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, March 31, 2024

“Our firm belief in telling a story here that is accurate and honest”

Daniel P. Jordan, director and then president of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello for over twenty years, died earlier this month.

Ann Lucas, Senior Historian Emerita at the site, provided a remembrance for its website that says, in part:
Jordan adhered to Jefferson’s principle to “follow the truth wherever it may lead.” As director-elect, he visited Monticello several times as a “regular tourist,” and was struck by the fact that he never once heard a reference to Jefferson owning a plantation or the enslaved labor that it required. Once in leadership, he conveyed to staff that “from January the first on, we're going to try to tell the most honest story we can about Jefferson and slavery and race and the plantation, and it's all going to be based on serious scholarship."

Toward that end, Jordan defined new academic departments (research, archaeology, restoration, education, publications, and historic plants), accelerated the publication of Jefferson’s writings with The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, and established the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. He supported a new generation of Jefferson-era research, passing the torch of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation professorship from Merrill Peterson to Peter Onuf.

No event more clearly illustrates Jordan’s dedication to transparency and scholarship - and his confidence in the Monticello staff - than his response to the Sally Hemings DNA study. Steadfast in the face of opposition, Jordan, in his words, “set the tone” to support Monticello’s scholars.

Within 24 hours of the 1998 release of the study linking Jefferson to the paternity of Hemings’ son, Monticello held a press conference, posted public statements on the web site, and instructed interpreters in how to initiate conversations on the subject with visitors. The Foundation pledged to continuously evaluate all relevant evidence, advancing “our firm belief in telling a story here that is accurate and honest - and thus inclusive - about Jefferson’s remarkable life and legacy in the context of the complex and extraordinary plantation community that was Monticello.”
Those findings, bolstered by historical analysis, were convincing for the great majority of historians. There was a great outcry from a few authors, descendants, and self-appointed Jefferson “protectors,” quite like the objections we hear today to “woke” history and any effort at diversity, equity, and inclusion in institutions. In fact, some of the same people are objecting.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Leafing through the “Davenport Letters”

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia has just unveiled a webpage displaying seventeen letters written by Continental soldiers Isaac How Davenport (1754–1778) and James Davenport (1759–1824) of Dorchester.

The original letters don’t survive, but a nephew copied them into a ledger book, which remains in the family.

The museum is sharing scans of those transcripts as well as P.D.F. files of their text in the raw and with modernized punctuation for easier reading.

I presume the older brother was the “Isaac Davenport” listed among the Dorchester men who responded to the militia alarm on 19 Apr 1775.

Middle names were rarely used in New England at this time. It looks like Isaac How Davenport received his father’s mother’s maiden name, sometimes spelled Howe, as his middle name. In nineteenth-century histories of Dorchester, that man’s name was misprinted as “Isaac Shaw Davenport.”

Isaac became a member of the commander in chief’s guard and then the dragoons under Col. George Baylor. He spent several months of 1777–78 at Valley Forge, where he wrote two of the letters in this collection. Isaac Davenport was among the Continental dragoons killed in a nighttime raid on their billets on 27 Sept 1778.

The younger brother, James, enlisted in the Continental Army in February 1777, when he was seventeen years old, leaving behind an apprenticeship to a shoemaker. He served for the rest of the war, rising to the rank of sergeant in 1780. In 1777–78 he was also at Valley Forge, but his surviving letters start in 1780, getting more numerous late in the war when there was less to do besides write home.

After the war James Davenport returned from New York to Dorchester and used his earnings to build a house, marry, and start a family. He lived long enough to apply for a pension in 1818, sending in copies of his promotion to sergeant and his discharge signed by Gen. George Washington. Many veterans didn’t have such documentation.

The U.S. government initially awarded Davenport a pension, but then rescinded it. I suspect the problem was that Davenport wasn’t poor enough; the pensions of that decade required applicants to show need, and he owned a farm, a house, and cash.

Davenport tried to present himself as in need: “my health is much impaired by my services in the Army,” “My House was built more than 30 years ago,” his wife Esther was prone to illness.

In the end, though, James Davenport’s best claim to public support was his service. He described himself as “engaged at the Capture of Burgoyne, Cornwallis, at Monmouth & always with my Regiment.” (His regiment wasn’t actually at Yorktown.) A later law would have let him keep his pension because it wasn’t need-based, but by then there were fewer veterans to pay for.

After James Davenport died in 1824, Dorchester’s minister, the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, preached at his interment. The published sermon reportedly “included excerpts from a journal of his wartime experiences.”

The Davenport family had not only preserved that journal until then and the texts of the letters, but also some mementos of James’s military service: a sword, epaulettes (shown above), and a pair of red wool baby booties reportedly made from a British coat. Those are now part of the Museum of the American Revolution’s collection, and can be viewed through the “Davenport Letters” webpage.

Friday, March 29, 2024

New Collection from the Journal of the American Revolution

Next month Westholme Publishing will issue The Journal of the American Revolution Annual Volume 2024, edited ably once again by Don N. Hagist.

This webpage about the book says it will contain two articles by me.

In fact, the book will have only one article from me. That’s because I combined my two web articles about the confounding Samuel Dyer into one complete study.

This volume offers many other articles about Revolutionary New England, including:
  • Remember Baker: A Green Mountain Boy’s Controversial Death and Its Consequences by Mark R. Anderson
  • John Hancock’s Politics and Personality in Ten Quotes by Brooke Barbier
  • Mercy Otis Warren: Revolutionary Propagandist by Jonathan House
  • Captain James Morris of the Connecticut Light Infantry by Chip Langston
  • Smallpox Threatens an American Privateer at Sea by Christian McBurney
  • John Adams and Nathanael Greene Debate the Role of the Military by Curtis F. Morgan, Jr.
  • The Perfidious Benjamin Church and Paul Revere by Louis Arthur Norton
  • The Highs and Lows of Ethan Allen’s Reputation as Reported by Revolutionary-Era Newspapers by Gene Procknow
  • Captain Luke Day: A Forgotten Leader of “Shays’s Rebellion” by Scott M. Smith
  • Engaging the Glasgow by Eric Sterner
(My apologies to the authors of any other relevant articles I missed.)

And there are of course lots of articles about the American Revolution in, you know, other places.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

“The Gathering Storm” in Acton, 2 Apr.

On the evening of Tuesday, 2 April, I’ll speak in Acton at the invitation of the Acton 250 Committee.

We’re calling this talk “The Gathering Storm,” and here’s the description:
As 1774 began, Massachusetts politicians worried about the royal government response to the Boston Tea Party. The force of that reaction became clear in the return of troops to Boston, the Coercive Acts, and the Massachusetts Government Act. In late summer the province’s people rebelled by shutting down government functions in rural counties, seizing weapons in ports, and electing their own legislature.

The engine of that resistance was a little-understood institution: the colonial militia. By fall, it was clear that the new royal governor had no leverage outside Boston. This talk traces the end of British power in most of Massachusetts even before the war began.
I’ll draw on the stories in The Road to Concord and elsewhere, discussing how rural Massachusetts shifted in 1774 from lukewarm support for Boston’s fight against tariffs to militant opposition to the Crown.

