surgeons weren’t as skilled as Jackson himself.

Well, Jackson didn’t come right out and say that last part (Sullivan did), but on 16 September he lambasted the central army hospitals this way:
Not an Officer or Soldier [from New Hampshire] will go to the Cambridge Hospital, they had much rather provide for themselves at Mistick at any expense, or even die in Camp with their friends than be forced into a General Hospital cram’d with the sick of 25,000 Troops; and attended by strangers from polite Places, who have never been used to the inquisitiveness and impatience of poor Country People, and are in general to apt to conster their simplicity into impertinence: it is the mind of General Sullivan, and all the Officers from New Hampshire, that unless some alteration is made, another Regiment will never be raised in that Colony.

Capt. [Henry] Dearbourn, with many others, are gone to Canada, for no other reason than to avoid the Sickness of our Camp, and dread of the general Hospital.

The arts, contrivance, and hypocricy, of some of the M—u—setts Patriots is dam—a—ble to the last degree. “A Struggle for Liberty”!—good God! my Soul abhors the Idea! If methodically to kill the wounded; to starve the sick, and languishing because they cannot Diet on Salt Pork, or will not submit to be severed from their dearest friends and relations, if these (my Dear Friend) are the Characteristicks of an Army raised for the defence of Liberty, I frankly confess I have no claim to an employment in the glorious Cause.
When Jackson wrote those words, however, the army had already formally looked into the dispute. On 7 September, Gen. George Washington laid set out a formal process in his general orders:
Repeated Complaints being made by the Regimental Surgeons, that they are not allowed proper Necessaries for the Use of the sick before they become fit Objects for the General Hospital: And the Director General of the hospital complains, that contrary to the Rule of every established army, these Regimental Hospitals are more expensive than can be conceived; which plainly indicates that there is either an unpardonable Abuse on one side, or an inexcusable neglect on the other—

And Whereas the General is exceedingly desirous of having the utmost care taken of the sick (wherever placed and in every stage of their disorder) but at the same time is determin’d, not to suffer any impositions on the public;

he requires and orders, that the Brigadiers General with the commanding Officers of each Regiment in his brigade; do set as a Court of enquiry into the Causes of these Complaints, and that they summon the Director General of the hospital, and their several Regimental Surgeons before them, and have the whole matter fully investigated and reported—This enquiry to begin on the left of the Line to morrow, at the hour of ten in Genl Sullivan’s brigade.
That inquiry ended a week later with Church being cleared of all charges. Jackson’s letter was thus carrying on an argument he had already officially lost.

There must have been similar disputes in other parts of the army because Washington ordered the same sort of inquiry in Gen. William Heath’s brigade in the central part of the lines, then in the brigades on the south wing. The commander-in-chief evidently felt that this process would force everyone to an agreement.

The second inquiry likewise ended in praise for Church. But by then the surgeon-general had left the front, pleading illness. Church even sent in his resignation from Taunton. Adjutant-General Horatio Gates wrote the doctor a flattering letter urging him to come back.

Then suddenly the conflict was resolved by an outside factor: The baker Godfrey Wenwood came to Washington’s headquarters from Newport with a ciphered letter that his ex-wife had asked him to send into Boston. Under questioning, that woman, née Mary Butler, admitted she had handled the letter for her lover—Dr. Church!

The 30 September inquiry in Gen. Joseph Spencer’s brigade was called off “on account of the Indisposition of Dr Church.” That phrase in Washington’s general orders was cover for the fact that Church was under arrest in one of his hospital buildings (shown above) for secretly corresponding with the British military.

On 4 October, Sullivan wrote in triumph:
You will by this Post Receive Intelligence from head-Quarters of Dr. Church’es having been detected in holding a Treasonable Correspondence with the Enemy—his Behaviour Towards our Sick & wounded long since Convinced me that he either was void of humanity and Judgment, or that he was Determined by untimely Removals & Neglect of Duty to Let all those under his care breathe their Last within the walls of his Detestable General Hospital.
On 17 October, Dr. Hall Jackson returned to Portsmouth. Since June, he had been working with no rank or salary. The next month, New Hampshire’s provincial government recognized his service with a commission as chief surgeon for the colony’s troops and back pay.

