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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Monday, March 08, 2021

“The End of Tory Row” Online, 11 March

On the evening of Thursday, 11 March, I’ll offer an online presentation for the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site about “The End of Tory Row.”

For the past several years, I’ve spoken about that mansion’s Revolutionary history each March around Evacuation Day.

Usually those talks have focused on Gen. George Washington, who used the house as his headquarters from July 1775 to April 1776, and challenges he faced. Last year, for example, I shared information about Native American visitors to Cambridge during Washington’s time and his efforts at diplomacy on the continent.

That was the last public event I attended for many months. The audience was small and the chairs distanced, according to the protocols of the time. Soon most local institutions shut down completely for visitors. Historical talks moved online, which has brought both technical difficulties and benefits in wider access.

This year’s talk will look at how what’s now Brattle Street in Cambridge became a neighborhood of wealthy households, all related to John Vassall, the man who in 1759 commissioned and moved into that mansion. And how in September 1774 that enclave dissolved under political and militia pressure. I’ll also discuss how that neighborhood’s lifestyle depended both economically and in daily life on the exploitation of slavery.

I’ve discussed the Vassall family and the events of September 1774 before, but this year I’m trying to make more of the online format by incorporating more visuals and perhaps even moving footage. There will be a live question-and-answer session after the presentation.

This online event is free to all through support from the Friends of Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters, the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, and the National Park Service. To register in order to receive the viewing link, please start at this page. The event will start at 7:00 P.M. on Thursday.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

“Emptied and threw the Tea into the Water”

On Sunday, 6 Mar 1774, as described yesterday, the brig Fortune carried 28 1/2 chests of tea into Boston harbor, along with “Gun-Powder, Duck and Hemp.”

“The next day,” Gov. Thomas Hutchinson wrote, “the vessel was haled to the wharffe, where the vessels lay which had the East India Company’s tea.” And we know what had happened to that tea the preceding December.

That same Monday, the Boston Gazette ran this calm and measured item:

Messi’rs Edes & Gill, PUBLISH THIS!

It is said that Capt. [Benjamin] Gorham who is just arrived from London, has brought Forty Chests of that baneful, detested, dutied Article TEA, shipped by the East-India Company, their Brokers or Employers, and consigned to HENRY LLOYD, Esq; of this Town, Merchant.

Justice to ourselves and to AMERICA—Justice even to the other Consignees—A Regard to our own Reputation and Honor—Every Obligation binds us most SOLEMNLY, at once to DETERMINE ABSOLUTELY to oppose its Landing—Experience has fully convinced us that the Governor and the Custom-House Officers concern’d will lay INSUPERABLE Bars in the Way of sending it back to London. The Consent of the Consignee to have it return’d would be to no Purpose, if he be waited upon to request it.

The SACHEMS must have a Talk upon this Matter—Upon THEM we depend to extricate us out of this fresh Difficulty; and to THEIR Decisions all the GOOD People will say, AMEN!
That dispatch got some factual details wrong—namely, the number of tea chests, who had sent them, and who was to receive them.

But the Whig newspaper was accurate in predicting the royal authorities would make no compromises to allow the tea to be returned to Britain.

The owners of the FortuneThomas Walley, Peter Boyer, and William Thompson—laid out what they were doing that Monday in the next Boston News-Letter. With Lloyd, who had been sent sixteen tea chests; Henry Bromfield, who owned much of the ship’s cargo; and Gorham they “applied to the Collector and Comptroller of the Customs, and unitedly requested a Qualification for the Vessel to return with the Tea.” Because otherwise, they declared, there was “Danger of this Tea’s being destroyed.”

The Customs officers replied:
it was absolutely contrary to their Duty, and therefore could not give any Papers to qualify the Vessel to go back; and that although no Report [legal notice of the arrival] had been then made, yet she could not go away without being liable to be seized, and that even if they should give a Clearance, she would inevitably be stopped by the Officers of the King’s Ships, who were also Custom-House Officers . . . moreover that she could not be reported that Day after two o’Clock, and if not reported within 24 Hours the Capt. as liable to a Penalty of £100 Sterling.
Seeing where his interest lay, Capt. Gorham quickly reported the ship’s arrival and “took out a Permit to unlade the Gun-Powder.” Everyone agreed that was a good idea.

