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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Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Goat from Bunker Hill?

Because today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, I’m stepping away from the topics of medical diagnosis and post-traumatic stress in the Revolutionary War to address a different burning question:

Was there a goat at the Battle of Bunker Hill?

In the first decade of this century the Royal Welch battalion of the British army, successor to the Royal Welch Fusiliers or 23rd Regiment of the eighteenth century, had a goat mascot named William Windsor. Naturally, he has his own Wikipedia page, which explains:
The tradition of having goats in the military originated in 1775,[2] when a wild goat walked onto the battlefield in Boston[2] during the American Revolutionary War and led the Welsh regimental colours at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill.[3][4]
Look at all those citations! Of course, most of them are to 2009 newspaper articles about William Windsor’s retirement to a zoo. Others lead to the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum.

That museum offers a P.D.F. file listing all the goat mascots, but it goes back only to 1844. Those are all the “royal goats,” however, presented to the unit by Queen Victoria and her successors. There’s good evidence that the Royal Welch Fusiliers found their own goats before that.

But as to whether the 23rd adopted a wild goat on the Charlestown battlefield, for that we need primary sources, right?

TOMORROW: Voices from 1775.

(The photograph above comes from the B.B.C.’s report on the death of a more recent Royal French battalion mascot called Lance Corporal Shenkin II.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A British Soldier Debilitated by Nostalgia in 1781

In 1786, the British journal Medical Commentaries included an article from Dr. Robert Hamilton (1749-1830) of Ipswich titled “History of a remarkable Case of Nostalgia affecting a native of Wales and occurring in Britain.”

In July 1780 Hamilton, a weaver’s son just out of medical school, was commissioned a surgeon’s mate for the British army’s 10th Regiment of Foot. That regiment had been involved in the very beginning of the Revolutionary War, its light company firing at militiamen on Lexington common. But in 1778 the depleted 10th was sent back to Britain to rebuild.

Hamilton’s case study reported on a young man enlisted in those years:
In the year 1781, while I lay in barracks at Tinmouth in the north of England, a recruit who had lately joined the regiment (named Edwards), was returned in the sick list, with a message from his captain, requesting I would take him into the hospital.

He had only been a few months a soldier; was young, handsome, and well-made for the service; but a melancholy hung over his countenance, and wanness preyed on his checks. He complained of universal weakness, but no fixed pain; a noise in his ears, and giddiness of his head. Pulse rather slow than frequent; but small, and easily compressible. His appetite was much impaired. His tongue was sufficiently moist, and his belly regular; yet he slept ill, and started suddenly out of it, with uneasy dreams. He had little or no thirst.

As there were little obvious symptoms of fever, I did not well know what to make of the case.
Hamilton first suspected “an incipient typhus” and started treatment for that disease. But this private didn’t improve. He barely ate, spent most of his time dozing in bed. After “near three months” in the hospital, he looked “like one in the last stage of a consumption.”

Fortunately, there was a nurse at the hospital paying attention to the whole patient. Dr. Hamilton wrote:
she happened to mention the strong notions he had got in his head, she said, of home, and of his friends. What he was able to speak was constantly on this topic. This I had never heard of before. The reason she gave for not mentioning it, was, that it appeared to her to be the common ravings of sickness and delirium. He had talked in the same style, it seems, less or more, ever since he came into the hospital.

I went immediately up to him, and introduced the subject; and from the alacrity with which he resumed it (yet with a deep sigh, when he mentioned his never more being able to see his friends), I found it a theme which much affected him.
The recruit asked the doctor if he could go home. Hamilton replied that he was in no physical shape to travel. But, even without the commanding officer’s approval, he promised a six-week furlough if the soldier could recover.

“In less than a week,” Dr. Hamilton reported, he saw “evident signs of recovery.” The young man was in a better mood. At first he enjoyed being carried out to the beach to watch the ships. In less than two months, the private was able to walk to his barracks.

Dr. Hamilton then set about getting the soldier that furlough. He convinced the regiment’s officers that their recruit would relapse if he wasn’t allowed to see home again. Finally, the commanding officer “obligingly granted” a leave. And there the story ended.

