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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Friday, May 31, 2024

“His Business immediately calling him back to Quebec”

John Malcom spent November 1759 to August 1760 as a prisoner of war in French Canada.

He sailed back to Québec at the end of the year, apparently to scout for business opportunities, only to have his ship iced in.

In the winter of 1761 Malcom made a month-long trek over lake and land back to Boston.

So what do we hear about him doing next? Moving to Québec!

In the 16 Feb 1761 Boston Gazette Malcom announced:
Boston 9 February 1761.

THIS Day came to Town John Malcom, from Quebec in Canada, and desires one Thomas Power a Suttler at Halifax, immediately to come to Boston and settle all his Accompts with said Malcom without fail, as his Tarry at Boston cannot be long, his Business immediately calling him back to Quebec before the Lakes breaks [sic] up.
I’d think he could have written to Power directly, but advertising in the newspaper might have carried some legal weight.

On 2 March, the captain told Boston Gazette readers:
JOHN MALCOM will set out this Day Week [i.e., one week from today] for Quebec, by the Way of Albany, Lake George, Crown-Point, Montreal and Trois-Rivieres; and will receive Letters to carry to each Place at Mr. John Scollay’s Shop near the Town-Dock.
Perhaps, I thought, he was just going back to pick up his ship and sail it ’round to Boston again. But no, on 6 April his wife advertised in the Boston Gazette:
All Persons to whom John Malcom of Boston is indebted, are desired to bring in their Accounts to Sarah Malcom in order for Payment, as she intends soon to go out of the Province; and all indebted to said Malcom, are desired to make Payment to her directly. Said Malcom has a very commodious House at New Boston to Lett, with three Rooms on a Floor, and very good Accommodations.
In this case, “New Boston” meant what was also known as the West End. That side of the peninsula was less densely built up than the areas closer to the outer harbor.

The Malcoms evidently settled in Québec to help integrate one of the British Empire’s newest provinces into its trading system—and make money along the way. The captain maintained ties with Boston, though. Malcom announced in the 21 Feb 1763 Boston Gazette that in about ten days he was sailing his ship Friends up to Québec and could take freight or passengers.

Younger brother Daniel might have gotten involved in this trade, too. In the 25 Apr 1763 Boston Post-Boy, he advertised:
As DANIEL MALCOM intends to leave Boston for Quebec in 10 or 15 Days; any that has Demands on him are desired to apply to him. And any Persons indebted to said MALCOM are desired to pay him, or come and give their Note on Interest.—N.B. Said MALCOM goes by Land to Quebec.
Daniel doesn’t appear to have stayed in Canada for long, though. Church records and newspapers show him and his wife Ann in Boston at several points in the mid-1760s.

For the next few years John Malcom kept Québec as his trading base. But he didn’t keep out of trouble.

TOMORROW: An international incident.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

“The Rout taken by Capts Malcom and Holmes, from Quebec”

Yesterday’s posting brought John Malcom back to Boston in August 1760 after more than eight months as a prisoner of war in French Canada.

On 24 November, the Boston Evening-Post reported that “Capt. Malcom…arrived here last week from Ireland.” That was probably John’s younger brother, Daniel Malcom, but there’s just enough time for John to have made that round trip as a way to get his sea legs back, so I can’t say for certain.

It looks more likely that John returned to trading with a voyage to a different port: Québec!

One might think he’d had enough of that region. But viewed another way, it made sense for John Malcom to start sailing to the British Empire’s new city. In his months in Canada, he probably learned the language, observed the culture, made some contacts.

That first voyage turned out to be harder than he planned. According to the 16 Feb 1761 Boston Evening-Post, Malcom’s sloop Wilmot got iced in on the St. Lawrence River, along with a score of other ships.

Malcom and John Holmes, master of the Sally out of Philadelphia, decided to return by land.

The same issue of the Evening-Post explained:
On the 8th of January they left Quebec in a Sleigh, in company with 12 other Sleighs having Goods for Montreal, and travel’d on a good Road to Trois Rivieres: From thence they went up the River on the Ice, and passing over Sorrell, arrived at Montreal in 2 Days:—

After tarrying there 2 Days they proceeded in their Sleigh to Chamble, St. John’s and Isle au Noix, which they reached in 3 Days more: During this Time the Season was moderate for Winter.—

From the Isle au Noix they travel’d 45 Mile on Lake Champlain in one Day, but the next Morning after going some Miles, finding the Ice grow weak, they left their Sleigh, and went ashore with their Horse and Baggage on the South-East Side of the Lake; it being bad Travelling in the Woods, it was 5 Days and as many Nights before they arrived at Crown Point.—

On their Way they met an Officer with Dispatches for the Governors of Montreal and Quebec; with Accounts of the Death of his late Majesty King George the Second, & of the Accession of his present Majesty King George the Third to the British Throne.—

At Crown Point they tarried one Day, and having procured another Sleigh, they proceeded to Ticonderoga, and over Lake George to Fort George: Thence proceeded to Fort Edward, but the Road not being broke they travelled with only their Horse:—

From Fort Edward they went in a Sleigh to Albany: From whence they came to Town by Land on Monday last the 9th of February.
The captains brought news that Maj. Robert Rogers was on his way to Detroit, another new British possession. That information came from Capt. Jonathan Brewer and other officers in the rangers.

When Malcom and Holmes made this trip, they were traversing a route that just a couple of years earlier had crossed the border between two rival empires. I think that was why the Fleets devoted so much of their newspaper to this account: for their readers, the possibility of traveling or shipping goods over land to Montreal and Quebec really was news.

TOMORROW: John Malcom makes his move.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

“Taken on the 6th Day of November last by 9 Frenchmen”

Yesterday we left Capt. John Malcom in mid-1759, plying the route between Boston and the British Empire’s new conquest of Louisbourg, relaying information about developments in the Seven Years’ War.

That war caught up with Malcom in the fall. This is how the Boston News-Letter reported the story on 28 Aug 1760:
In Capt. Gardner came Passenger from Quebec, Capt. John Malcom of this Town, who with one of his Hands was taken on the 6th Day of November last by 9 Frenchmen, as they were endeavouring to get Wood off the Island of St. Barnaby for the use of the Vessel,

who after he was taken was immediately strip’d of all his Cloaths and barbarously used by the Enemy for four Days at that Place, and then obtaining Liberty to go to Quebec, was taken twice in Twenty-eight Days;

He informs that after he arrived at Quebec, he was often threatned to be given to the Indians to be massacred, they thinking him to be a Spy.—

And that on the 14th of November his Sloop, called the Sally, (his Mate being then on board endeavouring to get to Boston,) off of Gaspee, was taken by the Ship Two Brothers, Francis Boucher Commander, mounting 20 Carriage Guns; by which Accidents the said Malcom not only lost his Vessel, but likewise to the amount of near give Hundred Pounds Sterling in Cash, and other Effects, then on board.
Since Gen. James Wolfe’s forces had taken Québec City on 13 Sept 1759, I presume the “Quebec” where Malcom spent months as a prisoner of war was the area around Montréal, still in French hands until September 1760.