This will be part of a series of talks by different authors tracing the events that led to war in 1775. Eventually the people of Acton were so committed to the Patriot cause that their militia company marched at the front of the Middlesex County column confronting the British regulars at the North Bridge in Concord.

This talk will take place in Room 204 of the Acton Town Hall on Main Street starting at 7:00 P.M. It is free, but the Acton 250 Committee asks people to register so that they can be contacted about future events. The talk will also be shown live on Acton TV and Zoom.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Last Glimpses of Lt. Ragg

Yesterday’s posting took Lt. John Ragg of the British marines to Middletown, Connecticut, as a prisoner of war along with his servant, Pvt. Benjamin Jones, in September 1776.

I’ve looked for records of what happened next, without success. I assume there must be some paperwork at the Continental or local level, but not published.

It appears that the lieutenant was exchanged for an American officer taken prisoner that fall, and there were a lot of those.

The next sign of Lt. Ragg is in the 12 May 1777 issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, printed by Hugh Gaine inside the Crown-held city. An advertisement for Maj. Robert Donkin’s Military Collections and Remarks, to be printed by Gaine later that year, listed “Marines, Lieut. Ragg” among the subscribers.

Then the man drops out of my sight again until toward the end of the war.

Lt. Ragg had a brother named Andrew, who became the Customs service controller of Customs on the Pocomoke River in southern Maryland in May 1766. When the war broke out the local authorities detained him, then let him out as long as he didn’t cause trouble and paid heavy taxes.

On 5 Feb 1779, Andrew Ragg asked the Maryland government to allow him and his young daughter Anne to return to Britain. On 31 March, Ragg filed a deposition promising not to give intelligence to the enemy, and that same day the state Council granted permission to travel to New York.

Evidently the Raggs didn’t go to New York until 1780. Anne was then nine years old. To the British authorities they characterized their journey as an “escape.”

The little family got on board a ship to Britain, but during the voyage Andrew Ragg fell overboard and was drowned. John Ragg, by then a captain in the marines, petitioned the government to support his niece on 24 Apr 1781.

The last sign I’ve found of John Ragg is that “Captain Ragg, of the marines,” was listed as wounded while serving on H.M.S. Magnificent in the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782.

After the war, Ragg might have gone home to Aberdeen, Scotland. He was living in that city in February 1767 when he was listed as a witness in a court case recorded in the city’s Enactment Book (notes in P.D.F. form here).

That book also lists “Andrew Ragg, late apprentice to William Brebner, merchant,” among the genteel young men accused of a breach of the peace in April 1763. Was this the future Customs officer? Those men “bound and enacted themselves that they shall behave themselves regularly, soberly and discreetly” and got off.

In any event, that’s all I’ve been able to uncover about Lt. John Ragg, remembered in the Shaw family lore as the lieutenant named Wragg who so angered young Samuel Shaw.

(The painting above shows H.M.S. Magnificent among the Royal Navy warships capturing two French vessels at the Battle of the Saintes.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Lt. Ragg in Captivity

The Battle of Brooklyn on 27 Aug 1776 didn’t end well for the Continental Army. Gen. Sir William Howe’s forces inflicted heavy casualties and drove the Americans off Long Island.

At eight o’clock that evening, Gen. George Washington’s military secretary, Robert Hanson Harrison (shown here), wrote to John Hancock as chair of the Continental Congress:
a Smart engagement ensued between the Enemy and our Detachments, which being unequal to the force they had to contend with, have sustained a pretty considerable loss—At least many of our Men are missing, among those that have not returnd are Genls [John] Sullivan & Lord Stirling

The Enemy’s loss is not known certainly, but we are told by such of our Troops that were in the Engagement and that have come in, that they had many killed and wounded—Our party brought off a Lieutt, Sergt, and Corporal with 20 privates prisoners.
Sullivan and Stirling were prisoners, but at least they survived. Hundreds of other Americans were dead.

Continental commanders hoped this would prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for the Crown, like Bunker Hill. Gen. Henry Knox wrote to his wife Lucy, “The enemy lost nearly 1000 kill’d among whom was General [James] Grant and Capt. [Andrew] Neilson of the 52d.”

In fact, Gen. Howe reported only 63 dead from the Crown forces, and fewer than 400 casualties in all. Gen. Grant was fine; a lieutenant colonel of the same name died.

Later American writers seeking actions to praise in that battle had to content themselves with gallant ways to lose. The noble sacrifice of the Marylanders holding off the enemy! The sly evacuation across the river to Manhattan!

Among the few solid successes Knox could firmly claim was, “We took a Lt. Ragg whom I knew at Boston and 25 Grenadiers of the marines.” And even that overstated the details slightly. Harrison’s numbers were closer.

Lt. John Ragg had led Sgt. David Wallace, Cpls. Thomas Pike and Edward Gibbon, and twenty marine privates into captivity because he and his superiors had mistaken the Delaware Continentals for Hessians.

Behind the American lines, on 29 August Gen. William Heath ordered Lt. Nathan Umstead to conduct those prisoners of war to Fairfield, Connecticut.

A month later, Thaddeus Burr of the Fairfield committee of inspection wrote back to Gen. Washington, reporting that they had sent Ragg and his servant, Pvt. Benjamin Jones, on to Middletown. The other twenty-one men were taken to Wallingford and “placed in the Parishes in the interior part of the County agreable to Rules of Congress.”

There was just one more thing, Burr told the commander-in-chief: Who would pay for “the charges of marching them”? The committee had fed those prisoners for eleven days and paid “a Sergeant and Six from our Battery…a penny a Mile” to lead them on to Wallingford. How was the town to be reimbursed £14.6.½?

The Washington Papers editors wrote, “No reply to that letter has been found.”

TOMORROW: The last of Lt. Ragg.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Two Lieutenants and the Battle of Brooklyn

On the afternoon of 27 Aug 1776, British and Hessian soldiers under Gen. James Grant advanced on a Continental force, including men from Delaware and Maryland, under Gen. William Alexander, Lord Stirling (shown here).

Lt. John Ragg of the British marine grenadiers led twenty men forward from the right flank of the Crown forces. His orders were “to speak to” the commander of a unit in blue coats, thought to be Hessians, and tell them to stop firing at their own side.

Meanwhile, Lt. William Popham was one of the American officers trying to hold the left side of their line with a company of “awkward Irishmen and others.” Coming from the Delaware regiment, those soldiers were dressed in blue coats.

You can guess what happened. As Popham told it, “Capt. Wragg [sic] and 18 men, supposing us to be Hessians by the similarity of our dress, approached too near before he discovered his mistake.”

The Delaware Continentals took the marines as prisoners. The Americans stripped the British of their guns, Popham taking charge of Ragg’s weapons.

Decades later Popham reported:
I was immediately ordered with a guard to convey them across the creek in our rear to our lines. On descending the high ground we reached a salt meadow, over which we passed, though not miry, yet very unfavorable to silk stockings and my over-clothes.
Popham was a Princeton College graduate eager to look like a gentleman.

As the party crossed the meadow, the British started to fire cannon in their direction. Lt. Ragg stopped moving, “in the hope of a rescue.”

Popham ordered Ragg to “march forward instantly, or I should fire on him.”