Hamilton reprinted his essay in 1787 and again in 1794 in The Duties of a Regimental Soldier. Philip Shaw analyzed that version in the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies in 2014, noting at the end:
Although the muster rolls for the 10th Foot Regiment list a soldier named John Edwards as sick for consecutive periods in 1780 when the regiment was stationed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, there is no mention of a soldier with this name in the sick list for Tynemouth in 1781, which is the place and year that Hamilton establishes.
Hamilton’s case study used the name “Edwards” only once, and in parentheses. In his book, the doctor also referred to another soldier with a different problem by the same name. Finally, Shaw adds that a sad army veteran named Edwards was a character in Henry Mackenzie’s popular 1771 novel A Man of Feeling. So it’s likely that Edwards was not the soldier’s real name—or that Hamilton wasn’t exact in other details.

Be that as it may, Hamilton made a point of his patient being from Wales. That was on the other side of Britain from Newcastle or Tynemouth, a significant distance. In addition, Wales is a mountainous region, and at the time people from the Alps were thought to be especially prone to nostalgia, perhaps because of altitude changes.

As for any possible connection between nostalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder, this is another case of a man showing signs of depression before seeing any known combat. Hamilton obviously viewed the problem as homesickness, though of course this young man might have been naturally melancholic.

(The photograph above is a detail of an image from Newcastle Photos showing Tynemouth Castle and Priory, used for barracks over the centuries. I’m not sure that Dr. Hamilton and Pvt. Edwards were housed there, but it looks handsome.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Nostalgia “a frequent disease in the American army”

The words “nostalgia” and “nostalgic” don’t appear in any of the letters and other sources available at Founders Online. But of course most of those writers weren’t physicians.

American doctors did use the diagnosis of nostalgia, learning it from European medical authorities. Their uses reflected the original meaning of the word as homesickness rather than how we use the term today.

In “An Account of the Influence of the Military and Political Events of the American Revolution upon the Human Body” (published with other essays in 1789), Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote:
THE NOSTALGIA of Doctor [William] Cullen, or the homesickness, was a frequent disease in the American army, more especially among the soldiers of the New-England states. But this disease was suspended by the superior action of the mind under the influence of the principles which governed common soldiers in the American army.

Of this General [Horatio] Gates furnished me with a remarkable instance in 1776, soon after his return from the command of a large body of regular troops and militia at Ticonderoga. From the effects of the nostalgia, and the feebleness of the discipline, which was exercised over the militia, desertions were very frequent and numerous in his army, in the latter part of the campaign; and yet during the three weeks in which the general expected every hour an attack to be made upon him by General [John] Burgoyne, there was not a single desertion from his army, which consisted at that time of 10,000 men.
Rush’s essay was as much political as medical. He wanted to make the case that, while the disruptions of revolution and war caused stress and illness, the best remedy was more republicanism. Nothing cured the New Englanders’ nostalgia quicker than the imminent prospect of being hanged as traitors by an invading monarchical army.

Rush’s memory may have been faulty about dates. He said Gen. Gates told him in 1776 that nostalgia cleared up because of the threat from Gen. Burgoyne. In that year, Gen. Guy Carleton was in command, with Burgoyne serving under him. Burgoyne led the bigger advance from Canada in 1777. Rush may have amalgamated the events in his mind, but such detail doesn’t matter much to how Rush understood nostalgia.

Dr. James Thacher of Plymouth served the entire war as a surgeon’s mate and military surgeon for the Continental Army. Decades later, in 1823, he adapted his wartime diaries into A Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War.

In that book Thacher wrote under the date of late June 1780:
Our troops in camp are in general healthy, but we are troubled with many perplexing instances of indisposition, occasioned by absence from home, called by Dr. Cullen nostalgia, or home sickness. This complaint is frequent among the militia, and recruits from New England. They become dull and melancholy, with loss of appetite, restless nights, and great weakness. In some instances they become so hypochondriacal as to be proper subjects for the hospital.