As for further steps, Boston town clerk William Cooper wrote to the Brookline committee of correspondence, seeking to rebuild the united front that had formed the preceding December:
We think it our duty to acquaint you that a Brigantine Benjamin Gorham Master is just arrived from London with a quantity of Tea on board liable to a duty: We ask the favor of your Company at the Selectmens Chamber in Boston toMorrow afternoon 3. OClock in order for a joint consultation, relative to this matter——
As it turned out, that meeting became moot.

Evening fell. Illuminated pictures of the Boston Massacre shone out from the windows of Mary Clapham’s Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street. (That display had been postponed from the 5th because that fell on the eve of the Sabbath.) As I recounted back here, in 1774 there was a new image attacking Gov. Hutchinson and Chief Justice Peter Oliver.

Bostonians had spent weeks talking about what to do with the first three shiploads of tea. They had no patience left for the Fortune. In the words of a petition from shippers in London:
about Eight o’Clock in the Evening…a great Number of Persons all of whom were unknown to the Captain and many of them disguised and dressed and talking like Indians armed with Axes and Hatchets with Force and violence entered on Board the said Vessel and broke open the Hatches and proceeded to rummage the Hold and hoisted out Twenty eight Chests of Tea…upon the Deck of the said Vessel and there with Hatchets axes and Clubs broke open the said Chests and emptied and threw the Tea into the Water whereby the same was wholly lost and destroyed.
That was the lesser-known second Boston Tea Party on the night of 7 Mar 1774.

COMING UP: Discussing the “Indians.”

Saturday, March 06, 2021

“Chests of Bohea tea consigned to several persons”

At three o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday, 6 Mar 1774, Bostonians were jolted by the arrival of the brig Fortune.

More specifically, people were jolted by the news that that ship was carrying chests of tea. This was about ten weeks after the Boston Tea Party and about five weeks after local shopkeepers had agreed not to sell any tea.

Thomas Newell wrote in his diary for that day:
Captain Benjamin Gorham, nine weeks from London, brought 28 1/2 chests of Bohea tea consigned to several persons here.
Who were those “several persons”? Sixteen chests—more than half of the total—were consigned to Henry Lloyd (1709-1795), a wealthy Anglican merchant with relatives locally and on Long Island in New York. Those chests had been shipped to him by the London partnership of Monkhouse Davison and Abraham Newman, with insurance to the amount of £480 backed up five other London businessmen.

A letter to the Boston News-Letter identified “a principal Freighter in said Vessel” as “Mr. Bromfield”—the merchant Henry Bromfield (1727-1820). The Fortune carried a variety of cargo, so it’s possible Bromfield had no tea assigned to him, but it’s also possible he was supposed to receive up to 12 1/2 chests.

Three other businessmen also had a big financial interest in the situation: the owners of the Fortune, who were Thomas Walley, Peter Boyer, and William Thompson.

Thompson is hard to trace, not least because his name was so common. Walley and Boyer, on the other hand, were stalwart members of Boston’s mercantile and civic community. Walley had held town offices since 1763 while Boyer had served on town committees. Both those men dined with Boston’s Sons of Liberty in August 1769. They had signed most of the petitions and non-importation agreements of the past ten years.

What’s more, Boyer was one of the fifteen men whose names Paul Revere had engraved on the so-called “Sons of Liberty Bowl.” In 1770 the Boston town meeting had chosen Boyer for a committee “to draw up an Agreement for the Shopkeepers that have or do deal in Tea, not to dispose of any more of that Article untill the Revenue Acts are repealed.”

So how did those men’s ship end up carrying tea? That’s what they’d like to know, they said. In a 9 March letter to Richard Draper, printer of the Boston News-Letter, Walley, Boyer, and Thompson declared that back in September they had sent the Fortune to London “to have her sold.” They had told Capt. Gorham that if he couldn’t obtain their low asking price, he should bring back “a Quantity of Hemp on the Owners Account.”