Ragg started moving again. But then a new obstacle appeared:
When we got to the creek, the bank of which was exceedingly muddy, we waded up to our waists. I got in after my people and prisoners, and an old canoe that had been split and incapable of floating except by the buoyancy of the wood, served to help those who wanted help to cross a deep hole in the creek, by pushing it across from the bank which it had reached.

I had advanced so far into the mud, and was so fatigued with anxiety and exercise, that I sat down on the mud with the water up to my breast, Wragg’s fusee, cartouch-box, and bayonet on my shoulder; in which situation I sat till my charge were all safely landed on the rear.
Gen. Grant continued to press forward with his 7,000 men, more than twice the British force in the Battle of Bunker Hill. However, that was just a diversion.

Gen. William Howe had sent many more of his troops on long flanking march to the right. They moved through an unguarded pass and hit the Americans from an unexpected direction. In fierce fighting, almost the whole Continental force was driven back to Brooklyn Heights.

Stirling ordered most of his men back as well, keeping a contingent of Maryland soldiers as the rear guard. He led them in two counterattacks on the Crown forces while other Americans withdrew as best they could.

At the end of the day, the Continentals had lost more than 2,000 men. Nearly all the Maryland rear guard was dead. Stirling was a prisoner.

Gen. Howe reported 64 killed, 293 wounded, and 31 missing—including Lt. Ragg and his marines.

TOMORROW: The end of Lt. Ragg’s war?

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Continentals from the Lower Counties

From the start of nationhood Americans have spoken of the “thirteen colonies,” but really it was more like twelve and a half.

The Penn family were proprietors of both Pennsylvania and Delaware and always appointed the same man to govern both.

Though Delaware had an older history of European settlement, Pennsylvania became much bigger and wealthier. The “Lower Counties on the Delaware” had their own legislature, but many people treated that area as a mere adjunct.

Delaware didn’t rate its own part of the “Join, Or Die.” snake that Benjamin Franklin printed in 1754, for example. (Though I should also note that all of New England was one piece.)

Under the Stamp Act, the British government appointed John Hughes to collect the tax in both Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The First Continental Congress’s Articles of Association in 1774 still referred to “the three lower counties of Newcastle, Kent and Sussex on Delaware,” as did the Second’s commission for a commander-in-chief in 1775.

We might say that Delaware made itself a full-fledged state by participating in the American resistance. The three counties sent representatives to the Stamp Act Congress and then the Continental Congresses. Deriving their authority from the people through a legislature meant those men were separate from the Pennsylvania delegation. By late 1775, John Adams was writing of “Thirteen Colonies.”

Delaware also raised its own troops to support the Continental Army in January 1776. Not many, since it was a small colony: about 800 men in one big regiment under Lt. Col. John Haslet. In the summer of 1776 those Delaware Continentals marched north to New York.

One young officer in that regiment was Lt. William Popham (1752–1847, shown above). He arrived in New York City on 21 August, and a few days later the Delaware Continentals crossed to Long Island. They were grouped with Marylanders under Gen. Stirling.

A few days later, Popham wrote:
I marched toward the ground occupied by our army, in the summit of the high ground in front of Gowanus, near the edge of the river, where the enemy were landing from their ships, one or two lying near the shore to cover the landing. Many shots were exchanged between us and the enemy.

About 12 o’clock Gen. Stirling came to the east brow of the hill and ordered the Delaware regiment up. Here we received the first order to load with ball, and take care that our men (who were awkward Irishmen and others) put in the powder first.

We then marched up and joined the army which was drawn up in line, my regiment and my company on the left. The whole bay was covered with the enemy’s shipping. The firing continued all the time of the enemy’s landing, and we lost several men.
The British and Hessians began to spread out and march toward the American positions. Haslet saw how “the enemy began to send detachments as scouts on our left.” Though the Continentals held the high spots, the Crown forces outnumbered them and might try to outflank them.

One more thing about the Delaware regiment: They wore blue coats with red facings, not unlike the Hessians.

TOMORROW: Two lieutenants meet.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Lt. Ragg in the Assault on Brooklyn

In June 1776, Lt. John Ragg of the marines was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with the rest of the British military force evacuated from Boston.

In July, Ragg was in the fleet of forty-five ships that started unloading British soldiers onto Staten Island, New York.

More troop transports and Royal Navy warships arrived from other parts of the empire. By the end of July, Adm. Lord Richard Howe was overseeing more than one hundred ships while Gen. Sir William Howe commanded 32,000 soldiers.

Those numbers continued to grow in early August. Among the new arrivals were 8,000 Hessian soldiers.

On the morning 22 August, 4,000 redcoats moved onto Long Island. This was significantly more than the British force in the Battle of Bunker Hill, but it was only an advance guard, about a tenth of Howe’s entire land army.

The Americans drew back. By the end of that day, the British had landed 15,000 men at Gravesend Bay, with 5,000 more to follow a couple of days later.

The two armies dug in warily for the next two days. The Americans held the Brooklyn and Guan Heights, guarding the main passes.

Late in the evening of 26 August, Gen. James Grant (1720–1806, shown above) sent a force of about 4,000 British and Hessian men forward against the Continentals. The first major skirmish was around the Red Lion Inn. The British captured the American commander, Maj. Edward Burd, and sent his forces fleeing.

Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons of Connecticut managed to gather Continental troops along the Gowanus Road and to send for reinforcements. Gen. Stirling arrived with about 1,500 men from Maryland and Delaware. Under his command, the Continentals moved back toward the Red Lion Inn.

Meanwhile, Gen. Grant’s Crown troops were also growing, up to 7,000. That force included the 2nd battalion of marines.

According to a letter written on 4 September by a British officer to a friend in Aberdeen, and published in the Scots Magazine, the marine battalion “was sent from our right to support Gen. Grant.”

In the fighting on 27 August, those marines came under “several fires” from a unit dressed in blue uniforms with red facings. Those were the colors of some Hessian regiments while most of the Continental Army had no uniforms at all, so the British officers assumed that was friendly fire.

Lt. Ragg and twenty men from his grenadier company were “sent out to speak to” those Hessians.

TOMORROW: They weren’t Hessians.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Lt. Ragg and “A Crime of the greatest Magnitude”

The wound that Lt. John Ragg suffered at the Battle of Bunker Hill wasn’t bad enough to knock him out of the marines.

He recovered, remained in besieged Boston, and evacuated to Nova Scotia in March 1776 along with the rest of the British military.

On 6 June, Gen. William Howe’s general orders stated:
A Crime of the greatest Magnitude, Viz.: that of striking an Officer, having been committed by John Browning, Private Soldier of the 23d. Regiment, and the time and Situation of the Army not permitting, at present, the holding of a General Court Martial, It is the Commander in Chief’s order that the Prisoner be continued in Irons on board Ship until he can be tried by a General Court Martial.
In his 2007 book Fusiliers, Mark Urban revealed (in an endnote) that the officer Pvt. Browning struck was Lt. John Ragg.

Ordinarily Browning would have been court-martialed in Halifax, but Howe needed the 23rd and all other available forces to attack New York that summer. The fleet departed three days after his order. The private remained a prisoner below decks. Lt. Ragg and his grenadier company sailed normally.