COMING UP: Back to Capt. Sylvanus Lowell, wounded in 1773. But first, a Sestercentennial event.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

“Jackson was obliged to take the knife”

Yesterday I left Pvt. William Simpson of Pennsylvania grievously wounded in the leg by a British cannon ball in late August 1775, and two of the top doctors in the American lines arguing over his care.

Dr. Hall Jackson of New Hampshire was treating the troops north of Boston in Medford/Mistick without official commission or pay.

Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr., was overseeing the Continental Army’s medical wing, centered on hospitals in Cambridge.

Both doctors actually agreed that Simpson’s only hope was to have his wounded leg amputated. But Dr. Church insisted that first the man must be moved from Dr. Jackson’s hospital to the army hospital. And as Surgeon-General, Church outranked every other military surgeon.

Here’s Gen. John Sullivan’s story of what Church did next:
he went home himself—Eat his Dinner—Drank his Glass—then went to meet the wounded voluntier who, by the Loss of Blood, The Tearing and Lacerating his flesh by the Fractured Bone had become happy by growing Insensible of his pain—

Jackson had fortold this, but Church Determining to Kill the man Secundem Artem, called his Subs around him assigns each one his post, and then requests Jackson to take off the Limb—

he Refused, Informing them that the only reason was that the Man’s life could not be saved by amputating the Limb or by any other methods, & agreeable to his predictions the Man Died on the Second day.
And that wasn’t the only amputation case Sullivan said that Church’s administration had botched. He also wrote:
a man in my Brigade…was wounded in the Leg—Dr. Jackson was by—said his Leg must be taken off, but he did not dare to do it till Church was sent for—

he sent down two of his Subs, who Complimented Jackson with the Liberty of using the Saw—one of them was to cut the flesh—the other to take up the Arteries. The first failed, leaving some of the muscles untouched, & the other would not if left to himself have taken up the Arteries till the man had Bled to Death—

Jackson was obliged to take the knife from one & the needle from the other—performed the operation—Drest the man & tended him three Days—every symptom was favourable & Doubtless the man would have soon Recovered, but on the Fourth day Doctor Church sent for him & ordered him to the Hospital.

Jackson told them that the fourth being the Day on which the Inflammation was at the highest he would assuredly die if removed—he was not regarded—the man was removed & died accordingly.
Sullivan wrote those stories in early October, after Church had fallen under a shadow. The general was a bit of a hothead and a strong partisan for Dr. Jackson, so he might have slanted the stories against Church.

Back in early September, shortly after Pvt. Simpson’s death, Gen. George Washington had actually ordered inquiries to settle the disagreement about regimental hospitals versus Dr. Church’s centralized army hospitals.

TOMORROW: The results of those inquiries.

Monday, January 22, 2024

“They were hurried Volens Nolens to a general Hospital at Cambridge”

On 27 July 1775, the Continental Congress created a hospital department for its army outside Boston.

It also appointed Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr., to be Director-General of that department—though he was often called the army’s Surgeon-General.

Church had impressed Congress delegates with his years of work in the Boston Patriot leadership, his genteel bearing during a visit to Philadelphia, and his renowned surgical skills.

Receiving the news in August, Church quickly began to develop hospitals in Cambridge and Roxbury. He started to insist that regimental surgeons send their worst sick and wounded to those hospitals instead of maintaining smaller hospitals near their stations.

That policy soon became a bone of contention between Church and Dr. Hall Jackson, who until then had been working as respectful colleagues.

On 5 September, Jackson wrote to New Hampshire politician John Langdon:

I had established a Hospital for General [John] Sullivan’s Brigade had near a hundred Patients for more than a month, under as good regulations as could be desired, provided with every necessity that prudence and economy would dictate. When all of a sudden they were hurried Volens Nolens [willingly or not] to a general Hospital at Cambridge without a single compliment paid either to them, or their former attendants.
Jackson was ready to return home to Portsmouth—he was a volunteer, after all, with no commission or salary. He stated:
General [Charles] Lee, General Sullivan with all the Officers and Surgeons of his Brigade, will not suffer me to hint an intention to leave them; as not a Surgeon in the whole Brigade has ever had the small Pox, or ever performed a Capital Operation. Some Officers in the Army have offered me a substitution equal to anything I would expect, but this I should dipise, their pay being little enough to support their own Commissions with Honour and decency. Gratitude to them, obliges me to continue with them, until the pleasure of the Continental Congress is known…
On 4 September, Sullivan himself had told Langdon:
I know Doctor Church complains of those Regimental Hospitals as having been very expensive, which the Regimental Surgeons Deny, & say he cannot prove the assertion. How that is I cannot say, but am very certain that good Brigade Surgeons may assist in preventing extraordinary expense as well as Doctor Church or any other person, & give great satisfaction to both Officers & Soldiers in the Army.
That conflict had grown worse after the Continental move onto Ploughed Hill on 26 August. William Simpson, a Pennsylvania rifleman, “had his Foot and Ankle shot off by a Cannon Ball as he lay behind a large Apple Tree, watching an Opportunity to Fire at the Enemy’s Advanced Guards.”

It looks like nobody expected Pvt. Simpson to live, but all agreed that his only hope was an amputation. And, as we’ve seen, Hall Jackson considered himself an expert on amputations.

According to Sullivan, “Doctor Jackson…was there, & had every thing prepared to take off the Limb—Doctor Church happened to come in—forbid him to proceed & ordered the man to be sent to the Hospital.”

TOMORROW: How the operation turned out.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

“I am hurried thro’ the whole Army”

Yesterday I wrote about Dr. Hall Jackson’s career as colonial New Hampshire’s premier amputator (if he did say so himself).

Today I’m skipping ahead, past his treatment of Sylvanus Lowell’s dire injuries, to follow Jackson to the siege of Boston.

In addition to being Portsmouth’s leading apothecary, physician, surgeon, and inoculator, Dr. Jackson was a local military expert. He was a militia captain. His modern biographer, J. Worth Estes, wrote that he “helped design the defenses of Portsmouth Harbor,” though I don’t know if that was before or after the Revolutionary War.

In December 1774 Dr. Jackson reportedly led one of the militia companies that stormed Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth’s harbor, arguably the first fight of that war. That raid yielded gunpowder and cannon for the Patriots.

After the first undeniable fight of that war, in April 1775, the doctor went to Cambridge and, he wrote, “lent my assistance to the wounded.” He returned to Portsmouth with “a plan of [Adino] Paddock’s Field Pieces, Carriages, and mounted the three Brass pieces found in Jno. Warner’s Store, belonging to Col. [David?] Mason.” On the night of 30–31 May, the doctor led scores of men to the undefended battery at Jerry’s Point in New Castle and seized eight more large cannon for the Patriot cause.

In June 1775, Jackson received word of the Battle of Bunker Hill. He immediately rode down to the siege lines north of Boston, arriving thirteen hours after hearing the news and about forty-eight hours after the fight.

Jackson offered medical help to Gen. Nathaniel Folsom, then commanding the New Hampshire regiments. Later he wrote about the young regimental surgeons he found on duty:
not one of these were possessed of even a needle, or any other proper Instruments, had they been ever so well equipped, the matter would not have been much mended. I amputated several limbs and extracted many balls the first night,

the next day I was hurried to all quarters Dr. [Benjamin] Church having got notice of my being at Mistick, [he] the best Surgeon on the Continent being obliged to supply poor [Dr. Joseph] Warren’s place at the Congress forced the principal of the wounded on me . . . .

I went on with this fatigue 15 days, when a violent inflammation in my eyes forced me to return to Portsmo’. I lost only two of my patients one Col. [Thomas] Gardiner, of Cambridge wounded in his groin, the other one [James] Hutchinson a man from Amhurst [New Hampshire] whose thigh I amputated close to his body. He survived 7 days, and would have finally recovered had not the fates took exceptions to his name.
After Jackson was home about ten days, several regimental commanders stationed north of Boston wrote, asking him to return. The doctor was back on the front by mid-July, writing:
tho’ I act in capacity of Surgeon General to [Gen. John] Sullivan’s Brigade more particularly, I am hurried thro’ the whole Army. Every other day I attend Church to Waltham to dress Coll’s. [Jonathan] Brewer and [William] Buckminster, who are still languishing with the wounds they received at Bunker’s Hill.