On 7 Apr 1760 the Boston Post-Boy reported about a couple of Malcom’s crew in a letter from Col. Joseph Frye at Fort Cumberland (now once again called Fort Beauséjour):
About [30 January] there came in eight Men, one of whom was a New-England Man, one Irishman, and the rest Italians and Spaniards; who inform’d me they Deserted from a French frigate that lay froze in, at the Head of Gaspee Harbour.

The two former belong’d to a Vessel commanded by Capt. Malcom of Boston, who was taken on by the above Frigate, as she was returning from Quebec, where she had been on a Trading Voyage.
As for younger brother Daniel Malcom, on 5 May 1760 he was home in Boston, preparing to sell a 50-ton schooner called the Betsy by auction at Harris’s Wharf.

TOMORROW: Back to trading, back to Quebec?

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

“Capt. John Malcom arrived here in 10 Days from Louisbourg”

On 26 July 1758, the French inside Louisbourg surrendered to a besieging British force led by Gen. Jeffery Amherst.

John Malcom may have been part of the British military in this campaign rather than the one in 1745. In any event, he quickly became a link between that new addition to the British Empire and Boston.

On 15 Jan 1759 the Boston Gazette told readers:
Last Saturday Night Capt. John Malcom arrived here in 10 Days from Louisbourg, who informs us, That the Day he came out he met his Majesty’s Ship Arundel commanded by Capt. Martin [actually Richard Matthews], who desired of him a Pilot that was acquainted with the Harbour of Louisbourg, which he put on board; Capt. Martin inform’d him he had a large Quantity of Money on board for the Garrison, and a Packet:

In Capt. Malcom came Passengers Capt. [Robert] Rogers of the Rangers, Capt. Bennet of the Brig Sally belonging to Philadelphia, lately cast away there.

Capt. Malcom also informs, That he saw a large Ship to the Eastward of the Arundel, which he suppos’d to be one of the Fleet that came out with her.
Meanwhile, younger brother Daniel Malcom was also at sea, according to the 19 February Boston Gazette:
Late last Night Captain Parrot arrived here in 18 Days from South-Carolina, in whom came Capt. Malcom of this Town, who sail’d from Falmouth 8 Weeks ago, in the Earl of Leicester Packet, Capt. Morris, bound to New-York; but meeting with Captain Parrot last Monday, bound hither, he went on board him. . . .

Capt. Malcom brought no English Prints, as he left the Packet in a hurry, which he imagines arriv’d at New-York last Wednesday.
By this time, it appears, the Boston Gazette printers expected readers to know “Capt. Malcom of this Town” was Daniel, returning from England.

The 28 May Boston Evening-Post reported:
Friday last arrived here Capt. Malcom in 9 Days from Louisbourg, and informs, That a Snow had arrived there from Admiral [Philip] Durell, with Advice that the Ice coming down in such great Quantities he was not able to get above half Way up to Gaspey, and before the Snow left him was drove down again almost to the Mouth of the River, but that the Admiral intended to make another Attempt to get up.—

That last Wednesday se’nnight his Majesty’s Ship Northumberland of 70 Guns, Lord Colvill, arrived there in 37 Days from England; and that the next Day Admiral [Charles] Saunders came in with 12 Sail of the Line from Halifax:

Capt. Malcom also informed, that off Caparouse Bay he spoke with the Nightingale Frigate, having under her Convoy 12 Transports from New-York, with Col. [Simon] Fraser’s Highland Regiment on board, also bound to Louisbourg: And that prodigious large Quantities of Ice were still floating about near the Harbour of Louisbourg.
This was still within the “Little Ice Age.”

It’s striking how much information Malcom and the printers were passing on in a time of war. No “Loose lips sink ships” concern there! Instead, the newspapers were telling the world where the British military payroll was, and when Adm. Durell might make into the St. Lawrence River in time to support Gen. James Wolfe’s push on Québec.

I think that reflects something Hannah Tucker described in a 2018 seminar in the context of commercial shipping, as I summarized:
the uncertainty of Atlantic crossings, the difficulty of communication, and merchants’ and ship owners’ inability to supervise sea captains closely meant that they preferred an open information system to a closed one. It was in nearly everyone’s interest to know about other people’s business. If you tried to keep information within your firm, you could easily find yourself cut off with no information at all.
The same culture might have prevailed in a time of war. After all, there was little chance that a French agent could pick up information from a Boston newspaper and transmit it in time to use that advantage. So why not gossip about every ship you saw at sea? That information could actually be helpful to your side.

TOMORROW: But the empires were still at war.

Monday, May 27, 2024

“Capt. Malcom of this Place, who was taken by a French Privateer”

In the late 1750s, Britain’s cold war with France once again boiled up into a hot war.

That presented dangers for merchant captains like John and Daniel Malcom, as well as opportunities.

In seeking British government assistance years later, John Malcom declared:
I have had thirteen Different Commissions in your Majesty’s Land Service in North America the two last French and Spanish warrs that is Past. I have Serv’d from a Ensign to a Colonel. I have been in all the Battles that was Fought in North America those two warrs that is Past except two and at every Place we Conquerd and Subdued our Enemys to your Majesty.
That’s quite a claim, and he didn’t provide any specifics. Were his “Commissions” in the militia, in a colonial army, as a privateer captain, or even as a contractor?

That vagueness makes it hard to figure out where John Malcom was when his surname appears in Boston newspapers. For example, the 6 Oct 1755 Boston Gazette had a supplement with news of two men missing from “Capt. Malcom’s Company” in Maj. Joseph Frye’s force after the Battle of Petitcodiac in what’s now New Brunswick. What that John Malcom, a relative, or someone with no connection?

The 23 Dec 1756 Boston News-Letter reported that a French schooner had captured a “large Sloop, belonging to Carr and Malcolm,” in Martha Brae Harbour on Jamaica. Was that ship partly owned by John Malcom? Or might that owner have been a merchant from distant Scotland?

Adding to the fog is how John’s younger brother Daniel was also a ship’s captain. The 30 May 1757 Boston Gazette reported this adventure for one of the brothers, but which one?
Thursday last came to Town Capt. Malcom of this Place, who was taken by a French Privateer and carried into Port au Prince, from whence he got to Jamaica, and informs, that just as he came away Advice was receiv’d there, that 18 Sail of French Men of War and Transports, and about 7000 Troops, was arriv’d at Port au Prince, very sickly.
I’m struck by how the Boston press referred to “Capt. Malcom of this Place” as if there were only one. Did that mean that John was serving in an army, so Daniel was the only one commanding a ship? Had one of the brothers moved out of Boston, as John would later do? Or was that just sloppy reporting?

On 4 May 1758 the Boston News-Letter reported:
The ———, Vavason, from New York, and the ———, Malcom, from Boston, for Madeira, are taken and carried into Louisbourg.
Not only was that news item short on details, but it came from London, so it was months old. But it couldn’t have been over a year old and refer to the same capture as the last article.

Fortunately, in the summer of 1758 the British Empire took Louisbourg from the French (again). After that, it’s easier to spot John Malcom.

TOMORROW: Back and forth.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Malcom Brothers on Sea and Land

As I wrote yesterday, the brothers John and Daniel Malcom both became mariners in the middle of the eighteenth century. Here are some of their experiences in the 1750s.