This disease is in many instances cured by the raillery of the old soldiers, but is generally suspended by a constant and active engagement of the mind, as by the drill exercise, camp discipline, and by uncommon anxiety, occasioned by the prospect of a battle. 
Rush and Thacher didn’t use the term “nostalgia” in a way that we can easily map onto the modern diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Thacher definitely saw signs of anxiety and depression with physical manifestations. Rush linked the condition to desertions. But they didn’t see nostalgia as a reaction to combat.

Both of these doctors described nostalgia as prevalent in soldiers away from home (particularly from New England), not in those soldiers who had been through hard fighting. In fact, both of these American doctors saw “the prospect of a battle” as dispelling nostalgia, and Thacher viewed “old soldiers” as less prone to it than fresh militiamen.

It’s possible that other American doctors diagnosed Revolutionary soldiers or veterans with nostalgia based on symptoms and circumstances that correspond better with what we call P.T.S.D. I’ve looked for such cases, haven’t found any, and would welcome references.

TOMORROW: A British case study.

Monday, June 14, 2021

A Mistaken Idea of Nostalgia’s Origin

As I discussed yesterday, in 1688 the medical school graduate Johannes Hofer (1669-1752) published a dissertation proposing a new diagnostic term: nostalgia.

The symptoms of this condition, Hofer wrote, included:
continued sadness, meditation only of the Fatherland, disturbed sleep either wakeful or continuous, decrease of strength, hunger, thirst, senses diminished, and cares or even palpitations of the heart, frequent sighs, also stupidity of the mind—attending to nothing hardly, other than an idea of the Fatherland
The young doctor medicalized (and Hellenized) a condition that his fellow German-speaking Swiss were already calling Heimweh.

Over the next few decades other Swiss physicians wrote about the same condition. Some of them described spotting those symptoms in Swiss soldiers working far from home as mercenaries. They debated causes, with J. J. Scheuchzer (1672-1733) theorizing that the problem was the change in altitude from the Alps. No one appears to have blamed the experience of war, however.

Eventually the concept of nostalgia or Heimweh traveled to other European countries. It became mal du pays in French-speaking Switzerland and then France, listed in a French medical manual by 1754.

The word “homesickness” appeared in English in 1756, just a little too late for Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. The Scottish physician and professor William Cullen (1710-1790, shown above) eventually included two forms of nostalgia, simplex and complicata, in his Synopsis Nosologiae Methodicae. Again, doctors saw this problem arising from being away from home, not from experiencing trauma.

In the last decade of the eighteenth century, Revolutionary and Imperial France produced armies larger than Europe had ever seen, armies that swept across other countries as far as Moscow. When some of those soldiers began to demonstrate signs of anxiety and depression, and—what militaries most care about—stopped being able to fight, physicians looked for reasons. Nostalgia was one diagnosis they discussed, hypothesizing that the symptoms would disappear when the men returned home. Today we might instead suspect those soldiers were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Over the next century, nostalgia evolved to mean something separate from homesickness. It came to refer to yearning for another time more than another place. It became a cultural condition, not a psychological or physical malady. By 1975 the origin of the term was so obscure that George Rosen published a paper titled “Nostalgia: A ‘Forgotten’ Psychological Disorder” in Psychological Medicine.

I don’t have access to that paper, so I can’t assess how Rosen described the original characterization of the condition. Four years later Fred Davis wrote in A Sociology of Nostalgia:
Coined by the Swiss physician Johannes Hofer in the late seventeenth century, the term was meant to designate a familiar, if not especially frequent, condition of extreme homesickness among Swiss mercenaries fighting far from their native land in the legions of one or another European despot. The “symptoms” of those so afflicted were said by Hofer and other learned physicians of the time to be despondency, melancholia, lability of emotion, including profound bouts of weeping, anorexia, a generalized “wasting away,” and, not infrequently, attempts at suicide.
As reported yesterday, Hofer’s dissertation defining nostalgia did not address “extreme homesickness among Swiss mercenaries.” His case studies involved civilians. Davis, and perhaps others before him, projected back from the interest in nostalgia among Swiss and later French military physicians in the 1700s to make soldiers part of the condition’s 1688 origin story, a crucial element of the diagnosis.