Once in a while a person breaks out with the small Pox and are removed. Not a Surgeon in Sullivan’s Brigade has had the Disease.

I receive my authority to act from the General, but when or how much my pay will be, I know not.
Sullivan, now in charge of the New Hampshire troops, and others were trying to get Jackson some sort of official commission and salary.

TOMORROW: The Continental surgeon general.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

“Doctor HALL JACKSON has had the Care of this Lad”

Yesterday we left sea captain Sylvanus Lowell near death after he was caught at the wrong end of a cannon on Cat Island in Marblehead’s harbor.

Fortunately for Lowell, that island had become a smallpox inoculation hospital, and a surgeon was nearby: Dr. Hall Jackson (1739–1797, shown here).

Jackson had trained under his father, Dr. Clement Jackson, and then in London. He normally practiced in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but traveled to the Boston area to inoculate people.

Jackson also presented himself as an expert on amputations. The 26 Feb 1768 New-Hampshire Gazette reported that he had just cut off both legs of “a young Lad of 17 Years of Age, belonging to Hampton,” who had suffered frostbite “in crossing Winnipiscokee Pond.” A week later, the same newspaper assured readers that boy was “in a fine Way of Recovery.”

The same 3 March issue then reported another case:
The Servant Boy of Mr. Gibbs…ran away from his Master, and secreted himself on board a Vessel in the Harbour in order to go off, but she not sailing so soon as was expected, he lay on board three Days & Nights, the Weather being extremly cold, he froze in such a Manner that he lost Part of both Feet immediately;

about a Week after he was seiz’d with those terrible Symptoms the Lock’d Jaw, and convulsive Cramp, he lay near three Weeks stiff and immoveable, no Force that could be apply’d would bend one Joint of his Body, nor could the Edge of the thinest Knife be forced between his Teeth:

the Nerves and Tendons of the remaining Parts of one Foot being bare, with violent and almost constant Spasms in the same Leg, it was tho’t adviseable to take it off, which gave him immediate Relief; his bad Symptoms are gone off, and he is so far recovered as to astonish every one who has seen him.———

We hear this Lad took in eighteen Days one Ounce two Drams of solid Opium, besides a large Quantity of Musk, notwithstanding which, he did not sleep one Hour in twenty-four during the whole Time.
Again, Dr. Hall Jackson cared for that boy and performed the amputations.

The Countway Library at Harvard Medical School has a letter Jackson wrote in 1771 to the father of a boy named Andrew Card, recommending that the boy’s leg be removed because of “several holes in his knee which discharge, and cause great pain.”

Andrew was actually under the care of another Portsmouth physician, Dr. Joshua Brackett (1733–1802), but Jackson offered his and his father’s surgical services free of charge. He wrote: “I believe that you would much rather trust your child under such an operation, to those, who have perform’d it fifty times, than to one who is altogether unused to the Business.” (He also asked the Cards to keep his offer secret from Brackett out of collegial courtesy.)

In the early 1770s, newspapers reported on surgeries by Dr. Hall Jackson to restore people’s sight. He felt compelled to advertise in the 13 Apr 1772 Boston Gazette that he only performed surgery on “the Cataract and contracted Iris.” Nonetheless, ocular experience was helpful in treating Capt. Lowell, who had also suffered injuries to the eye.

TOMORROW: Dr. Jackson and the New Hampshire troops.

Friday, January 19, 2024

“We have not yet heard of his being dead…”

In late 1773 and early 1774, Marblehead and surrounding towns were concerned and then convulsed with the new private smallpox hospital on Cat Island.

I haven’t written anything about the Essex Hospital because of:
  • other events at that time, like the destruction of certain tea in Boston harbor.
  • other events at this time, which kept me too busy to tackle more series.
  • a thorough discussion of the whole episode by Andrew Wehrman in his New England Quarterly article “The Siege of ‘Castle Pox’” and his book The Contagion of Liberty.
I like to add to stories and not just repeat them at length if they’ve been told well recently. So check out The Contagion of Liberty for the short, scorching life of the Marblehead smallpox hospital.