From the 30 Oct 1752 New-York Evening-Post:
HALIFAX, October 14.

On Sunday last a fishing Schooner brought in here Capt. Daniel Malcom and his Men belonging to the Sloop Charming Nancy, from Cork to this Place, whose Cargo consisted chiefly of Sea Coal and Butter, which was cast away at a Place call’d Ship-Harbour, to the Eastward of this Place, where she had put in to avoid the Storm which happen’d on Sunday 7-night [i.e., a week ago]:

She parted her Cables & drove on a Ledge of Rocks, where she stove to pieces in a very little Time; the Men sav’d their Lives by getting on the Rocks, where they tarried 5 Days living upon Butter and Boil’d Dulse (a sort of Sea-Weed) and Cramberrys, which they also boil’d and eat with Butter (without Bread or Meat) ’till they met with said Scooner [sic]; during which Time they sav’d 150 Firkins of Butter and some other Things from the Wreck, which are bro’t in here:

Just before the Vessel struck the Rocks the Captain had put Sixty Guineas into a Purse in order to save them with himself, but upon her striking he jump’d upon Deck and left the Purse and Guineas upon the Table in the Cabbin, which also are lost without any Hopes of Recovery.
Daniel Malcom was undaunted, however. In the 8 Nov 1753 Boston News-Letter he started to advertise “Good Irish BUTTER by the Firkin” for sale at his house on Fish Street. That continued to be his main (public) offering until 1768.

As for older brother John Malcolm, Frank W. C. Hersey wrote: “Litigation was Captain John’s favorite pastime while on shore.”

There might be many stories lurking in the court archives, but the one Hersey told was about a 60-ton sloop called the Sally and Polly. John owned three-eighths of this ship, and Daniel presumably owned the rest. That vessel was lost at sea in 1755 on its way from North Carolina to Cork. (I’ve looked for a newspaper report on this ship with no success.)

Only then did John discover his share of the ship hadn’t been insured. He insisted Daniel had promised to provide coverage.

The two brothers started to take legal action against each other. John swore out writs against Daniel for a total of £155. Daniel responded with a writ for £70.

Finally on 31 July the sheriff of Suffolk County, Benjamin Pollard, sat the Malcoms down and helped them settle their dispute before they wore the constables ragged delivering legal papers.

TOMORROW: The Malcoms go to war (and not with each other).

Saturday, May 25, 2024

John Malcom: The Early Years

Back in January I wrote about the mobbing of Customs officer John Malcom on the Sestercentennial anniversary of that event.

The standard study of that attack is “Tar and Feathers: The Adventures of Captain John Malcom,” written by Frank W. C. Hersey in 1941 and available through the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Alfred F. Young’s The Shoemaker and the Tea Party looks at the same day through the eyes of George R. T. Hewes.

I collected some additional information about Malcom that I didn’t have time to dig through and share in January, so now I’m doubling back to his story. We can call this series “The Further Adventures of Captain John Malcom.” Though really it’s more of a prequel.

First of all, a note about nomenclature: Capt. John Malcom spelled his name without a second L, as did his brother Daniel Malcom. However, many people writing about him spelled the surname in the traditional Scottish style as “Malcolm.” Indeed, Hersey transcribed a petition signed by Malcom which a clerk then labeled as coming from “Mr. Malcolm.”

Because so many historians rendered the name as “Malcolm,” I followed that style in making a Boston 1775 tag for the man years ago. However, in these postings I’m going to use the spellings that individuals preferred.

This story starts in 1721, when Michael and Sarah Malcom arrived in Boston from Ulster, Ireland, where their ancestors had moved from Scotland in the previous century. They brought young children named William and Elizabeth.

On 20 May 1723 Sarah gave birth to a second boy, whom they called John. The family then moved to Georgetown in the district of Maine. Another baby boy, Daniel, arrived on 29 Nov 1725, followed by Allen in 1733 and Martha in 1738.

Michael Malcom invested in the Massachusetts “Land Bank or Manufactory Scheme.” In 1745 he was assessed to pay £16, on the high side of those investors.

Also in 1745, wrote Hersey, young John Malcom “served as an ensign in the Second Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Colonel Samuel Waldo, at the siege of Louisbourg; and this same year he was captain of a vessel which carried dispatches from Louisbourg to Boston,” presaging his maritime career. However, John Malcom’s name also appears as a private enlisting in Capt. Elisha Doane’s company in August 1746.

In 1750 John Malcom married Sarah Balch at Boston’s Presbyterian Meeting-House. The Rev. John Moorhead baptized five of their children between 1751 and 1758.

Younger brother Daniel Malcom also came to Boston and married Ann Fudge, and they also had children starting in 1751. He became a prominent member of the Anglican Christ Church’s congregation. While John named one of his sons Daniel, I’ve found no evidence Daniel named any of his boys John.

Both John and Daniel went to sea, made Boston their home port, and rose to be merchant captains. By the late 1740s a captain or two named Malcom was sailing out of Boston for Cape Fear, North Carolina; Antigua; Annapolis; Philadelphia; Honduras; Bristol, England; and Youghal, Ireland. By the 1750s the Malcoms were owners or part-owners of ships. They traded all over North America, the Caribbean, and Britain—and occasionally Cadiz and Lisbon.

It wasn’t illegal to trade with Portugal, Spain, or Caribbean islands claimed by other empires, but there were higher tariffs on most goods traded that way. Ship captains usually tried every trick they could to minimize those tariffs. Many of those methods made that trade into illegal smuggling, but in that period Boston merchants generally figured that as long as they didn’t get too blatant the Customs service wouldn’t come down hard on them.

The real hazards in ocean trade were natural disasters and war.

TOMORROW: Wrecked and captured.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Summer Saturdays at the Paul Revere House

The Paul Revere House has a special program included with admission on every Saturday afternoon this summer. Unless otherwise stated, all these events run 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.

25 May
Colonial Dance Tunes and Love Songs from Al Petty & Deirdre Sweeney.

1 June
Colonial Weaving Demonstration by fiber artist Zoe Lawson.

8 June, 1:00, 1:45, 2:30 P.M.
Meet Harriet, Daughter of Paul Revere: Diane Lent portrays one of Paul Revere’s sixteen children, reminiscing about her father and growing up in the North End.

15 June
Patriot Fife and Drum concert by David Vose and Sue Walko.

22 June, 1:00, 1:45, 2:30 P.M.
Meet Loyalist Tea Consignee Joshua Winslow: Father of young chronicler Anna Green Winslow, Winslow was named one of the East India Company’s tea consignees. After watching one protest, he retreated to a family home in Marshfield. Meet him today, as portrayed by Michael Lepage, on a rare venture into Boston before he was forced into exile.

29 June
Hammered Dulcimer played by award-winning musician Dave Neiman.

6 July
Colonial Dance Tunes and Love Songs from Al Petty & Deirdre Sweeney.

13 July
Patriot Fife and Drum concert by David Vose and Sue Walko.

20 July
Hammered Dulcimer played by award-winning musician Dave Neiman.

27 July, 1:00, 1:45, 2:30 P.M.
John Adams: The Colossus of Independence: The lawyer discusses his beginnings in Braintree through his days as delegate to the Continental Congress and diplomat. As portrayed by Michael Lepage, hear how he longs to be home with his wife and children. 