As for tea, those three merchants said, they had been explicit in their instructions:
P.S. We are informed the India Company intend to ship a Quantity of Tea to this Place in private Ships,—if our brig should come back on Freight, we absolutely refuse to take on board any Tea for that Company, let the Offer be never so advantageous, or our Loss in the Sale of the Vessel never so great.
Yet the Fortune had returned with tea. Not shipped directly by the East India Company to its North American agents, but tea nonetheless. What‘s more, “a certain William Bowes, Brazier on Dock-Square,” was telling people that the ship’s owners had “imported a Quantity of Tea in that Vessel upon their own Account.” That they firmly denied.

But still, what could be done with the 28 1/2 chests of tea aboard the Fortune? For ten weeks people all over eastern Massachusetts had worked to keep all British tea out of the colony, even chests washed overboard in a shipwreck.

The situation was a powder keg—almost literally, since the Fortune was also carrying gunpowder.

TOMORROW: Attempts at official action.

Friday, March 05, 2021

“My sincere attachment to the interest of my country”

On the morning of 3 Mar 1774, Andrew Oliver, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, died. He had previously held the offices of provincial secretary and stamp agent, though of course he never got to do any work in that last capacity.

John Adams viewed Oliver as one of ”the original Conspirators against the Public Liberty,” for monopolizing offices with his brother Peter and their relative by marriage Thomas Hutchinson; for reporting on the Council’s sensitive discussion after the Massacre; and for urging changes to the colonial constitution in the “Hutchinson Letters.”

Adams and colleagues quickly started speculating about what Oliver’s death might mean. At a dinner party the consensus was “Peter Oliver will be made Lieutenant Governor, Hutchinson will go home, and probably be continued Governor but reside in England, and Peter Oliver will reside here and rule the Province.” (That didn’t happen.)

The more immediate worry for the Boston Whigs was the 1774 Massacre oration. Past orators had been Dr. Thomas Young, James Lovell, Dr. Joseph Warren, and Dr. Benjamin Church, all known for their newspaper essays and/or poetry. But for this year the oration committee had decided the speaker would be John Hancock.

Though Hancock had been a selectman, General Court representative, and militia officer for several years, he wasn’t known for his public eloquence. Nor his rhetorical skills. Nor his hale and reliable health. But Hancock was prominent and popular, educated and young. If he wanted to deliver the oration, his colleagues couldn’t say no.

Evidence suggests that the Whigs clustered around Hancock to ensure his speech was up to par. In his autobiography John Adams recalled, “Mr. Samuel Adams told me that Dr. Church and Dr. Warren had composed Mr. Hancocks oration…, more than two thirds of it at least.” Other sources credited Samuel Adams himself and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper, Hancock’s eloquent minister.

On Saturday the 5th, Boston men gathered at Faneuil Hall for their first official town meeting since the previous November. They quickly went through the ritual of voting to have an oration, inviting Hancock to deliver it, and adjourning to the Old South Meeting-House, the largest enclosed space in town. The crowd gathered. The orator entered. The Whigs held their breaths.

Hancock’s speech began with remarks about his speaking abilities not being up to the occasion, traditional rhetoric but in this case perhaps right on the nose:
The attentive gravity; the venerable appearance of this crowded audience; the dignity which I behold in the countenances of so many in this great assembly; the solemnity of the occasion upon which we have met together, joined to a consideration of the part I am to take in the important business of this day, fill me with an awe hitherto unknown, and heighten the sense which I have ever had of my unworthiness to fill this sacred desk. But, allured by the call of some of my respected fellow-citizens, with whose request it is always my greatest pleasure to comply, I almost forgot my want of ability to perform what they required.

In this situation I find my only support in assuring myself that a generous people will not severely censure what they know was well intended, though its want of merit should prevent their being able to applaud it. And I pray that my sincere attachment to the interest of my country, and the hearty detestation of every design formed against her liberties, may be admitted as some apology for my appearance in this place.
Soon he started to spout the fiery rhetoric about the killings four years earlier:
Tell me, ye bloody butchers! ye villains high and low! ye wretches who contrived, as well as you who executed the inhuman deed! do you not feel the goads and stings of conscious guilt pierce through your savage bosoms? Though some of you may think yourselves exalted to a height that bids defiance to human justice, and others shroud yourselves beneath the mask of hypocrisy, and build your hopes of safety on the low arts of cunning, chicanery, and falsehood, yet do you not sometimes feel the gnawings of that worm which never dies? Do not the injured shades of Maverick, Gray, Caldwell, Attucks, and Carr attend you in your solitary walks, arrest you even in the midst of your debaucheries, and fill even your dreams with terror?
It’s noteworthy that that is the only passage in all the orations preserved between 1771 and 1783 to name all the people who died in the Massacre. I suspect that reflected Hancock’s instinct for democratic politics—which was actually sharper than most of his colleagues’.