Browning’s court martial took place on Staten Island in July. Urban writes:
With evidence sketchy to back a lieutenant’s claim that he had been hit, Browning was acquitted of the capital charge but was found guilty of insulting a serjeant, for which he was ordered to receive 200 lashes. However, General Howe reviewed the case and waived he corporal punishment, arguing that if Browning was acquitted of the more serious offence there was no point in chastising him at all.
Browning’s attack was the third time in about a year and a half that Lt. Ragg had gotten into a conflict bad enough to get into the historical record. First young Samuel Shaw, then Lt. John Clarke, and here Pvt. John Browning.

To be sure, Ragg himself wasn’t officially blamed for any of those disputes. He was the alleged victim in both courts-martial.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder if Gen. Howe decided to let Browning off with time served (in irons) because he’d come to view Ragg as a magnet for trouble, someone who made people angry.

TOMORROW: Ragg as the empire strikes back.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Two Lieutenants and the Battle of Bunker Hill

Lt. John Ragg of the Royal Navy’s marines entered our scene back here, in an anecdote from the Shaw family of Boston about how he got into an affair of honor with twenty-year-old Samuel Shaw.

I suspect that conflict happened before the war began, while Ragg, Maj. John Pitcairn, and perhaps other officers were boarding with the Shaw family in the North End.

It definitely happened before the Battle of Bunker Hill because Pitcairn died of his wounds that day, and the anecdote credited him with mediating the dispute.

By the date of that battle, Lt. Ragg had gotten into another argument, this time with one of his fellow British officers.

Lt. John Clarke was a veteran marine, having “served thirty six years with great credit” according to Adm. Samuel Graves. That said, Clarke had become a second lieutenant only in 1757 and a first lieutenant in 1771 (with a brief retirement on half-pay in between). He was assigned to H.M.S. Falcon.

According to British military documents that Allan French quoted in an article for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, on the evening of 19 April (i.e., the day the war began) Clarke got drunk.

Lt. Clarke was arrested “for being very much in Liquor and unfit for Duty on the Morning of the 20th of last April, for breaking his Arrest, and for grossly abusing and challenging Lieutenant John Ragg of the Marines to fight.”

On 7 June, Graves wrote, Clarke was “tried and dismissed for being in Liquor upon duty on the 19th of April last.” The admiral ordered the former lieutenant back to England.

Then, on 17 June, came the big battle in Charlestown. Lt. Ragg’s grenadier company was in the thick of the fight. Gen. Thomas Gage’s report included this casualty list from the first battalion of marines:
1st battalion marines. — Major Pitcairn, wounded, since dead; Capt. Ellis, Lieut. Shea, Lieut. Finnie, killed; Capt. Averne, Capt. Chudleigh, Capt. Johnson, Lieut. Ragg, wounded; 2 sergeants, 15 rank and file, killed; 2 sergeants, 55 rank and file, wounded.
While Lt. Ragg recovered from his wound, former lieutenant Clarke traveled back to London on H.M.S. Cerberus, which also carried Gage’s report.

Not being in the Battle of Bunker Hill, or even in the British military at the time, didn’t stop Clarke from publishing An Authentic and Impartial Narrative of the Battle when he arrived back in London. That short book, credited to “John Clarke, First Lieutenant of Marines,” was one of the first descriptions of the battle to reach print and went through a second edition in London before the end of the year.

Many historians have tried to rely on Clarke’s Narrative, which offered details not found elsewhere, like Gen. William Howe’s speech to his soldiers and a description of Dr. Joseph Warren’s death. But ultimately most authors realized that Clarke was just piecing stuff together and making it up. French concluded, “it seems likely that it was written to relieve the tedium of his voyage to London, from such material as he could gather from his own observations and from the talk of the ship’s company.”

Despite his dispute with Ragg, Clarke described the first battalion of marines “behaving remarkably well, and gaining immortal honour, though with considerable loss, as will appear by the number of the officers killed and wounded.”

TOMORROW: Lt. Ragg, back in the fight.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

“Rebellion in New England” Now Open for Registration

I’m working with the Pursuit of History to produce a weekend filled with historical exploration of the “Rebellion in New England” 250 years ago this year.

As the year 1774 began, people in Massachusetts were worrying about how the royal government in London would react to the Boston Tea Party. Twelve months later, Massachusetts had a new governor and a revised charter, but most of the province was in open rebellion, preparing for war.

I explain more about our weekend exploring that history in the video above. The handsome Georgian building behind me is the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge, our main host for this weekend.

“Rebellion in New England” will offer two full days of presentations, archive visits, and walking tours. On Friday and Saturday, 10–11 May, there will also be lunches with the speakers, plus a dinner for all attendees on Friday evening. On Sunday, we’ll have an optional extra session: a docent-led tour of the Museum of Fine Arts’s Early American galleries, including John Singleton Copley portraits of some of the people we’ll talk about.

I’ll lead the walking tours and speak about the “arms race” of late 1774. I’ve been recruiting other authors and scholars: Robert J. Allison on the royal government’s policy toward Massachusetts, Samuel Forman on the Patriots’ resistance organizing, Chris Beneke on how Massachusetts’s religious tradition affected its delegates’ reception at the First Continental Congress, Brooke Barbier on the rise of John Hancock. In the coming weeks I’ll announce the complete lineup (though I may preserve some surprises).

The Pursuit of History is the non-profit founded by Lee Wright which also organizes History Camp Boston. That event brings together hundreds of people to share presentations on a range of historical topics. This weekend is designed differently: only thirty seats, a focused subject, speakers recruited for their expertise, and visits to actual sites so we explore history where it happened. Go to this page for more detail and to register.

If “Rebellion in New England” is as much fun as we want, we’ll organize similar weekends in 2025 on the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and in 2026 on the departure of the British and the coming of independence.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Kleiser on Land’s Free Trade Argument about the Revolution

The H-Early-America list just ran Grant Kleiser’s review of Colonial Ports, Global Trade, and the Roots of the American Revolution (1700-1776) by Jeremy Land, an economic history published last year in Leiden.

The review frames the book’s main inquiry as: “Was this a conflict over free trade? That is, was a major cause of the American Revolution the fact that Great Britain restricted British North Americans’ ability to conduct commerce with people outside of the British Empire? Land’s answer is a resounding yes.”

There are, Kleiser says, three main claims in the introduction:
First, Land stresses that historians should consider colonial eighteenth-century Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston as a “cohesive port complex,” rather than thinking of them as serving distinct regions (p. 2). Land argues that “merchants in these three cities ... often complemented and cooperated with one another, creating intricate networks of credit, business, and trade” (p. 2).

Second, according to Land, this port complex’s robust mercantile economy was perfectly capable of operating without British sources of capital and often competed with English merchants and the English mercantilist agenda. Through rigorous quantitative methods, Land demonstrates that these three cities’ trade with the British Isles was less significant than trade with the rest of North America and the globe. Therefore, “the region was economically less oriented toward Britain than to the rest of the world,” which became “a constant source of tension between the colony and metropole” (p. 2).