Meanwhile, in post-Vietnam War America, psychiatrists were recognizing what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. And historians of medicine were recognizing that earlier generations of doctors had viewed much the same symptoms in earlier generations of war veterans, coming up with such diagnoses as soldier’s heart, shell shock, and combat fatigue.

We thus had two concepts that appeared to fit together perfectly:
  • Seventeenth-century doctors coining the term “nostalgia” to describe signs of anxiety and depression in Swiss soldiers.
  • A pattern of war-related P.T.S.D. cases lurking in the medical literature under other names.
It thus seemed logical to conclude that “nostalgia” was one of those names. Since the 1990s at least, that statement is common in discussions of both P.T.S.D. through history and the changing ideas of nostalgia. And for American authors, an eighteenth-century medical term must have been applied during the Revolutionary War.

But a look at Johannes Hofer’s dissertation shows that the first of those two concepts is mistaken. There is no link between his original diagnosis of nostalgia and military service. Hofer’s description didn’t go beyond what we now consider homesickness to mention soldiers or other people who had suffered trauma. It may well be that eighteenth-century war veterans suffered from P.T.S.D. and were diagnosed with nostalgia, but that doesn’t mean all or even most cases of nostalgia from that time were triggered by military trauma.

TOMORROW: Three Revolutionary War discussions of nostalgia.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

When and Why Johannes Hofer Wrote about “Nostalgia”

Last month I gave a presentation about the first year of the Continental Army to the interpretive staff at Boston National Historical Park. One of the good questions that came up was whether we know of men in that army who suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

I thought there might well be, but I couldn’t identify any examples, so after the talk I started nosing around to find useful sources. I came across many online articles saying flat out that P.T.S.D. was called “nostalgia” in the Revolutionary period, which would be a good lead—if we could rely on that statement.

For example, Joshua A. Jones wrote in “From Nostalgia to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Mass Society Theory of Psychological Reactions to Combat” (Inquiries, 2013):
Military doctors made the first concerted attempts to categorize and diagnose the manifestations of acute combat reaction for which Johannes Hofer had championed the term “nostalgia” in his 1688 medical dissertation. This classification survived through the end of the Seven Years War and described the disorder as consisting of depression, angst, and exhaustion. Since the symptoms were believed to be associated with soldier’s longing to return home during extended campaigns (not to actual battlefield experiences), both the French and Germans classified the malady as “homesickness”; maladie du pays and heimweh respectively. In Spain, the same symptoms would come to be known as estar roto (“to be broken”). This notion persisted through much of the Napoleonic era (Charvat, 2010).
Jones’s citation pointed to Mylea Charvat’s 2010 “History of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Combat," which is a set of PowerPoint slides from a presentation for the Department of Veterans Affairs. One of those slides says, “1678[:] Swiss physician Johannes Hofer coins the term ‘nostalgia.’ to describe symptoms seen in Swiss Troops.” No further citations.

Scholars agree that Johannes Hofer coined the term “nostalgia” as a particular psychological condition that produced physical symptoms. They disagree, as Jones and Charvat did, on when Hofer did so. Some authors say 1678, some ten years later.

Alex Davis’s paper “Coming Home Again: Johannes Hofer, Edmund Spenser, and Premodern Nostalgia” provides an answer to that discrepancy by stating that an edition of Hofer’s Dissertatio Medica de Nostalgia, oder Heimwehe (shown above, beside his portrait from later in life) “is mis-dated on the titlepage to 1678” but was actually published in 1688. Since Hofer was only nine years old in 1678, that makes sense. He published this dissertation and another in the year when he graduated medical school.

So I went looking for Hofer’s Medical Dissertation on Nostalgia to see what he wrote about soldiers’ psyches. Fortunately, the text was translated in 1934 for the Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine.

And I was surprised to find that Hofer wrote nothing about Swiss soldiers or mercenaries. He didn’t coin “nostalgia” as a term for a response to trauma or military experiences. The closest he came was the statement: “[nostalgia] is ascribed to some (authority) for a short time it was frequent with the centurions of the forces in Helvetian Gaul” during Roman times. Hofer’s detailed descriptions of the condition all involved Swiss civilians.

TOMORROW: So how did the diagnosis of “nostalgia” get attached to soldiers?