3 August, 1:00, 1:45, 2:30 P.M.
The Many Rides of Paul Revere: The silversmith traveled far from home many times as a courier for the Boston Patriots, including a May 1774 trip to New York and Philadelphia bearing news of the Boston Port Bill. Learn about these trips as Michael Lepage portrays the home owner.

10 August
The Tailor’s Craft: Clothing historian Henry Cooke takes on the role of an early Boston tailor. 

17 August
Hammered Dulcimer played by award-winning musician Dave Neiman.

24 August
Patriot Fife and Drum concert by David Vose and Sue Walko.

31 August, 1:00, 1:45, 2:30 P.M.
Meet Harriet, Daughter of Paul Revere: Diane Lent portrays one of Paul Revere’s 16 children, reminiscing about her father and growing up in the historic North End.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

“Shall we in equal strains return / Thy spleen, and answer scorn with scorn?”

The Journal of American Constitutional History just published (open access, and thus available to all) David Waldstreicher’s article “Racism, Black Voices, Emancipation, and Constitution-Making in Massachusetts, 1778.”

Waldstreicher is a Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York and author of The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley: A Poet’s Journeys Through American Slavery and Independence, just issued in paperback, and Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification.

In that biography, Waldstreicher appended a number of poems published anonymously in the New England press that he “tentatively” attributes to Phillis Wheatley (or Phillis Peters, as she became after her marriage in late 1778).

One appeared in the 12 Feb 1778 Independent Chronicle in the midst of Massachusetts’s debate over ratifying a new constitution. This would be an unusual work for Wheatley, in both subject and form. She had never before exchanged literary insults in the weekly press, nor published in the satirical mode, and she rarely wrote in tetrameter. (One exception to the last pattern was “Ode to Neptune,” subject of my article for Commonplace.)

On the other hand, this poem was a direct response to one that attacked the idea of rights for black people in Massachusetts and used the name “Phillis” to refer to a politician’s black mistress. It shows poetic skill and some rhetorical resemblances to Wheatley’s published work, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the state having more reason to write it.

Waldstreicher’s paper goes into more detail than his book about the poem—its political context, its literary grounding, the verses it responded to, the reasons to link it to Wheatley. In doing so, it offers a snapshot of the state’s process of creating a constitution. That 1778 document proved to be a dead end, but this debate turned out to have a strong effect on the successful 1780 document.

Ironically, in the paper Waldstreicher stays just clear of stating that Wheatley wrote this poem, acknowledging other possibilities and calling it “Wheatleyan.” That may account for why the title of the paper doesn’t include Wheatley’s name, just “Black Voices.” 

In contrast, the book posits “If this poem is by Wheatley” and then proceeds to treat it as her work, indeed “a key work in her oeuvre.” That approach could have been demanded by how many other topics a biography has to cover, leaving less chance to pause and work through nuances. Or it could have been allowed by a different level of peer review pressure. Either way, it’s clear that Waldstreicher is convinced this poem is most likely Phillis Wheatley’s own commentary on the state of racial politics in Massachusetts in 1778.

And with the article freely available, everyone has a chance to study the poem, the verses it replied to, and the multi-layered analysis.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Adm. Benjamin Hallowell Carew, R.N., a Son of Boston

Last month David Morgan’s Inside Croydon website profiled a notable British naval figure who grew up in pre-Revolutionary Boston.

Adm. Benjamin Hallowell Carew was one of the sons of Loyalists who joined the British military during the American War and remained in it through the wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.

Morgan writes:
He was an American, born in 1761 in Boston to a family who were supporters of the British in the difficult years before the American War of Independence. Hallowell’s father, also named Benjamin, had also seen service in the Royal Navy, and had become a Commissioner of the Board of Customs in the port of Boston. His mother, Mary Boylston, was a second cousin of John Adams, who would go on to become the second President of America. . . .

The Hallowells of Boston lived a comfortable life by the standards of the time, with enough income to be able to employ one of the great American portrait painters of the day, John Singleton Copley, to produce family portraits.
Distance from Boston led Morgan into some geographical errors in describing the Hallowells’ houses. On 26 Aug 1765, an anti-Stamp Act mob damaged the Customs official’s house in Boston. He also owned a mansion in the Jamaica Plain part of Roxbury which was more secluded and safe. (J.P. and Roxbury are separate neighborhoods now, but in colonial times Roxbury was the town, Jamaica Plain simply an area within it.)

As a Customs officer, Benjamin Hallowell was unpopular with the merchants and people of Boston. He may have attracted special resentment because he was from a local family, his father a prominent merchant captain himself. In other words, people might have perceived him as switching sides.

In 1768 Hallowell helped to seize John Hancock’s ship Liberty, and the waterfront crowd physically attacked him, driving him into hiding onto Castle Island. Within the Customs service, however, Hallowell parlayed that treatment into a promotion as the Crown’s replacement for John Temple, a commissioner the administration came to see as too close to the locals.

Commissioner Hallowell was also the target of part of the “Powder Alarm” multitude gathered on Cambridge common on 2 Sept 1774. Leaders of that crowd successfully urged most of the men to leave him alone, but some chased him on horseback all the way across the Charles River bridge, up through Brookline and Roxbury to the gates of Boston.

Naturally, the family didn’t stick around to try their chances in March 1776. Commissioner Hallowell moved to Britain, taking his wife and children.

The next Benjamin's story continues:
Young Hallowell was aged 14 or 15 when he arrived in England, and wasted little time before joining the navy.

Hallowell enjoyed Navy life and was promoted to lieutenant in 1783 having already been involved in the Battle of Chesapeake Bay in 1781, St Kitts in 1782 and the Battle of Dominica later that same year.

Hallowell, by then a Commodore on frigate HMS Minerve, was on board the British flagship HMS Victory with Nelson at the Battle of Cape Saint Vincent in 1797. . . .

By the time of Battle of the Nile in 1798, Hallowell was in command of the 74-gun HMS Swiftsure. The British had hunted down the French fleet all the way from Toulon, via Malta, and tracked them to Egypt.
For how that fight worked out for Hallowell, why Adm. Horatio Nelson sent him a coffin, and finally how his surname became Carew, see the Inside Croydon post.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

“How large the shell was”

This anecdote comes from a 17 Sept 1775 letter by Dr. Hall Jackson, tending to New Hampshire troops during the siege of Boston:
A shell the other day happening to fall in the Marsh, the fuse was extinguished;

some of our Country fellows pick’d it up, which was observed by one of our Generals (no matter for his name) who perhaps is well acquainted with the world, and mankind in general as any on the Continent, tho’ somewhat petulant in his temper; he called one of the men and asked him how large the shell was

he answered as big as a pumpkin,

pumpkins being of different sizes, it was no answer to the question;

the General dam’nd him for a pumpkin headed, Son of a Bitch, and repeated his question,

the fellow answered that he believed it would hold six quarts,

as the shell might be thicker or thinner this could not determine the bigness,

the General in a great passion demanded the diamiter of the shell from outside, to outside,

he might as well have demanded of the fellow to demonstrate the fictions of a Cone, or any other problems in Euclid,

the fellow however in great confusion made a rough guess at the General’s meaning, answered, something less than thirty inches (the shell was exactly ten).