Finally, Land stresses that British politicians did not pursue a policy of “salutary neglect” toward the colonies. Rather, they often tried to enforce “mercantilist” policies, particularly after the Seven Years’ War raised Britain’s sovereign debt exponentially. However, the inability of the imperial state to effectively enforce customs laws while also failing to provide adequate specie (i.e., gold and silver) made many British North Americans realize that resistance, that is, continuing to trade beyond the British Empire, was both possible and necessary.
I’m happy to agree that when viewed at some distance the three biggest ports in British North America, and indeed the others, were able to work together, despite differences, competition, and tensions. Certainly by the Revolutionary period they were doing so—that’s why there was a Revolution.

I’m also open to the argument that British imperial policy may not have been “salutary neglect” by choice, but at least sometimes by necessity as the government dealt with issues elsewhere. Land ultimately seems to go along with the traditional view that North Americans resented the stricter trade enforcement and more vigorous collection of taxes that most of the governments under George III tried. But did colonists seek “free trade” or a return to the previous form of regulation?

Land’s second point raises more questions for me. It seems to separate trade with Britain from trade everywhere else in the world, including parts of the British Empire, particularly in the Caribbean. I’d like to see the separation drawn between trade within the British Empire and trade outside of it.

Kleiser summarizes that part of Land’s argument as “the general lack of demand in Great Britain for these [North American] exports forced these traders to look outside the British Empire for profitable markets (e.g., the foreign West Indies) to acquire specie and afford highly demanded British manufactured goods.” But what about the demand outside Great Britain but inside the British Empire? That was what the New England economy fed on.

The book concludes that Boston, New York, and Philadelphia’s trade beyond the British Empire “was quite significant and more important than the direct trade with Britain and Ireland,” presumably in financial terms. But how did those commercial routes compare with trading between British colonies? Also unclear to me is whether North American trade in general would have been so safe or profitable without British imperial power—i.e., the Royal Navy—in support.

There’s no question that taxes on trade led to increasing friction and resistance in the North American port from 1765 to 1774. But that still seems several steps away from Land’s claim that “Britain’s military occupation of Boston was the first salvo in a battle for equal access to global markets.”

Kleiser chides Land for overstating British policy as barring all trade outside its empire. In fact, merchants could do business in foreign ports as long as they didn’t carry in specific “enumerated goods” (e.g., tobacco and indigo, not big crops for Boston, New York, and Philadelphia) and paid duties on what they brought back. Furthermore, British governments in the 1760s carved out exceptions to its rules, suggesting that if the resistance was all about business, folks could have struck a deal.

Kleiser concludes:
Overall, Colonial Ports offers an accessible overview of eighteenth-century commercial networks in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Nonspecialists and undergraduates will welcome its clear language, argumentation, and historical background, while specialists will gravitate to its exhaustive quantitative analysis and data tables on the contours of this trade.
For a scholarly book priced at over $100, “nonspecialists and undergraduates” might prefer to seek copies in libraries, smart economic actors as they are.

Monday, March 18, 2024

“Dill” Screenplay Reading in Old South, 19 Mar.

On Tuesday, 19 March, Revolutionary Spaces’s Old South Meeting House will host a live reading of a screenplay, performed by local actors and accompanied by music and sound effects.

The drama is called Dill, described as “inspired by real people and real events on the Cape Ann Shore in Massachusetts during a tumultuous time on the cusp of the American Revolutionary War.”

At the risk of spoilers, I’m guessing the central character, “an enslaved woman named Dill, short for Deliverance, who…finds herself in a love triangle between two men,” is based Deliverance Symonds. Abram English Brown wrote a chapter about Symonds in Beneath Old Hearth-Stones (1897).

After the reading, there will be a discussion of the screenplay’s historical context featuring these experts:
  • Lise Breen, author of “Hidden City: Slavery and Gloucester’s Quadricentennial” in Gloucester Encounters: Essays on the Cultural History of the City 1623-2023 and coauthor of Objects of Myth and Memory: American Indian Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
  • Nerissa Williams Scott, producer of Dill and other films, C.E.O. and Lead Creative Producer of That Child Got Talent Entertainment (TCGT), and an affiliated faculty member at Emerson College in the Business of Creative Economy and Visual Media Art departments.
  • Beth Bower, formerly staff archaeologist at the Museum of Afro American History and archaeological and historic resources program manager for the Central Artery project, now studying the 1750–1850 African American community in Salem.
  • Jeanne Pickering, an independent scholar of slavery in eighteenth-century Essex County who maintains the research databases of NorthShoreSlavery.org.
The event announcement does not name the author of the screenplay.

This is a free event, but registration is requested. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M., with light refreshments available, and the performance is scheduled for 7:00.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Anderson on the Glover Houses of Marblehead, 18 Mar.

On Monday, 18 March, Judy Anderson will discuss “Five Glover Houses in Marblehead” at the Abbot Public Library.

Registration to attend this event in person has been closed, but I believe people can still listen in on Zoom.

The event description says:
Dive into Marblehead’s architectural heritage through a talk about five Glover family homes from the mid-1700s, with photos, beginning with General John Glover’s handsome Georgian-style home located on today’s Glover Square, near the public Town Landing on Front Street. Glover’s heroism in the American Revolution is well known. But this talk will feature stories about the homes, lives and families of General Glover and his three brothers.

General Glover’s home is one of Marblehead’s most significant houses, among nearly 300 homes that still survive from the 1700s, before the American Revolution began in 1775. Its elegant front doorway frame also makes it among the most stylish, since only about a half dozen from that time remain that were not updated or remodeled as styles changed. Unlike most homes from the 1700s, the Glover house also retains much of its original interior woodwork craftsmanship. In addition, one of its two front rooms has finely carved woodwork in the “Federal” or neoclassical style, from the decades before the War of 1812.

In 1781, toward the end of General Glover’s retirement from nearly seven years of grueling service in the Revolution, he purchased a farmhouse that is now located on a uniquely shared historic site in Swampscott, Marblehead and Salem. The house is thought to have been built in the 1750s in what was then Salem, though new evidence suggests it may have been built as early as 1732, the year Glover was born.

Over the fifteen years before General Glover’s death in 1797, he would serve in elected offices on the local, regional and state level, including as a Marblehead selectman, a Massachusetts state legislator, and on state committees that ratified the U.S. Constitution and oversaw land distribution in northern New England.
Judy Anderson is a social and cultural historian with a focus on architecture, daily life, and women’s and family history. She was curator of Marblehead’s Jeremiah Lee Mansion for a decade, and can lead expert walking tours of the town.

This talk coincides with a campaign to “Save the General Glover Farmhouse,” the home John Glover bought in 1781. Before the Revolution, that house had belonged to Superior Court justice William Browne.

This event will run from 6:30 to 8:00 P.M. Here is the link to attend by Zoom.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Bassett on “Colonialism, Power & Identity” in Fashion, 17 Mar.

On Sunday, 17 March, Lynne Bassett will speak at the Worcester Art Museum on “Colonialism, Power, and Identity: Fashion in American Portraits.”

The event description says:
Fashion is often dismissed as a frivolous concern of no great importance to world events. Fashion was, in fact, an instigator of the global economy starting with the Silk Road in the 6th century. A thousand years later—in the 16th and 17th centuries—the pursuit of textiles and fashion led to empire-building, wars, colonization, the subjugation of natives, and the enslavement of Africans.