Son and grandson of ministers, Hancock ultimately turned to exhorting his audience to look to their own moral virtue. He got particular points for warning the crowd against following the allure of rich, dishonest men:
Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed, by the soft arts of luxury and effeminacy, into the pit digged for your destruction. Despise the glare of wealth. That people who pay greater respect to a wealthy villain than to an honest, upright man in poverty, almost deserve to be enslaved; they plainly show that wealth, however it may be acquired, is, in their esteem, to be preferred to virtue.

But I thank God that America abounds in men who are superior to all temptation, whom nothing can divert from a steady pursuit of the interest of their country, who are at once its ornament and safeguard.
Again, I suspect that those words, whoever wrote them, reflected Hancock’s own convictions. He inherited a fortune and spent it down on politics, dying a popular but less wealthy man.

As for how people responded to John Hancock’s 1774 oration, I wrote about that last year.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Ripples from the Boston Tea Party in 1774

Without the Boston Massacre reenactment looming over my schedule this year, I’ll devote the next few days to the events of early March 1774.

That was less than three months after the Boston Tea Party, and the ripples from that big splash in the harbor were still spreading.

Most Bostonians were excited about how the event had turned out. The local Sons of Liberty had kept the tea tax from being collected, but they hadn’t hurt any other property or any people. Other towns and ports along the American coast sent messages of support.

On 20 January an agreement among Boston merchants and shopkeepers to stop selling all tea, regardless of tax status, took effect. The Whigs hauled three barrels of tea to King Street and burned them in front of the customs house.

To be sure, there was still some tea circulating in the colony. A fourth tea ship, the William, had wrecked on Cape Cod, and some chests had been salvaged from the wreck. Local Whig crowds were chasing those down.

Meanwhile, the London government was digesting reports of disorder in Boston the previous fall—even before the tea destruction. Ministers considered the big public meetings and the attack on Richard Clarke’s family warehouse described here. On 5 February, Secretary of State Dartmouth sent Attorney-General Edward Thurlow (1731-1806, shown above) evidence about those events.

Six days later, Thurlow and Solicitor-General Alexander Wedderburn replied that several Bostonians had likely committed high treason. They specifically noted:
The conduct of Mr. [William] Molynieux, and…[William] Denny, [Dr. Joseph] Warren, [Dr. Benjamin] Church, and Jonathan [Williams?] who in the characters of a committee went to the length of attacking Clarke, are chargeable with the crime of High Treason; and if it can be established in evidence, that they were so employed by the select men of Boston, Town Clerk, and members of the House of Representatives, these also are guilty of the same offence.
The law officers also cited Samuel Adams and Dr. Thomas Young for their work on the committee of correspondence and John Hancock for participating in the armed patrols that kept the tea from being landed. Of course, securing prosecutions of any of those men was a bigger challenge.

Also in early February, King George III interviewed Gen. Thomas Gage, commander in chief of the army in North America. Gage stated “his readiness, though so lately come from America, to return at a day’s notice if the conduct of the Colonies should induce the directing coercive measures.” He also opined that those measures wouldn’t need any more troops.

And all the while, a ship called the Fortune was plying the Atlantic toward Boston, carrying more tea.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

The Boston Massacre’s Political Resonance

The Boston Massacre was a political event, of course.

It arose from conflicts between sources of authority—the imperial government and the town government, the British army and the local community, two groups of people feeling threatened and in the right.

In the immediate aftermath, the Whigs memorialized that event as part of that larger political campaign. Then in 1783, when independence had been won and the U.S. of A. was no longer part of internal British politics, Boston stopped commissioning orations every March.