The poor innocent fellow was order’d under guard for insulting the General, but our good natured Brigadier soon had him released.
I’m guessing the general “well acquainted with the world” was Charles Lee, and “our good natured Brigadier” was John Sullivan.

Dr. Jackson told this story to support his case against Dr. Benjamin Church’s centralized military hospitals. Soldiers from rural New Hampshire, he argued, needed to be treated by regimental surgeons who knew how to communicate with them.

Monday, May 20, 2024

“Better Regulating the Government of the Province of the Massachuset’s Bay”

On 20 May 1774, 250 years ago today, Parliament passed “An Act for the Better Regulating the Government of the Province of the Massachuset’s Bay, in New England,” or the Massachusetts Government Act.

In the same days that the American colonies were absorbing the ramifications of the Boston Port Bill, this final, even more far-reaching Coercive Act was put into place.

The closing of Boston’s port to intercolonial trade was intended as a temporary measure to force the town to repay the cost of the destroyed tea. The Massachusetts Government Act, in contrast, spelled out permanent changes to the provincial charter.

At The Pursuit of History’s recent “Rebellion in New England” weekend, several speakers described in different ways how people reacted to the new law. My presentation pointed out small inland towns had previously offered Boston merchants mostly tepid support on the import tarriffs, but now Parliament had given those farmers something to be really angry about.

After news of the act arrived, previously moderate Whigs like John Hancock started to act like radicals. Outside Boston, crowds massed in their militia companies, then started to strengthen the militia. People in other colonies wondered if their charters were in jeopardy of similarly unilateral amendments.

The Massachusetts Government Act made three big changes, recommended by Sir Francis Bernard and other former officials who had worked in the colony.

First, the Council, which was the upper house of the Massachusetts General Court, changed from an elected body to an appointed one (as most other North American colonies already had). The Council also lost some power to stymie the royal governor’s appointments. That would be the equivalent of turning the U.S. Senate in the House of Lords and no longer requiring Senate approval of judges.

Second, henceforth towns would need the governor’s advance approval before convening a second town meeting in any year. In practice, towns began to extend their meetings by adjournment, thus never needing to call a legally new one. Still, this was a clear strike at the local self-government that communities (well, white men of property) had come to expect.

The third area of government changed by the new law was the court system. In particular, jurors for the grand and petit juries would no longer be elected but summoned by the royally appointed sheriffs. I hadn’t realized until I looked at the text of the law that those judicial-branch provisions account for most of its words, spelling out procedural changes in legalese.

Almost immediately, the people responded to the Massachusetts Government Act with mass actions. In towns where the appointed Councilors lived, crowds gathered to pressure them to decline the seats or resign. Some did. Others stayed on the Council but moved into Boston for their safety.

Crowds also shut down the county court sessions, starting in the west at Great Barrington in Berkshire County. We can see those actions as directed against the changes to the legal system. But also the judicial branch was virtually the only part of the provincial government that operated in the inland towns. And in the eyes of most men in the province, the Massachusetts Government Act had rendered the royal government illegitimate. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

“The taste of their fish being altered”

Just because the British Empire was sliding toward internal warfare in 1774, that was no reason to stop laughing about the news.

Here are a couple of items that appeared in New England newspapers 250 years ago.

The first must have originated in a London newspaper. The earliest North American reprinting I’ve found is in John Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet on 18 Apr 1774. Four days later it appeared in both Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy and Timothy Green’s Connecticut Gazette of New London, followed by other papers.

Jan. 28. Letters from Boston complain much of the taste of their fish being altered: Four or five hundred chests of tea may have so contaminated the water in the harbour, that the fish may have contracted a disorder not unlike the nervous complaints of the human body. Should this complaint extend itself as far as the banks of Newfoundland, our Spanish and Portugal fish trade may be much affected by it.
Needless to say, even 340 chests of tea dumped off Griffin’s Wharf weren’t really enough to affect the New England fisheries.
Earlier this month artist Cortney Skinner shared this clip from the 9 May 1774 Boston Gazette. It appeared on page 3 right after a political essay and right before the many mercantile ads it resembled.

This notice reads:
WANTED immediately,
A long, strong BOOM,
that will reach from Cape-Cod to Cape-Ann.———
Any Person having such an One to dispose of, will meet with a good Price, by applying to
N. B. The Distance is only 18 Leagues.
This was a poke at Lord North’s plan to close Boston harbor to shipping. Unofficial hints of the Boston Port Bill had started to arrive, and Edes and Gill wanted readers to laugh at the folly of that policy.

The same satirical ad appeared the next day in Samuel and Ebenezer Hall’s Essex Gazette of Salem.

Then the text was reprinted (though no longer looking like an advertisement) in the 16 May New-York Gazette, the 18 May New-Haven Post-Boy and Pennsylvania Journal, and the 23 May Newport Mercury. For readers without so much maritime experience, the capper became “The Distance only 54 miles.”

When the Royal Navy and Customs service really did shut down the port of Boston in June, though, suddenly the situation didn’t seem so laughable.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

“Franklin was no friend of Wilkes…”

Last month the History of Parliament blog shared Dr. Robin Eagles’s review of Benjamin Franklin’s dislike and distrust of John Wilkes, based on his correspondence in Founders Online.

Eagles writes:
Franklin was no friend of Wilkes, who was ejected from his seat in the Commons following the infamous affair of North Briton number 45 and the printing of the scandalous Essay on Woman. They had much in common – both running newspapers and having voracious appetites for knowledge. They may also have coincided at the so-called ‘Hellfire Club’. Yet Franklin was repelled by Wilkes’s excesses.
I wrote about Franklin and the Baron le Despencer’s club a year ago. My conclusion was that those two men didn’t become friends until years after the baron had let the club lapse, in large part because Wilkes was blabbing about it. Some books do point to evidence for a connection between Franklin and the club; however, that evidence was made up by a British author who was a habitual liar.

Back to actual documented history.
After Wilkes had fled overseas in December 1763 leaving his case to be tried by the Commons in absentia, Franklin followed his case closely, satisfied to see Parliament resolved to rid itself of someone he considered unsuitable. On 11 February 1764 Franklin, briefly back in America, responded to his friend, Richard Jackson, MP for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, that he was ‘pleas’d to find a just Resentment so general in your House against Mr. W.’s seditious Conduct, and to hear that the present Administration is like to continue’.

Franklin’s perspective may have altered somewhat when he became friendly with Wilkes’s brother, Israel. He was even invited to ‘eat his Christmas dinner’ with the Wilkeses at the family house in Red Lyon Square in 1766. [Mr and Mrs Israel Wilkes to Franklin, 23 December 1768] He remained, though, appalled by the disorder prompted by John Wilkes’s actions and recorded in detail the riots and destruction in London and beyond during the chaotic election year of 1768.
Nonetheless, reports of those same disturbances and Parliament’s expulsions convinced the Whigs in faraway Boston that Wilkes would be a good ally in their fight to reform the British administration. 