The Museum’s collection of 17th-to-19th-century American portraits offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore early American fashion. Learn how its power to express identity and status shaped world events and drove individuals and countries to war to satisfy their desires.
Bassett is a costume and textile historian who’s well known to New England museums because she’s worked at or consulted with nearly all of them. She was a curator at Historic Northampton, Old Sturbridge Village, and others. She’s organized exhibitions at the Mark Twain House & Museum, the Florence Griswold Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and more, and has helped many smaller museums sort out their textile and costume collections. Here’s an interview with Bassett for New Pathways in Quilt History.

Bassett’s talk is scheduled to start at 2:00 P.M. in the conference room. It is free for Worcester Art Museum members, $5 for others.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Politics of Francis Shaw

As I discussed yesterday, despite how Josiah Quincy characterized the situation in his biography of Samuel Shaw, the Shaw family was not forced to host British marine officers under the Quartering Act.

Rather, in all likelihood, the merchant Francis Shaw (1721–1784) chose to rent rooms to Maj. John Pitcairn, Lt. John Ragg, and perhaps other men.

We don’t have enough sources about Francis Shaw to know what his motivations might have been: money, a sense of obligation or deference to the military, a wish to mollify the royal authorities?

Shaw wasn’t a Loyalist. He didn’t sign either of the addresses to the royal governors in 1774, nor leave town at the evacuation in 1776. In preceding years, he hadn’t stood up to complain about any of the Whigs’ measures.

Nor, however, was Francis Shaw an active Patriot. He had joined the Boston Society for Encouraging Trade and Commerce back in the early 1760s. That was an early chamber of commerce, speaking for the merchant community, and it opposed the Sugar Act and what its members saw as overeager enforcement of that law. In 1770 the Boston town meeting added Shaw’s name to a committee to promote non-importation, particularly by not selling tea.

But other than those moments, the name of Francis Shaw doesn’t appear in connection with Whig politics. He didn’t dine with the Sons of Liberty in 1769. He wasn’t on the committee to promote the Continental Association of 1774. (He may have been a member of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons, meaning he knew some Whig leaders, but wasn’t forward in supporting them. Or that Freemason might have been Francis Shaw, Jr.)

The town meeting elected Shaw as a fireward in the North End in 1772. The North End Caucus endorsed his reelection the next year, and he kept at that job until 1784. Boston thanked him for his long service a few months before he died. But that was an apolitical job.

My impression is that Francis Shaw chose to stay out of the larger debate. His son Samuel, in contrast, was fervent for the Patriot cause in 1775. We can see hints of that difference in the anecdote about Samuel getting into an argument with Lt. Ragg, quoted back here.

Francis Shaw had chosen to host British marine officers. The anecdote suggests he didn’t speak out against Ragg calling Americans “cowards and rebels” and then apparently moving toward a duel with twenty-year-old Samuel. The father didn’t, for instance, demand that his tenant leave his son alone—or if he did, it didn’t become part of the family lore. It was up to Maj. Pitcairn to calm matters.

Furthermore, I think the evidence suggests Francis Shaw told his son not to join the Continental Army. Only on his twenty-first birthday, when he was no longer legally under his father’s control, did Samuel leave Boston and seek a commission in the artillery regiment.

Once that happened, letters show that Francis Shaw supported his son, financially and otherwise. After the siege, the merchant served on Boston committees to collect taxes and record citizens’ military service. He may have invested a bit in privateers (or this could have been a man of the same name from Salem). In sum, Francis Shaw became a Patriot, even if he didn’t start out as one.

COMING UP: Lt. Ragg’s war.

(The picture above, courtesy of Old North, shows a sampler made by twelve-year-old Lydia Dickman in 1735. Nine years later she married Francis Shaw. They had one child together, but Lydia died in 1746 and her son the following year. Francis Shaw remarried and had more children, including Samuel. The sampler is now in the collection of the National Museum of American History.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

“The house of Francis Shaw was assigned for quarters”?

Yesterday I quoted the story of Samuel Shaw’s interaction with British marine officers staying in his father’s house in late 1774 or early 1775.

People sometimes point to the Shaw family as an example of colonists forced to host the king’s soldiers in their home under the Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774.

Author Josiah Quincy’s language, especially the use of the passive voice, pushed that reading:
…the officers of the army were billeted on the inhabitants. The house of Francis Shaw was assigned for quarters to Major [John] Pitcairn and Lieutenant [John] Wragg.
But that’s not the way Britain’s Quartering Acts worked. Those laws required communities to provide barracks and firewood for regiments stationed in their cities and towns. They empowered the army to use uninhabited buildings if necessary, eventually with the help of royally appointed magistrates. Military commanders didn’t actually want to disperse their soldiers into different households; that was a recipe for desertion.

Furthermore, the Shaw family hosted officers, and officers didn’t live in barracks. As gentlemen, they made individual arrangements with homeowners to rent rooms. And as gentlemen, paying in hard currency, they were desirable tenants, especially when the local economy had been stifled by the Boston Port Bill.

Quincy’s word “assigned” suggests there was some formal process for matching officers with homes. Any bureaucracy produces paperwork, but there’s no evidence of such assignments. Nor were there complaints in the newspapers, and Boston’s newspapers ran lots of complaints. Instead, military officers asked around about rooming possibilities and reached deals with willing homeowners.

But didn’t Bostonians have political objections to hosting army and marine officers? Some surely did. We have no anecdotes about Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and other activists agreeing to rent rooms to military men—nor of them being forced to do so.

(After the war began, many of those politicians had moved out of Boston and more troops arrived. During the siege, officers did move into empty private homes. But neither the Quartering Act nor the Third Amendment apply in wartime.)

TOMORROW: Shaw family politics.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

“Arrangements for a duel were in preparation…”

Earlier this month I had an online discussion with Kevin M. Levin, creator of Civil War Memory (now on Substack) and author of an upcoming book on Col. Robert Gould Shaw.

It concerned a passage from the third Josiah Quincy’s biography of Samuel Shaw (1754–1794, shown here)—Continental officer, early American diplomat, and brother of Col. Shaw’s great-grandfather.

I discussed that passage years ago in a comment but never in a posting until now. It describes young Shaw’s experience in 1774–75, when he was twenty years old:
The northern part of Boston, where he resided, was also the abode of some of the most active and ardent spirits who gave character and impulse to the first movements of the American Revolution.

Troops, sent from the parent state to awe the colonies into submission, and parading the streets of Boston, were continual causes of excitement and anger; giving intensity to feelings which it was difficult to restrain, and impossible to allay. Boston being at that time regarded by the British as a garrison town, the officers of the army were billeted on the inhabitants. The house of Francis Shaw was assigned for quarters to Major Pitcairn and Lieutenant Wragg.

A tradition in the family states, that, the latter having at the table, in the presence of Samuel Shaw, spoken of the Americans as “cowards and rebels,” he immediately resented the reproach, and transmitted to the lieutenant a challenge. While arrangements for a duel were in preparation, the fact came to the knowledge of Major Pitcairn, who interfered, and, either by influence or authority, obtained from the lieutenant such an apology for the offence as Mr. Shaw was willing to accept, and the affair was thus terminated.