But I did ferret out details of one anecdote tangential to that story. It starts with this article in the 7 Dec 1773 Essex Gazette, published in Salem:
Last Saturday Capt. ——— Lowell of Newbury-Port, a Patient at the Essex-Hospital, in charging a Cannon, (a Four Pounder) just after its being fired, and not properly sponged, the Cartridge took Fire while he was ramming it down: By which unhappy Accident both his Arms were blown almost to Pieces, one Hand entirely carried away with the Rammer; one Eye lost, and the other very much hurt, if not ruined; and the Skin and Flesh so tore away from below his Chin, and towards one Side of his Neck, as to lay his Wind-Pipe almost bare.

As the Accident happened near the Hospital, he was immediately carried in, and Doctor [Hall] Jackson proceeded to the Amputation of both Arms, one just above, and the other below the Elbow. We have not yet heard of his being dead, but it was thought he could not live long.
An eighteenth-century cannon has to be sponged out with a thick cloth on the end of a pole after every firing, as shown above, to ensure that there are no burning embers left inside the tube.

Furthermore, during that sponging someone has to keep his thumb over the touchhole, or the person pulling out the sponge risks can suck in more air through the back of the cannon and feed those embers.

Having all embers extinguished is especially important if a person wants to fire the cannon again, inserting another cartridge of gunpowder into the tube.

If any powder catches fire and explodes while someone is working at the mouth of the tube, the person can suffer exactly the same injury that Capt. Lowell did: having his arms blown off.

My addition to this story so far is that the unfortunate captain’s first name was Sylvanus.

TOMORROW: The patient’s prognosis.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Meeting Mary Vanderlight through Her Account Books

Hope (Power) Brown died in 1792 at the age of ninety. Her gravestone told visitors she was “The mother of Nicholas, Joseph, John, and Moses Brown.”

As Karen Wulf recently wrote at Commonplace, that left off Hope’s daughter, Mary (Brown) Vanderlight (1731–95).

“The Brown Brothers Had a Sister” shares what information survives about that member of the prominent Providence family:
She married David Vanderlight, a doctor and Dutch immigrant, in the early 1750s. Both her husband and their only child, a baby boy, died in February of 1755.

When she died in the spring of 1795, Mary Brown Vanderlight had been a widow for four decades, and lived on her own or with her mother. Like her mother, she remained a stalwart of the Baptist church that their forebears had helped found (though her brothers wandered to Quakerism and the Anglican church). Like her mother, she never remarried. Like her mother, she was the administrator of her husband’s estate, a complex job that came with significant legal and other practical responsibilities.
The main documentation for Vanderlight’s life is in account books—hers and other people’s. She started tracking her finances before her marriage, helped her husband manage his practice, and kept going as she had to support herself.
From the time David died, Mary continued the surviving account books. It looks like she also continued to serve patients at least by selling medicines but maybe also by practicing—or even teaching. As late as 1757 she was billing her neighbor Elisha Shearman for having trained his son in the “arts of apothicary.”

She also took up her husband’s role in the library [now the Providence Atheneum] and was listed as one of only two women among the nearly 150 “proprietors” who regularly paid to support—and use—it. . . .

She also kept investing. These investments included, according to a single notation in one of her brother’s accounts, helping to finance the infamous slaving voyage of the Sally.
Where did Mary Vanderlight learn to keep accounts? Wulf writes that she probably learned that skill from her mother, who for decades managed her own books and tracked who in the family owned what.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

“We know nearly a dozen of the ‘party’ alluded to…”

On 16 Aug 1826, the Columbian Centinel newspaper of Boston published this item on the upper left corner of its front page:

Tea Destroyers.—“One of the famous Boston “Tea Party” is still alive in Newburyport. His name is NICHOLAS CAMPBELL, aged 94 years.” New York Advocate.

“Why is it, that the names of the persons who destroyed the Tea in Boston in 1773 have been so pertinaciously concealed from the public? They ought not to be ashamed of the exploit.” Providence paper.

REMARK.—We know nearly a dozen of the “party” alluded to, all now alive and well, and among our most wealthy and enterprizing citizens. To our knowledge they have never concealed their agency in the “exploit;” but they are not boasters.—To hundreds of Bostonians their names have been as familiar as those of Adams, Hancock, Otis, &c.