Friday, May 17, 2024

“The pistols were not heard by a single person”

Yesterday I left Edward Rand dead on Dorchester Point. The man who had just killed him in a duel, Charles Miller, Jr., could have been arrested for murder, and their seconds were also open to criminal charges.

After a bare-bones report on the duel, the 16 June Columbian Minerva of Dedham reported:
Miller passed thro this town to the southward, on the morning of the same day, in a coach, attended only by his second.
That second was Lewis Warrington (shown here), a nineteen-year-old midshipman in the U.S. Navy. Warrington was the natural son of Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau, son and aide of the commander of French troops during the war.

Back in Dorchester, other people began to arrive on the scene. According to duel chronicler Lorenzo Sabine:
A gentleman who was at Fort Independence at the moment of the duel, and who, with three or four others, immediately after it jumped into a boat and rowed to the Point, informs me, that when he arrived Rand lay dead upon the beach, alone, with an empty pistol near him; that he was gayly dressed; and that he saw Mr. [Ebenezer] Withington of Dorchester (who, as coroner, came with a jury) take Miller’s acceptance of his challenge from his pocket.

This gentleman remarks, that a fishing-vessel was at anchor off the Point, and that some three or four hundred workmen, officers, and soldiers were at the Fort, but that, as far as he was ever able to ascertain, the reports of the pistols were not heard by a single person among them all.
Which should lead us to wonder why a handful of men had jumped into a rowboat immediately after Rand fell dead. I suspect no one wanted to testify to the authorities.

Massachusetts law allowed for those authorities to confiscate Rand’s body and turn it over to a surgeon for dissection. Instead, this profile of Charles P. Phelps, Rand’s business partner, cites his 1857 manuscript autobiography to state that he “was called upon to retrieve his partner’s body and helped to bury him in the Granary burying Ground late that night.”

Sabine (who’s best known for writing the first biographical guide to American Loyalists) went on:
Miller departed Massachusetts on the very day his antagonist fell. He was indicted for murder in the county of Norfolk, but was never tried or arrested. The indictment against him was missing from the files of the court as early as the year 1808 or 1809.

His home, ever after the deed, was in New York, where his life was secluded, though in the possession of an ample fortune. He lived a bachelor. He died in 1829, leaving an only brother.
The New York newspapers said this Charles Miller, formerly of Boston, died “suddenly” at age sixty.

The mercantile firm Charles Miller & Son continued to advertise in Boston newspapers for a couple of years after the younger man’s move. Eventually Charles Miller, Sr., retired to Quincy, where he had been born. In 1815 former President John Adams noted that foxglove (digitalis) had “lately wrought an almost miraculous cure upon our Neighbour Mr Charles Miller.” But the man died two years later, age seventy-five.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

“He fell lifeless on the ground!”

As I quoted yesterday, the Constitutional Telegraphe of 17 June 1801 was the only Boston newspaper to report on the duel between Edward Rand and Charles Miller, Jr., three days earlier.

I slyly broke off before the end of that passage: “…in which the latter was shot dead on the spot.”

Not that the duelists’ names necessarily appeared in the newspaper in the same order as the first paragraph of this posting.

So I’m still keeping the outcome of the duel from you.

The Federal Galaxy of Brattleboro, Vermont, went into more detail on 29 June:
Having agreed on seconds, they repaired to Dorchester Point early on Sunday morning last;—they then paced out the ground, and the lot was Rand’s to make the first fire; his fire, however, did no execution; Miller then discharged his pistol, the contents of which lodged in his antagonist’s heart, and he fell lifeless on the ground!
Decades later, in the 1859 edition of Notes on Duels and Duelling, Alphabetically Arranged (but not in the 1855 first edition), Lorenzo Sabine set down the story as he’d gathered it:
The late Governor [William] Eustis of Massachusetts (at that time a physician in practice) was on the ground as surgeon. Rand was accompanied by a brother; Miller, by Lieutenant [actually Midshipman] Lewis Warrington, who was subsequently a post-captain in the United States navy, and was distinguished in the war of 1812.

Rand was the challenger. Two shots were exchanged. Miller discharged his first pistol in the air, and then asked his antagonist “if he was satisfied.” The reply of Rand’s second was in the negative.

Miller—who had frequently amused himself with the pistol with the officers stationed at Fort Independence, and who had acquired a great reputation as a marksman—then said: “If I fire again, Mr. Rand will surely fall.”

The parties resumed their position, and at the word fired. Rand was shot through the right breast, and died upon the spot.
Under a 1784 Massachusetts law (follow the link here at HUB History), issuing or accepting a challenge to a duel was illegal, even if you never actually dueled. Anyone helping to arrange a duel was liable for up to £300 fine and six months in jail.

If you killed someone in a duel, you could be arrested and tried for murder. If you ended up convicted and hanged, your body could be dissected and/or buried without a coffin and with a stake through the heart. And the same went for the body of the person killed in the duel.

The picture above shows Dr. William Eustis, reportedly “on the ground as surgeon” during the exchange of shots. He would seem to have been at least arguably liable for abetting the duel. That’s especially striking for two reasons. First, in 1801 Eustis had just been elected to Congress. And second, his brother had died in a duel during the war.

TOMORROW: The aftermath.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

“Terminated in a Duel…at Dorchester Point”

While looking for more ties between Charles Miller and the Boston Patriots, I came across this story from the next generation.

Boston’s Constitutional Telegraphe newspaper reported on 17 June 1801:
We hear, and are concerned to state, as we conceive it a painful task, which we consider to be our duty to perform, to announce to the public an unfortunate dispute between Mr. Charles Miller, jun. and Mr. Edward Rand, both of this town, which terminated in a Duel, early on Sunday morning last, at Dorchester Point…
Charles Miller, Jr., was baptized in King’s Chapel on 18 Nov 1770. So far as I can tell, he was the first and only child of Charles Miller, a younger son of Braintree’s Anglican minister, and his first wife, Elizabeth Cary of Charlestown.

Charles, Jr., followed his father into the mercantile business. Around the turn of the century there are lots of advertisements in Boston papers for goods offered by the firm of “Charles Miller & Son.”

Edward Rand was baptized in Boston’s New North Meetinghouse on 22 Aug 1773. He was the fourth child of Dr. Isaac Rand, Jr., a physician suspected of being a Tory but mostly tolerated because of his medical skills. (Dr. Isaac Rand, Sr., was an active Patriot, caring for soldiers with smallpox during the siege of Boston.) By the end of the 1700s the younger Dr. Rand’s reputation was solid enough that he was elected president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.

In April 1800, Charles P. Phelps (1772–1857) and Edward Rand announced that together they had rented a large store on Codman’s Wharf to sell imported fabric, hardware, and spermaceti candles. They offered to advance cash on consignments and sought “a Lad about 14 years of age” to work for them.

A duel between rising young men from such prominent families was bound to cause talk. In a letter to her youngest, Abigail Adams said: “it is reported that the Quarrel arose about a Female— this is the first instance of the Kind in our State.” Massachusetts had seen some duels before, but not that many involving locals.