On the 2d of October, 1775, Samuel Shaw attained the age of manhood, and, with the assent of his father, immediately took measures to insure his enrolment in the army, then collecting at Cambridge under the auspices of Washington.
The immediate question was: Who was this “Lt. Wragg”? I looked in published Army Lists from the 1770s and found no officer with that last name. But there was a Lt. John Ragg in the marines. So that must have been the man sharing quarters with Maj. John Pitcairn.

Pitcairn arrived in Boston in November 1774, part of Gen. Thomas Gage’s build-up of the royal military after the rest of the province slipped out of his control in September. Ragg presumably arrived at the same time, though it’s conceivable he came with another set of marines in March 1775.

Although this anecdote appears in Quincy’s book after mentions of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, it definitely didn’t happen that late. Pitcairn died from his wounds right after the second battle. The story feels like something that would have happened before the shooting war actually began, during the tense winter of 1774–75.

TOMORROW: Reading between the lines.

Monday, March 11, 2024

“Volumes of dense smoak” in Liverpool

EPOCH, published by Lancaster University in Britain, just shared an eye-opening article by Dabeoc Stanley on “Liverpool’s Eighteenth-Century Second-Hand Smoke Problem.”

Liverpool had grown in size and wealth in the eighteenth century as a port for Britain’s colonial and slaving ventures.
If you were to walk Liverpool’s streets in 1784, however, you would struggle to see this material wealth, indeed you would probably be struggling to breathe. The culprit was second-hand tobacco smoke. A petition to the Commissioners of Customs signed by more than 40 ‘respectable persons’ of Liverpool, and dated to June 1784, described:
… volumes of dense smoak … [that] cloud the streets to the annoyance of all passengers and fill the rooms of every house … to a degree perfectly offensive and intolerable … Within the reach of the smoak the furniture of our houses is spoiled, life is rendered comfortless to all, many are afflicted with sore eyes and only the young and healthy at some time can breathe.
In foggy or calm conditions, the wind was not sufficient to carry off the smoke, allowing it to accumulate in Liverpool’s streets and squares, creating a smog every bit as suffocating as that of London.
Those vapors had many sources: brick kilns, salt works, an oilhouse rendering whale blubber, and of course fires for cooking and heating. Tobacco smoke added to the hazy mix.

But tobacco fires were also the result of government policies, as Stanley traces. First, merchants could get a “drawback” on tobacco duties if they claimed they were reshipping that commodity outside the British Isles. That gave them an incentive to pump up the weight of their outgoing tobacco with “sand, dirt, and all manner of rubish.” They could then smuggle that untaxed tobacco into Britain through the Isle of Man.

In response to such smuggling, Parliament beefed up its laws. After 1750, Customs officers were to burn all the tobacco they confiscated as contraband or damaged.

In Liverpool, that condemned tobacco was first burned in a seaside furnace away from the center of town. But officials discovered that tobacco sent to that relatively isolated place too often went missing. So in 1783 a new “immense chimney” was built behind the Custom House in the middle of the city’s business district.

That’s why a year later locals complained about the effects of tobacco smoke on people’s health and property values. (And some of them might have preferred the opportunities of the previous system.)

Nonetheless, the situation didn’t change until 1802. That January, “a most tremendous gale” knocked the big chimney onto the Customs House, incidentally destroying lots of paperwork. (Again, some merchants and marines in Liverpool might have been pleased with this outcome.)

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Launch of the American Battlefield Trust Book Awards

This week the American Battlefield Trust got into the book awards game, announcing the “short list of finalists” for its first prize.

The award will go to “an outstanding published work focused on military history or a biography central to the nation's formative conflicts—the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.”

There are eleven finalists, which feels more like a long list to me. They were selected by a committee chaired by Gary W. Gallagher. The final selection will be made by a panel of expert judges, all history professors: James Kirby Martin, James McPherson, and Joan Waugh.

The honored titles about the Revolutionary War are:
  • Friederike Baer, Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War (Oxford University Press)
  • Ricardo A. Herrera, Feeding Washington’s Army: Surviving the Valley Forge Winter of 1778 (University of North Carolina Press)
  • Mark Edward Lender, Fort Ticonderoga, The Last Campaigns: The War in the North, 1777–1783 (Westholme Publishing)
  • Jack Warren, Freedom: The Enduring Importance of the American Revolution (Lyons Press)
Those on the U.S. Civil War are:
  • David S. Hartwig, I Dread the Thought of the Place: The Battle of Antietam and the End of the Maryland Campaign (Johns Hopkins University Press)
  • George Rable, Conflict of Command: George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, and the Politics of War (Louisiana State University Press)
  • Timothy B. Smith, Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25–December 31, 1862 (University of Kansas Press)
  • Elizabeth Varon, Longstreet: The Confederate General Who Defied the South (Simon & Schuster)
  • Victor Vignola, Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks, May 31–June 1, 1862 (Savas Beatie)
  • Jeffry D. Wert, The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers’ Struggle for Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle (University of North Carolina Press)
  • Ronald C. White, On Great Fields: The Life and Unlikely Heroism of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Random House)
(The number of nominees about each war may reflect the total of titles being published.)

The prize money, provided by “a generous donor,” will include $50,000 for the winning author and smaller amounts to two additionl finalists. The announcement will come in September.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

How William Browne Returned to Bermuda

William Browne was one of the last justices of the Massachusetts Superior Court under British rule.

In fact, I’m not sure he ever got to hear a full case since he arrived on the top bench just as the court-closing movement took off.

I wrote a series of posts in 2019 clearing Browne of involvement in the James OtisJohn Robinson coffee house brawl of 1769, as some authors had guessed. That was another man named William Brown (actually William Burnet Brown) with ties to Salem.

Last November, the Royal Gazette newspaper in Bermuda reported some pleasantly surprising William Browne news:
A historical treasure valued at $30,000 depicting an 18th-century governor now has a place of pride at the Bermuda Historical Society after a surprise donation.

A portrait of William Browne from his days as a student at Harvard University has gone from a Pennsylvania home to the walls of the society’s headquarters on Queen Street in Hamilton. . . .

William Browne, originally from Salem, Massachusetts, was a judge whose political sympathies ran counter to the American Revolution against the British.

He ended up being forced out and his property was seized — but the British Prime Minister, Lord North, appointed him to govern Bermuda, where he served from 1782 to 1788.

Mr Bermingham said the society’s acquisition of the painting began this June with a one-line e-mail from Judi Wilson from Pennsylvania, asking if the BHS was interested in a gift of a Joseph Blackburn painting of Mr Browne.

The painting was being donated by Ms Wilson’s mother, Judith Herdeg, from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

The family had researched the figure in their painting and discovered from a lecture at the Winterthur Museum, Library and Gardens in Delaware that Bermuda lacked a portrait of the governor.

Ms Wilson told the society: “As my mother’s health has declined, she was insistent that Mr Browne should find a home where he will finally be truly appreciated and honoured for his role in his world.”
As governor, Browne welcomed Loyalist refugees and then lobbied the imperial government to make Bermuda a free port, allowing trade with the new U.S. of A. He retired from being governor in 1788, traveling to London to seek compensation for his own property losses in the war. Browne spent the last years of his life in Britain.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Fort Ticonderoga’s 2024 Annual Seminar on the American Revolution, 20–22 Sept.

