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, July 05, 2024

Isaac Bissell and My “More Plausible Scenario”

Earlier this week the Journal of the American Revolution published my article “The Story of Isaac Bissell—and the Legend of Israel Bissell.”

With the sestercentennial of the Battle of Lexington and Concord coming up next spring, I thought it was high time to put on record the evidence that the name of the man who carried Joseph Palmer’s alert from Watertown was Isaac Bissell, not (as the name was first misspelled by people copying it in a hurry) Israel Bissell.

That core identification was made years back by Lion G. Miles, and I give him full credit in the article, as I have in my talks on the topic.

I also felt obligated to add something new to the story if I could. That led me into digging up new material on the close but secret relations between the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the government of Connecticut, an earlier note sent by Palmer, and the details of Connecticut’s alert.

But still, the core of this article is Isaac, not Israel, Bissell.

The first footnote ends:
As of this writing, Wikipedia includes entries for both Isaac Bissell and Israel Bissell, the latter supposedly taking over in Worcester from a man with a nearly identical name. This article presents a more plausible scenario.
The same situation pertains today. It’s hard to correct hallowed traditions, even if replacing the name of one young Connecticut farmer for another makes little difference to most people today.

If during next spring’s anniversary more commemorations and articles name Isaac Bissell, I’ll feel this study has fulfilled its purpose.

We can thank Israel Bissell for his brief military service in 1776 and acknowledge that lauding him for the last century was literally a typographical error.


Don Carleton said...

Your observations about the repercussions of a typographical error put me in mind of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, the whole plot of which is set in motion by a clerk's mistyping the surname "Buttle" instead of "Tuttle" albeit with rather more tragic consequences...

J. L. Bell said...

Fortunately, Israel Bissell was never detained and interrogated by the authorities. Indeed, he died long before he became famous.

Though it’s possible that news of his name appearing in the Norwich Packet did filter back to him. Perhaps we can imagine what a merry mix-up occurred then!