The Massacre gained new political meaning in the mid-1800s as William Cooper Nell and other abolitionists used the figure of Crispus Attucks to argue that Americans of African descent had long been central to the nation and deserved equal rights.

As Mitch Kachun traces in First Martyr of Liberty, Attucks became an emblem of African-American patriotism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When Boston erected a monument to the Massacre victims on the Common in 1889, black civil rights campaigners had been among its strongest proponents, and it was informally called “the Crispus Attucks monument.” (Not to be left out, Irish-Americans pointed to Patrick Carr and German-Americans to Christopher Seider as important martyrs.)

Other African-American heroes and models became prominent in the twentieth century, and Attucks’s name lost some of its resonance. In Boston, Melnea Cass revived the tradition of Crispus Attucks Day, shown in this photograph from 1970. His inspiration and her legacy will be discussed at Revolutionary Spaces’s ”Grief, Remembrance, Justice” online panel discussion on 5 March at 5:00 P.M.

Two months after that 1970 anniversary, National Guardsmen shot and killed four student protesters at Kent State University. Within days, Eric Hinderarker reports in Boston’s Massacre, someone published the poster shown above, paralleling the shooting on King Street and the shooting in Ohio. At almost the same time, Mississippi police officers killed two more students at Jackson State University.

Blacks were not the only Americans seeing their cause reflected in the Massacre of 1770. In Boston, the Bicentennial coincided with a federal court instituting busing to integrate schools. One of the more militant white groups resisting that order, R.O.A.R., attended the 1775 Massacre reenactment in force. When the muskets fired, as J. Anthony Lukas recounted here, scores of those protesters fell down, too—assuming the role of victims of an oppressive government.

The 1999 reenactment was the first I attended in a long time. It came a month after New York detectives had killed an African immigrant named Amadou Diallo, shooting 41 rounds at the unarmed man sitting on his front stoop. The current issue of the New Yorker, dated 8 March, showed a white policeman at a fairground shooting booth with a sign that read “41 Shots 10¢.” At the reenactment, I recall hearing a couple of spectators shout, “Forty-one shots for a dime!”

Last May after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest on Boston Common, Boston police forcefully went after straggling groups of protesters, resulting in arrests, looting, and vandalism. There was slight damage to some historic sites and statuary. In subsequent days the governor called out the state militia, and Jake Sconyers caught a resonant image of a military vehicle parked in front of the Old State House on a spot where some of the crowd had stood on 5 March 1770.

As long as we have conflicting sources of authority, as long as groups feel threatened, rightly or wrongly—in other words, for the foreseeable future—the Massacre will continue to have contemporary political resonance.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The New Massachusetts Spy

Two hundred and fifty years ago, the Massachusetts Spy had gone a full month without a new issue.

Zechariah Fowle and Isaiah Thomas had launched that newspaper in the summer of 1770 with ambitious goals. As described back here, it was smaller than the established Boston papers but promised to make up for that by appearing three times a week.

By October, Fowle had dropped out of the enterprise, and the Spy was appearing only twice a week. Thomas was still trying to appeal to more working-class readers than his competitors.

On 2 Feb 1771, Thomas published his last Saturday issue. And the last issue on any day for more than a month. He had already started to solicit subscriptions for a paper with a different design.

On 7 March, Thomas brought the Massachusetts Spy back, now as a weekly newspaper with four pages and four columns per page. In other words, printed in much the same format and at the same schedule as every other Boston newspaper.

The main distinction was that Thomas’s Spy came out on Thursdays, a day that Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter had had to itself for many years. The three other surviving newspapers, including Edes and Gill’s fervently Whig Boston Gazette, were published on Mondays.

Thomas later wrote about how the change in publication affected his business:
The majority of the customers for the former Spy preferred the way in which it had been published, and withdrew their subscriptions. On the appearance of this, the subscribers did not amount to two hundred; but after the first week they encreased daily, and in the course of two years the subscription list was larger than that of any other newspaper printed in Newengland.
I frankly don’t believe that last claim, but there’s no way to know for sure.