The item in the Green Mountain Patriot of Peacham, Vermont, on 2 July avoided using the term “duel,” saying instead that the two men had met “for the purpose of honorably settling an honorable dispute.”

The Federal Galaxy of Brattleboro broke the full story on 29 June:

A report of a late duel in Boston has been current in town for ten days past—A letter dated Boston, June 17, received by the Editor, from his friend residing there, gives the following recital of the event:

“Some misunderstanding having taken place between Messr. Charles Miller, jun. and Isaac [sic] Rand, (respectable merchants in Boston) which originated respecting a certain young lady, to whom Miller had paid his addresses; after giving each other some hard words, Rand sent Miller a challenge, which was accepted. Having agreed on seconds, they repaired to Dorchester Point early on Sunday morning last;…”
Decades later, Rand’s business partner Phelps wrote in an unpublished memoir that the lady was “from Rhode Island,” but I located no source identifying her.

After describing the action, the letter in the Federal Galaxy stated:
“You will find no mention made of this affair in the Boston papers, as the several printers have been requested by the parents of Miller and Rand, not to notice it.”
And indeed the Constitutional Telegraphe’s article appears to be the only report printed inside Boston. It was, however, reprinted outside the town from Maine to Virginia.

TOMORROW: Who lived, who died, who told the story.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

A Job Recommendation from Dr. Warren

Last month the Times Observer newspaper of Warren, Pennsylvania, reported on an exhibit at the local historical society that included a letter from Dr. Joseph Warren, the city’s namesake.

According to the society’s managing director, a man named John Blair donated the letter in 1976, not saying how he had obtained it. “It’s been housed in a safe at the Historical Society that hasn’t been inventoried so the letter had been forgotten to some degree.”

A transcription of this letter was included in Richard Frothingham’s 1865 biography of Warren, so the text has been available to scholars. That book says it was addressed to the Massachusetts committee of safety, which met in Cambridge while the Provincial Congress was in Watertown.  

The society’s transcription of the letter is:
Watertown May 12, 1775.


Mr. Pigeon is now sick, his business must be attended to, he requests that Mr. Charles Miller the Bearer hereof may be appointed his assistant and immediately directed to go upon Business – pray desire the young Gentleman you were pleased to appoint to be my clerk, to attend here as I have much writing to do and want a number of papers copied for the use of Congress.

I am Gentn. you most obed svt
Jos. Warren
“Mr. Pigeon” was John Pigeon of Newton, the congress’s commissary. Within a few weeks he was replaced, unable to keep up with the demands of the job. Once the Continental Congress assumed responsibility for the army around Boston, it appointed Joseph Trumbull the commissary general.

Charles Miller (1742–1817) was deputy commissary general under both Pigeon and Trumbull, working out of Cambridge. At the end of the siege he returned to Boston, where he had been a merchant, and continued to gather food and supplies for the army. He later became senior warden at King’s Chapel before retiring to his native Braintree/Quincy.

In 1779 Miller’s wife Elizabeth was hosting Dr. Warren’s eldest daughter, Betsey. According to Samuel Forman’s biography of the doctor, citing letters of Mercy Scollay, the Millers also took in the mysterious Sally Edwards.

TOMORROW: The next generation.

Monday, May 13, 2024

How the Massachusetts Press Responded to the 1783 Earthquake

Prompted by Karen Kleemann’s article quoted yesterday, I looked at how Massachusetts newspapers treated the 29 Nov 1783 earthquake and found some interesting details.

First, we’re used to a standard time extending across an entire time zone. But before railroads, every town had its own noon, and therefore its own perception of when something big happened.

The Massachusetts Gazette and General Advertiser in Springfield said this earthquake was felt “at 40 minutes past 10 o’clock.” The Boston Gazette reported it at “about six minutes before eleven o’clock.” And the Salem Gazette pegged it “at about 11 o’clock.” Of course, it took a few seconds for the shock to travel between those places. The big difference in those times came from how the Earth spins.

All those reports appeared in the first week of December. Starting on 8 December, Massachusetts newspapers began reporting on other places people detected the quake. Printers wondered if it wasn’t as small an event as it first seemed. On 12 December, the Salem Gazette said the shaking was definitely worse in Connecticut and New York.

By 18 December, the newspapers from Philadelphia had arrived, and Massachusetts printers could share details from nearer the epicenter in New Jersey. China and pewter thrown off shelves! People woken from sleep! Aftershocks later the same night!

Still, there were no deaths. Earlier in the year, American newspapers had reprinted news of many people dying from earthquakes in Italy, and similar reports from China.

Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy editorialized:
This year must make a conspicuous figure in the instructive records of Time: Great revolutions have occured in the natural and political world.

In Europe the convulsions of nature have destroyed a great part of Sicily, &c. with about one hundred thousand inhabitants. In America such events have taken place, as were before unknown to its civilized inhabitants.

What gratitude is due from us to heaven for its Benedictions—Independence, as a Nation, with the blessings of Peace; and that we have not in the first transports of our national existence met with those calamities that might in a moment have reduced our Continent to its original Chaos!
The Salem Gazette’s 12 December follow-up to its first report ran just above a local disaster with real damage: A fire in John Piemont’s barn in Ipswich had killed one cow and consumed all his hay for the winter.

Back in 1770, Piemont was a hair stylist at the center of Boston, and at the center of Boston events, as I discussed back here. He was able to bounce back from this fire, and in 1784 advertised that he once more offered a stable for horses.

(The broadside shown above dates from almost thirty years after this quake.)

Sunday, May 12, 2024

“A small shock of an Earthquake” in 1783

Last fall the Heidelberg Center for American Studies shared Katrin Kleemann’s remarks about an earthquake that rattled a lot of the northern U.S. of A. in late 1783.

Kleemann wrote:
Many of the diaries I studied in the American archives mentioned this earthquake—in Philadelphia, New Haven, Boston, and Worcester. Most of these entries are really brief, usually only consisting of a few words, such as the line “Between 10 & 11 [pm] a small shock of an Earthquake” from Cotton Tufts’ diary on 29 November 1783. He lived in Weymouth, Massachusetts. The fact that diarists from several different states reported on the earthquake, means the earthquake must have been felt over a large area and must in fact have been quite strong, but not strong enough to cause widespread destruction.

Several contemporary newspapers also featured reports about this earthquake, such as this one above in the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, published in Philadelphia, from 2 December 1783:
“On Saturday night last, about a quarter after ten o’clock, a smart shock of an earthquake was felt in and about this city; and about one o’clock on Sunday morning another, less violent, was felt by many people in the city and suburbs. Most of the houses were very sensibly shaken so that in many the china and pewter, &c. were thrown off the shelves, and several persons were waked [sic] from their sleep. We hope that the country has sustained no damage by this convulsion of nature, which brings fresh to our memory the late calamities of Italy, &c, &c.”
Indeed, the earthquake(s) seemed to have awoken many people along the East Coast…
Kleemann’s primary focus is on climate events. I’ve noted her interesting essays in past postings. Last year she published A Mist Connection: An Environmental History of the Laki Eruption of 1783 and Its Legacy.

TOMORROW: The local angle.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

My Latest from the Journal of the American Revolution

Last month the Journal of the American Revolution published my article “Dr. Warren’s Critical Informant.”