We have recently seen a phial filled with the tea which two of the party found in their shoes after their return home, and have preserved as a memorial. It may be recollected that the shoes worn in those days did not fit to the ancle so snug as those of our modern dandies, and that boots were then only worn by fishermen.
I read this as the flagship of Boston’s Federalist press claiming full authority on the “Tea Destroyers.” Of course we in Boston know who these heroes are, the writer says; we just don’t want to tell you.

I particularly like the couple of backhand, scare-quoted allusions to the new term spreading in the national press: “Tea Party.” That phrase seems to have surfaced at the start of the year in an interview with Joshua Wyeth.

In 1826 the Columbian Centinel was still owned by its founding editor, Benjamin Russell (shown above). Years ago I hypothesized that about a decade later he was the “aged Bostonian” who supplied the list of tea destroyers published in Traits of the Tea Party.

The “phial” of tea this article described was probably Thomas Melvill’s, already mentioned in the Boston Daily Advertiser in 1821. That first item said Melvill had collected it from “himself and companions.” This one says “two of the party.” By 1856 that tea was said to have come from Melvill’s clothing alone.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Sorting Out Details about William Hendley

On 23 Feb 1830, the Rhode-Island American reported this death:
In Waldoborough, (Me) Mr William Hendley, formerly of Roxbury, Mass. aged 82. He was a revolutionary pensioner, and present at the destruction of the Tea in Boston Harbour.
That report may have come from another newspaper closer to Maine. The same sentence appeared in several other American newspapers afterwards.

According to the 11 Nov 1814 Dedham Gazette, Mary Hendley, wife of William, had died in Roxbury at age 63. The veteran was then in his seventies. He might have moved north to Maine to live with children or relatives.

The U.S. Revolutionary War Pension database turns up only one William Hendley from Massachusetts. His application stated that he had enlisted as a private soldier on 24 Mar 1777 at Stoughton in the 7th Massachusetts Regiment and served for three years under Col. Ichabod Alden and Col. John Brooks. His first company commander was Capt. William Patrick, killed at Cobleskill, New York. In 1780 Hendley was discharged at West Point as a corporal.

Hendley’s file offers almost no other information except that in 1820 he identified himself as a “Mariner,” and that he made his application at the court in Boston.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, based on state records, lists a William Hendley/Hendly with the same service details. It also lists other soldiers with the same or similar names from Boston and Scituate.

When William Hendley of Waldoborough died, American newspapers were starting to lift the curtain on who had destroyed the East India Company tea in December 1773. Editors had kept the secret until the 1820s, especially inside Boston itself. But as time passed, and veterans passed on, the old custom faded. Unfortunately, Hendley died too early for anyone to interview him in depth about the Tea Party and what role he’d played.

The 1835 book Traits of the Tea Party even included an appendix of men who had participated in the event, the first such list published. William Hendley was on it, possibly because of the newspaper death notice.

Decades later, Francis Drake sought to profile all the men and boys at the Boston Tea Party in his book Tea Leaves (1884). About Hendley he wrote:
A Revolutionary pensioner, formerly of Roxbury, died at Waldoborough, Me., in February, 1830; aged eighty-two. He was a mason, on Newbury Street, Boston, in 1796.
The first sentence was based on the obituary, the second on the 1796 Boston directory, which listed:
Henly, William, mason, Sweetser’s buildings, Newbury Street.
However, it’s quite possible that William Henly, Boston mason, wasn’t William Hendley, Roxbury mariner who would die in Maine. The 14 June 1804 Boston Gazette reported that “Mr. William Henly, aged 44,” had died in town “after a lingering illness.” The mason might have been one of the other veterans listed in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors; if so, he didn’t live long enough to apply for a pension.

Furthermore, at some point Drake’s entry about Hendley was misread. He was changed from a mason to a Freemason.

Thus, on looking at the earliest sources of information about this man, I sort out:
  • William Hendley, “present” at the Tea Party, soldier in the Continental Army for three years, lived in Roxbury, applied for a U.S. pension, moved to Maine, and died in 1830.
  • William Henly, possibly in the army, mason in Boston in 1796, possibly died in 1804.
  • “William Hendley, mason,” an amalgam of these two men and later fictitiously a Freemason.