As for the newspaper’s editorial line, Thomas claimed political neutrality, printing the front page with the motto: “A Weekly, Political and Commercial PAPER; open to ALL Parties, but influenced by None.” He later wrote:
A number of gentlemen supplied this paper with political essays, which for the time were more particularly calculated for that class of citizens, who had composed the great majority of its readers. For a few weeks, some communications were furnished by those who were in favor of the royal prerogative, but they were exceeded by the writers on the other side; and the authors and subscribers, among the tories, denounced and quitted the Spy. The publisher then devoted it to the cause of his country, supported by the whigs, under whose banners he had enlisted.
In fact, Thomas’s own Whig leaning was in display from that first weekly issue. The first item was a column with thick black borders and a skull ornament mourning “Preston’s Massacre” one year before. With the second issue Thomas added a woodcut of “the goddess of Liberty sitting near a pedestal” to the left of the newspaper’s name. The Massachusetts Spy was another paper firmly behind the liberty party.

(One can buy a poster of the front page of the 7 Mar 1771 issue of the Massachusetts Spy here.)

Monday, March 01, 2021

Events on “Colonial North America” at Harvard

The Harvard University Library has a number of events lined up to spread news of its Colonial North America project.

For nearly a decade, the library has been digitizing manuscripts and archival materials from across the system. Thousands of items can now be studied online.

Thursday, 4 March, 3:00 P.M.
Unveiling the Virtual Exhibit: Portals to the Past, Selections from Colonial North America at Harvard Library
Join gallery co-curator Ross Mulcare on an exclusive first look and behind-the-scenes tour of the “new enhanced exhibition within the 360 virtual Widener Library platform.” In registering here, one can ask about particular people, places, or themes in early America, and they may go onto the list of topics to be discussed.

Monday, 15 March, 3:00 P.M.
A Closer Look at Colonial North America Across Harvard Library
Curatorial experts from the Harvard libraries will deliver “lightning talks,” sharing a favorite early American item from their collection, explaining the context and importance for research of these materials. Again, registering for this session offers the chance to ask about particular topics that the curators could address.

In early April, the “Colonial North America Symposium: Culminating a Multi-Year Digital Project at Harvard Library” will have scholarly discussions spread over three days.

Tuesday, 6 April, 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.
Keynote Address, “Digital Access and Making Early America Vast,” by Karin Wulf, Director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and Professor of History at William & Mary College

Wednesday, 7 April, 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.
Panel, “Using Digitized Manuscript Collections in New Contexts”

Thursday, 8 April, 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.
Panel, ”Artificial Intelligence and Access to Manuscript Materials”

One can sign up for any or all three sessions here.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Long Search for Hercules Posey

At Zagat, the chef and culinary historian Ramin Ganeshram shared the story of her research into Hercules Posey, head cook at Mount Vernon and the Presidential Mansion in Philadelphia until he freed himself from slavery.

In this article, Ganeshram describes the roots of her quest in childhood. Like me, during the Bicentennial she and her family toured the seat of the Continental Congress and other Revolutionary sites, but with a different perspective:

In 1976, I visited Philadelphia and Washington’s Mount Vernon to celebrate the American Bicentennial with my Trinidadian father. As young as I was, I could sense my father was moved as we stood on a long line to see the Liberty Bell. We didn’t know it, but as we waited, we stood on the buried remains of the President’s House where Hercules had lived.

No one talked about the enslaved Africans in the city of independence. It would be decades before the President’s House site was excavated as an open-air exhibit honoring them. It was a week later while visiting George Washington’s Virginia home that I began to viscerally sense this omission, although I was too young to name it. Instead, I sensed it in how my father’s mood changed, how he asked the tour guides about the enslaved people of the house and the field, and how his questions were deflected with twittering Southern charm. Later he brooded a long time at the slave quarters and the kitchen—Hercules’ kitchen. When I asked what was wrong, he just shook his head darkly. For years after, even the mention of Mount Vernon gave me a shifting sense of unease.
Later learning about Posey, Ganeshram started gathering more facts about him. This project took her through a picture book, cancelled at the last moment; a historical novel; experts’ realization that the painting said for decades to be Posey’s portrait was in fact nothing of the kind; and finally her discovery of records of the man in nineteenth-century New York. (In 2019 I recounted her findings and added a data point.)