Built from postings on this site over the years, this article proposed an identity for the “person kept in pay” by the Boston Patriots in early 1775.

Dr. Joseph Warren reportedly consulted that informant just before sending William Dawes and Paul Revere out to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of a British march on 18 Apr 1775.

I also chatted about that article with Brady Crytzer in an episode of the Dispatches podcast.

In addition, this month I received my contributor copy of the 2024 collection of articles from the journal, shown above. This volume includes the print version of my article “The Return of Samuel Dyer,” which can be read on the website in two parts.

Friday, May 10, 2024

“They fought as suits the English breed”?

Today the grave of the two British soldiers killed at Concord’s North Bridge (and part of one soldier killed in Lincoln) is in Minute Man National Historical Park. The town of Concord began the process of preserving it, so it’s well marked. There are regular ceremonies to remember those men.

Among the markers is one engraved with lines that James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) wrote after seeing the site and published in The Anti-Slavery Standard in March 1849.

The full poem has more to say about Americans than British, and reflects Lowell’s ideas of race, historical progress, and his own New England heritage:
Suggested by the Graves of Two English Soldiers on Concord Battle-ground.

The same good blood that now refills
The dotard Orient’s shrunken veins,
The same whose vigor westward thrills,
Bursting Nevada’s silver chains,
Poured here upon the April grass,
Freckled with red the herbage new;
On reeled the battle’s trampling mass,
Back to the ash the bluebird flew.

Poured here in vain;—that sturdy blood
Was meant to make the earth more green,
But in a higher, gentler mood
Than broke this April noon serene;
Two graves are here: to mark the place,
At head and foot, an unhewn stone,
O’er which the herald lichens trace
The blazon of Oblivion.

These men were brave enough, and true
To the hired soldier’s bull-dog creed;
What brought them here they never knew,
They fought as suits the English breed:
They came three thousand miles, and died,
To keep the Past upon its throne;
Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.

The turf that covers them no thrill
Sends up to fire the heart and brain;
No stronger purpose nerves the will,
No hope renews its youth again:
From farm to farm the Concord glides,
And trails my fancy with its flow;
O’erhead the balanced hen-hawk slides,
Twinned in the river’s heaven below.

But go, whose Bay State bosom stirs,
Proud of thy birth and neighbor’s right,
Where sleep the heroic villagers
Borne red and stiff from Concord fight;
Thought Reuben, snatching down his gun,
Or Seth, as ebbed the life away,
What earthquake rifts would shoot and run
World-wide from that short April fray?

What then? With heart and hand they wrought,
According to their village light;
’T was for the Future that they fought,
Their rustic faith in what was right.
Upon earth’s tragic stage they burst
Unsummoned, in the humble sock;
Theirs the fifth act; the curtain first
Rose long ago on Charles’s block.

Their graves have voices: if they threw
Dice charged with fates beyond their ken,
Yet to their instincts they were true,
And had the genius to be men.
Fine privilege of Freedom’s host,
Of even foot-soldiers for the Right!—
For centuries dead, ye are not lost,
Your graves send courage forth, and might.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

How Many British Soldiers Are Buried beside the North Bridge?

How many British soldiers are buried beside the North Bridge in Concord?

On some night late in 1891, George R. Brooks and other local worthies took a cranium given up by the Worcester Society of Antiquity and interred it in the patch of ground beside the bridge long marked as the grave of two redcoats.

In doing so, they believed they were restoring one of two skulls that had been removed from that grave decades before.

That would have left slightly less than two British soldiers buried there.

Those men were convinced that the phrenologist Walton Felch had dug up those skulls with the permission of the Concord selectmen back around 1840, shortly after the town had erected its obelisk monument to the fighting on 19 Apr 1775.

They were also convinced that the skull they had failed to return was damaged, based on a series of musts:
  • If the two skulls were unearthed in Concord, they must have come from the grave beside the North Bridge because that was the only grave of British soldiers in town with two bodies.
  • If the skulls came from the grave at the North Bridge, they must have belonged to the soldiers killed at that bridge, including the one Ammi White hit in the head with a hatchet.
  • If one of those skulls came from a man killed by a hatchet blow to the head, that skull must have shown severe damage.
And thus, even though no one reported actually seeing a damaged second skull in the latter half of the 1800s, people became convinced that it was “demoralized.”

But what if the initial premise of that logical chain was wrong? Because that’s what the evidence from ante-bellum Concord says.

First of all, in 1840 schoolboy Edmund Quincy Sewall, Jr., went to hear the phrenologist Walton Felch at the Concord Lyceum. Right afterward, Edmund wrote in his diary that the man had the top part of the skull of a British soldier with a bullet hole through it, and that cranium had been “dug up in Lincoln,” not Concord.

Second, in 1850 Henry David Thoreau spoke with William Wheeler, who described seeing Felch dig up two skulls years before in an “almost unused graveyard in Lincoln.” Wheeler’s description of a bullet hole through one cranium matched young Edmund’s.

Third, in 1836 the town of Concord chose to erect its monument near where two soldiers had been shot and buried. Lots of people paid attention to that spot, including the Rev. Dr. Ezra Ripley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other town leaders. There was also a contingent in Concord who had wanted the monument built elsewhere. The selectmen couldn’t have authorized opening the soldiers’ graves without people in town knowing, and at least some of them criticizing the idea. There would have been no secrets.

In contrast, Lincoln had had a lot more British soldiers to bury back in April 1775. So many that local men simply carted those bodies to the town burying-ground and placed them in a single grave in the paupers’ section. By the 1830s that old cemetery was largely ignored. Lincoln didn’t put up any marker for those bodies until 1884. In sum, few people in Lincoln probably cared whether those bodies were disturbed.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Lincoln’s town records from the late 1830s show the selectmen granting Felch permission to explore the cemetery. And I wouldn’t be surprised if those records say nothing about Felch’s request; the selectmen may not have cared enough to take formal action. Unlike in Concord, how to treat the remains of British soldiers in Lincoln wasn’t a monumental decision.

In the following years Felch described his skulls as those of soldiers killed in the “Battle of Concord.” Some listeners heard, or remembered, that as meaning the soldiers had died in the town of Concord. By the time Albert Tyler and Daniel Seagrave were asking his widow about the skulls, Felch wasn’t around to correct that idea. So those men and their Worcester Society of Antiquity colleagues understood the skulls as having come from Concord.

That mistaken belief led to museum labels and newspaper articles about the remaining skull from Concord—reportedly unearthed with the selectmen’s approval. Men from Concord started to whisper about how that reflected on them and their forefathers. They constructed the logical chain above. And ultimately we reach the moment in 1891 when Concord antiquarians were secretly digging in the dirt beside the North Bridge, not to investigate but to partially rectify a breach of etiquette from fifty years before.

But that wasn’t really necessary. The last time that skull had been in Concord, it was still healthy, even if its owner might have come under fire. That soldier didn’t die until a bullet pierced his brain in Lincoln. In 1891 the rest of that man’s body was still in Lincoln, and whatever remains of it is there now.

Buried in the grave beside Concord’s North Bridge are slightly more than two British soldiers.