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Thinking about Feel-Good History

At the Panorama, the blog of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, Princeton professor Michael A. Blaakman just shared an essay titled “How Should History Make Us Feel?”

While Blaakman’s remarks were prompted by David McCullough’s book The Pioneers, which is the focus of the latest issue of S.H.E.A.R.’s journal, and by the flimsy “1776 Report” from the last Presidential administration, his concerns can apply to other history projects.
This was snowflake history—history designed to inspire, delight, or comfort, while sheltering its imagined audience from challenging questions about the past. [It] embodied an idea that is not going away anytime soon: that history’s purpose is to make people feel good. . . .

For most historians, meanwhile, the primary goal is not to make us feel one way or another, but to help us think: to understand prior worlds, to discover why events unfolded the way they did, and to explain how all of it has shaped the present. . . .

Stories [that center on the origins and character of the nation] carry a lot of baggage. They implicate a primary and deeply political category of their reader’s personal identity, in ways that do not bear as heavily on biographies, microhistories, and global histories, at least not by definition.

Is it inevitable that any nation-centered history will necessarily alienate whole constituencies, even within the nation itself? The optimist in me would like to think it’s not, because it seems more vital than ever for scholars of the early republic to help broad audiences understand themselves and the nation in historical context. As the United States’ semiquincentennial approaches, we will be called on increasingly to do so.
Blaakman sees the appeal of history books like McCullough’s lying in “drama,” and he suggests foregrounding the authors’ investigative process to produce that.

I think those books’ appeal comes from narrative, which includes moments of drama but goes beyond that one ingredient. The historian can indeed be the protagonist of a narrative, but so can the historical actors, even when the author concludes that history is shaped by larger forces and trends beyond individual actions.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Beard of John Stavely

Beards were not fashionable in the British Empire during the eighteenth century.

This fact is sometimes regretted by reenactors who don’t want to shave their modern beards, but the artistic record is clear.

That doesn’t mean there were no bearded men in Revolutionary America. Rather, they were few, and people saw them as unusual. The Boston shoemaker William Scott grew a long beard for religious reasons, and it scared children on the street.

Another man of the period noted for his full beard was John Stavely. We know him as a model for the painter Joseph Wright of Derby. And we know his name only by the inscription on the back of a Wright drawing now in the collection of the Morgan Library:
Portrait of
John Stavely
who came from Hert-
fordshire with Mr. French
& sat to Mr. Wright in the character of the old man & his ass in the
Sentimental Journey
We can spot the same bearded face in other Wright paintings and drawings, such as his two versions of The Captive and various studies as the man aged.

The Sotheby’s site says:
Wright’s practise of employing old men as models in the 1760s and early ’70s is well documented and the artist’s account book, now preserved in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery in London, includes the details and addresses of several local Derbyshire characters that sat for him on a regular basis. . . . Perhaps his favourite model, however, was a character known as Old John Staveley…
Stavely’s most famous role for Wright was as the scientist in The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers. Wright finished this painting in 1771, then went back over it in 1795.

Unfortunately, we don’t appear to have any account of what John Stavely’s family and neighbors thought of his beard. We know only that when Joseph Wright of Derby wanted to paint bearded men, he had a limited pool to choose from.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Later Career of Henry DeBerniere

On 18–19 Apr 1775, Ens. Henry DeBerniere was in the column of British troops that marched to Concord and back. Having visited the town looking for cannon the month before, he was probably one of the main guides for his regimental commander, Lt. Col. Francis Smith.

A couple of months later, he drew a map of the Battle of Bunker Hill that I discussed back here.

We have just a few glimpses of DeBerniere through the next few years as the 10th fought at Brooklyn, Germantown, Monmouth, and Rhode Island. He became a lieutenant during the war, a captain-lieutenant sometime in 1783. As of 1792 he was a captain, still with the 10th Regiment, stationed on Jamaica. Three years later, he was promoted to major.

Britain’s wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France opened up more opportunities for career officers. In November 1796, DeBerniere transferred to the 9th Regiment with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Three years later, the regiment fought in Holland, including the Battle of Bergen (shown above).