Ganeshram ends her essay at another location linked to Posey:
When he died of tuberculosis on May 15, 1812, at age 65, Hercules was buried at the 2nd African Burial Ground in Chrystie Street. The cemetery was overflowing its boundaries by the time of Hercules’ death. He, along with others, was likely buried under what is now pavement and roadway. When the cemetery was disinterred in the 19th century and moved to Cypress Hills in Brooklyn, some were left behind. I believe Hercules was among them.

When I first visited the site in 2019, I looked around Chrystie Street with fresh eyes, seeking clues about Hercules. Seeing none, I spoke to him in my mind as I often do, for we have come a long way together. I brooded as I walked. If only I had a sign that I was on the right track. Stopping for a light at a cross-street, I looked at the curb ahead of me and saw a small white van with Hercules Dry Cleaning emblazoned on its side. I pressed on.

The former burial ground is now a private lot with an apartment building. At the southern end of Chrystie street hulks the Manhattan Bridge. Across the street is a public park where I have been encouraging New York City’s parks department to place a commemorative plaque for the Burial Ground, the once-thriving Free Black community, and for Hercules Posey—who was America’s first celebrity chef and so much more.
This post from the New York Cemetery Project has maps showing where the city’s Second African Burying Ground lay.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Studying America’s Earliest Jewish Communities

The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society is offering an online course on “Freedoms and Challenges: America’s Earliest Jewish Communities, 1650–1840” starting on 2 March.

The course description says:
American Jewish history begins over 100 years before the United States was founded, and the experiences of the earliest Jews lay out the foundational themes of America itself. In this four-part course we will explore the writings, architecture, ideas, and daily lives of American’s earliest Jewish individuals and communities—lives that were vigorous, variegated, and experimental.

Issues they faced still concern us today: desires of individuals vs. communities; the relationships of different communities to one another; how experiences differ by generation, geography, and gender; and the overall strategies, choices, and responses we make in creating and securing our identities in a nation that does not fully define them for us.
The teacher is Ellen Smith, Professor Emerita at Brandeis University. In September 2020 she retired as Director of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, having taught in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and the Heller School for Social Management. Trained as a professional historian and a museum curator, Smith has produced over three dozen books, articles, and exhibitions on American Jewish history. She is the co-author and editor, with Jonathan D. Sarna, of The Jews of Boston and was the chief consultant to the Emmy award-winning WGBH television show of the same name. Prof. Smith is a past Curator of the American Jewish Historical Society, and was the Chief Curator in the planning stage of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

There are four classes scheduled, all at 4:00 to 5:30 P.M. on Tuesdays:
  • 2 March: Accidents and Opportunities
  • 9 March: Promise or Peril?
  • 16 March: American and Jewish Revolutions
  • 23 March: Beyond the Northeast
Participants will continue to have access to course materials until 30 June. The cost for this class is $85. People can register here.

The photo above shows the gravestone of Judah Monis. Its first part reads:
Here lies buried the remains of RABBI
instructer at HARVARD College in
Cambridge in which office he continued 40
years. He was by Birth and Religion a Jew but
embrac’d the Christian faith & was publickly
baptiz’d at Cambridge, AD 1722 and
departed this life April 25, 1764 Aged
81 years 2 months and 21 days.
After that are quotations from five Bible verses, three from the Hebrew Bible and two from the New Testament.

Monis was the most prominent man of Jewish ancestry in eighteenth-century Massachusetts, especially since there was practically no competition. Unlike Newport, Rhode Island, colonial Boston didn’t have enough Jewish people to form a community.

Monis was born in Italy in a family that had converted to Christianity under pressure, but he studied at Jewish academies there and in the Netherlands. He arrived in New York in 1715. Five years later, Monis came to Harvard College, earning an M.A. degree by writing a Hebrew grammar. The college asked him to teach Hebrew but required that he adopt Congregationalism. Monis’s conversion was controversial for both Jews and Christians in America, and he never became a professor, only an instructor connected to the college. Nonetheless, he was respected as the expert on his topic for decades. In his final years Monis lived with relatives in Northboro, where he was buried.