Fort Ticonderoga will host its twentieth Annual Seminar on the American Revolution on 20–22 September.

There slate of speakers are:
  • Sara C. Evenson, “Archaeology, Archive-Making, and Interpretation: Military Kitchens at Fort Ticonderoga”
  • Jason T. Sharples, “Governing the Anglo-American Subjects of Spanish Florida after 1783”
  • Robert Swanson, “‘For the Common Cause of the States’: Ideology and Canadian Participation in the American Revolution”
  • Todd W. Braisted, “‘Anxious to be of some Service to the Government’: The Trials and Tribulations of Burgoyne’s Royalist Corps after Saratoga”
  • David C. Hsiung, “Energy, Geography, and Geology in the Saratoga Campaign, 1777”
  • Kieran J. O’Keefe, “Why Did Horatio Gates Become a Revolutionary?”
  • Craig Wilson, “A Spirit of Dissention and Disobedience in the Troops: Military Mischief and Geographic Isolation at Michilimackinac”
  • John William Nelson, “Chicago’s Long War of Independence: Native Peoples and the Power of Chicago’s Portage Geography”
  • Jennifer K. Bolton, “‘Just IMPORTED from LONDON’: An Apothecary’s Place within the British Empire”
On Friday there will also be an optional bus tour from America’s History, L.L.C., “In the Footsteps of Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, and John Brown: The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga,” and an evening talk by Matthew Keagle, Fort Ticonderoga’s curator.

There are scholarships for teachers available. Registration is open.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Fort Plain Museum’s 2024 Conference in the Mohawk Valley, 14–16 June

The Fort Plain Museum’s Revolutionary War Conference 250 in the Mohawk Valley will take place this year on 14–16 June in Johnstown, New York. Registration is open.

The scheduled speakers are:
  • James Kirby Martin and guest host Mark Edward Lender having a fireside chat about the American Revolutionary War, its Sestercentennial, and their legacies as historians
  • Nancy Bradeen Spannaus, “Alexander Hamilton’s War for American Economic Independence Through Two Documents” (supported by the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society)
  • Gary Ecelbarger, “‘This Happy Opportunity’: George Washington and the Battle of Germantown”
  • Shirley L. Green, “Revolutionary Blacks: Discovering the Frank Brothers, Freeborn Men of Color, Soldiers of Independence”
  • Mark Edward Lender, “‘Liberty or Death!’: Some Revolutionary Statistics and Existential Warfare”
  • Shawn David McGhee, “No Longer Subjects of the British King: The Political Transformation of Royal Subjects to Republican Citizens, 1774-1776”
  • James Kirby Martin, “The Marquis de Lafayette Visits the Mohawk Valley, Again and Again”
  • Kristofer Ray, “The Cherokees, the Six Nations and Indian Diplomacy circa 1763-1776”
  • Matthew E. Reardon, “The Traitor’s Homecoming: Benedict Arnold’s Raid on New London, September 4-13, 1781”
  • John L. Smith, “The Unexpected Abigail Adams: A Woman ‘Not Apt to Be Intimidated’” (supported by the Dr. Joseph Warren Foundation)
  • Bruce M. Venter, “Albany and the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765”
  • Glenn F. Williams, “No Other Motive Than the True Interest of This Country: Dunmore’s War 1774”
  • Chris Leonard, Schenectady City Historian, “Storehouse Schenectady: Depot and Transportation Center for the Northern War”
  • David Moyer, “Recent Archaeology Discoveries on the Site of Revolutionary War Fort Plain”
There will also be a bus tour of Revolutionary sites in the area with the theme of “1774: The Rising Tide.” In that year Schenectady saw a violent Liberty Pole riot while the British Indian agent Sir William Johnson passed away in July.

For more information, visit this page.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

The Eleventh America’s History Conference on the Revolution, 15–17 Mar.

America’s History, L.L.C., is hosting its eleventh annual conference on the American Revolution on 15–17 March.

In past years this gathering has brought history buffs to Williamsburg, Virginia, but the 2024 conference will be at the Virginia Crossings Hotel in Glen Allen, close to Richmond.

The speaker lineup, recruited by head of faculty Edward G. Lengel, includes:
  • Mark R. Anderson, “Down the Warpath to the Cedars: Indians’ First Battles in the Revolution”
  • Friederike Baer, “Incomprehensible Friends and Rebellious Enemies: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War”
  • Brooke Barbier, “King Hancock: The Radical Influence of a Moderate Founding Father”
  • Stephen Brumwell, “Turncoat: A Fresh Interpretation of Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty”
  • Iris De Rode, “A New Perspective on the Yorktown Campaign: Revelations of the Unpublished Private Papers of François-Jean de Chastellux”
  • William Anthony Hay, “‘We Live on Victory’: British Military Strategy and Decision-Making in the American Revolution, 1774-1781”
  • Ricardo “Rick” Herrera, “Projecting Power Continental Army Style: George Washington and the Armed Camp at Valley Forge”
  • Paul Lockhart, “Drillmaster of the Revolution: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army”
  • Daniel Murphy, “The Revolutionary War’s Other Cavalryman: William Washington, America’s Light Dragoon and the Myths of Hobkirk’s Hill”
  • Kevin J. Weddle, “America’s Turning Point: Leadership in the Saratoga Campaign of 1777”
That’s a range of authors with some excellent books, new and old. There will also be a tour of Revolutionary sites in Goochland County led by Dr. John Maass, historian at the new National Museum of the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir.

For more information and to register, go to this site.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Upcoming Revolutionary Events in Newport

The Newport Historical Society is hosting a couple of Revolutionary history events in the next few days.

Wednesday, 6 March, 6:30 to 7:30 P.M.
“Discovering the Frank Brothers, Freeborn Men of Color, Soldiers of Independence”
Shirley L. Green

William and Benjamin Frank joined the integrated Second Rhode Island Regiment in the spring of 1777. That unit saw action along the Delaware River in the defense of Fort Mercer and the battle of Red Bank before falling back with the rest of the army to Valley Forge.

After the Battle of Monmouth, the Frank brothers were transferred into the new and segregated First Rhode Island Regiment, composed of Black and Native American soldiers, including enslaved men promised freedom in exchange for service. This “Black Regiment” fought in the Battle of Rhode Island in August 1778. Later the brothers’ paths diverged, and they ended up settling in different countries.

Green based her book Revolutionary Blacks on her family’s oral history, archival research, interviews, and DNA evidence. Her talk is presented by the Battle of Rhode Island Association and the Newport Historical Society. Admission is $20, $15 for society members and people serving in the military. Register through this page.

Saturday, 9 March, 11:00 A.M. to 12:15 P.M.
“Newport’s British Occupation” walking tour
Brandon Aglio

In 1777, seven thousand British and Hessian soldiers invaded Newport, starting a military occupation that lasted for nearly three years. An expert tour guide dressed in an authentic 18th-century British military uniform leads this exploration of the sites and the stories from this trying time.

This event costs $15 for adults, $10 for members of the society and U.S. military, $5 for children ages 5–12. Register through this page.