In 1798 DeBerniere married Elizabeth Longley (1770-1858), eighteen years old and born the year the lieutenant colonel entered the army. That difference in ages may be why later sources estimated he was born later than he was.

Meanwhile, in 1799 Henry’s older brother, retired army officer John Anthony DeBerniere (1744-1812), and his family moved from Ireland to South Carolina. Papers from that branch of the family are in the collections of the South Carolina Historical Society. His gravestone is in the cemetery of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charleston.

On 10 Nov 1805 three British transport ships sailed from Cork, Ireland, to carry Lt. Col. DeBerniere and the 9th Regiment to a new assignment on the continent. A storm blew up, and one of those ships, the Ariadne, was wrecked off Calais. All the regiment’s staff officers and 262 soldiers became prisoners of war.

The Times of London reported that twenty women and twelve children were also captured. Those might have included Lt. Col. DeBerniere’s wife, their son John (b. 1801), and daughter Elisabeth (b. 1803). If not, Elizabeth DeBerniere later joined her husband in France.

The French government chose not to exchange the regimental commander for an officer held in Britain. DeBerniere remained a prisoner at Nancy, far from the coast in northeastern France, year after year as the wars swirled around him.

Eventually Napoleon had to retreat from Moscow, and the Sixth Coalition formed to pursue his army, defeating it at Liepzig in late 1813 and then entering France. In his Narrative of a Forced Journey Through Spain and France, as a Prisoner of War, in the Years 1810 to 1814, Baron Blayney wrote:
Shortly after the head quarters of the grand army were established at Metz, and the sick and wounded were removed from Mayence, &c. towards Verdun and the interior. For six weeks the roads were crowded with waggons, and all the public buildings at Verdun were converted into hospitals. At the same time an hospital fever prevailed at Mayence, and was conveyed to Metz and Nancy, in which latter place Colonel de Bernière of the 9th regiment fell a victim to it, universally regretted.
Henry DeBerniere thus died a captive in the land of his Huguenot ancestors on 6 December 1813.

Parliament approved a £150 annual pension for the widow Elizabeth DeBerniere and her three daughters. The DeBernieres’ only son had already died. Francoise Charlotte Josephine, born while the couple was in France, married the Rev. Newton Smart, and the family took the name of DeBerniere-Smart. Among their descendants is Louis de Bernières, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

The Early Career of Henry DeBerniere

Earlier in the year I analyzed a map almost certainly made by Ens. Henry DeBerniere after his scouting expeditions in the Massachusetts countryside in early 1775.

I also promised a look at DeBerniere’s career after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, which he helped to make happen when and where it did.

My research was complicated and delayed by what David C. Agnew wrote about the DeBerniere family in the genealogical reference book Protestant Exiles from France, Chiefly in the Reign of Louis XIV (1874):
Jean Antoine de Bernière…came over to Ireland. He is reputed by the present French representatives of the family to have been the chief of his name. For conscience sake he left the estate of Bernières near Caen; he is called in the Crommelin Pedigree, “gentilhomme d’aupres d’Alencon.”

The refugee served under the Earl of Galway at the battle of Almanza; he was wounded and lost a hand; his life was also in danger, but by means of an ancient ring which he wore, and which had been the gift of a French king to one of his ancestors, he was recognised by a tenant on the Bernières lands and received quarter.

On his return to Ireland he married Madeleine Crommelin, only daughter of the great Crommelin. His grandson was Captain [Louis Crommelin] De Bernière of the 30th Regiment, who died from exhaustion after the siege of Senegal in 1762, leaving an only son and heir, Henry Abraham Crommelin de Bernière, who rose to be a Major-General in the British army.

Major-General de Bernière, was born in 1762, and joined the 10th regiment in 1777, at once entering upon active service in America under General [John] Burgoyne.
If that birthyear is correct, then Ens. Henry DeBerniere was only twelve or thirteen years old when he scouted the roads to Worcester and Concord, drew his maps, and wrote his report. That narrative doesn’t read like the writing of a young teenager, and there’s no indication that the people DeBerniere met perceived him as unusually young.

Furthermore, Agnew was obviously wrong about when Henry DeBerniere joined the British army. He was serving in Boston in early 1775, so he probably enlisted before that. Plus, he wasn’t his father’s “only son.”

This webpage about the Crommelin family offers different and seemingly more reliable information, though it doesn’t cite sources:
In 1739 Louis Bernière married Elinor Donlevy, sister-in-law of the Bishop of Dromore, Louis was also a soldier and saw service in Canada and Senegal where he became ill and was sent home on furlough. He never reached Lisburn, dying at sea in 1762. His wife had died previously in 1759 and their children were taken by relatives to be brought up.

The elder son, John Anthony De Bernière born in Lisburn in 1744, was sent to his aunt, the wife of Bishop Marlay, and eventually entered the army. The younger son [Henry] went to Dublin, to the home of Paul Mangin, and in time he also became a soldier, serving in America and France and rising to the rank of Brigadier.
Since Henry’s mother died in 1759, he must have been at least sixteen and quite possibly a little older when he did his scouting missions. Not too much older since ensign was the most junior officer’s rank, but at least in his late teens.

In the 1890s Washington Chauncey Ford published a compilation of “British Officers in America, 1754–1774” in the New England Historical Genealogical Register. It included these listings of commissions:
Birniere, Henry / Ensign / [blank] / 22 August, 1770.
Ensign / 10[th Regiment] / 14 September, 1779.

Birniere, John de / Ensign / 55 / 22 November, 1755.
Lieut. / 44 / 9 August, 1760.
Lieut. / 18 / 4 February, 1769.
Because of the contradictory information, I had to consider the possibility that there were two men named Henry DeBerniere, perhaps cousins, serving in the British army at the same time. But the Army Lists published in the 1770s and 1780s show only one.

In the end, I concluded that Henry DeBerniere followed his father and his older brother John into the army in 1770. It looks like the DeBerniere family had connections and a military pedigree but not a lot of money, plus Henry was the younger son. His army career was probably slower than other officers because he couldn’t buy higher ranks as easily.

In 1773 the 10th Regiment was stationed along the Niagara River. And we have Ens. DeBerniere’s sketches of Fort Erie, Fort Niagara, and Niagara Falls from that year. Those appear above, courtesy of the U.K.’s National Army Museum. I found another statement saying he probably drew a map of Detroit around the same time.

Thus, by early 1775 Ens. DeBerniere had nearly five years of experience in the army and in North America, and was a practiced draftsman.

TOMORROW: DeBerniere after 1775.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

A Portrait of a Gentleman at Matawan

Earlier this year the Asbury Park Press published an article about a man who owned the Matawan, New Jersey, house of the poet and journalist Philip Freneau and started looking for a reported portrait of Freneau as a young man by John Singleton Copley.

The Frick Art Reference Library listed such a painting in the collection of the Plimpton family. It was put up for auction in 2018 as “Portrait of a Gentleman” and “attributed to Circle of Copley,” but failed to sell at the estimated price of $5-7,000.

The homeowner contacted the Plimptons and convinced them to donate the portrait to the Matawan Historical Society. On retrieving the canvas, he discovered that “The nameplate on the frame identified the subject as Philip Freneau, and the artist as John Singleton Copley.”

The local newspaper presents this as evidence of an exciting rediscovery of an authentic portrait. It’s merely evidence that at some point that painting was labeled and sold as Copley’s portrait of Freneau.

But we knew that already. The American Art Annual for 1923 reported that painting had sold the previous year for $260. Undoubtedly its price was higher for having the names of a famous artist and a famous subject attached—but by whom? There’s no evidence Copley made such a portrait and no mention of this canvas before that date.

In the 1920s, as I discussed back here, the Copley Gallery in Boston sold a lot of eighteenth-century portraits as products of colonial America. Those canvases probably showed little-known British gentlemen as painted by little-known British portraitists. But their value increased if rich Americans believed they came from the few artists working in North America before the Revolution and showed people whose names appeared in our history books.

In 1941 Lewis Leary published the biography That Rascal Freneau: A Study in Literary Failure. In a footnote he wrote:
Another “Freneau portrait,” listed in the Frick Art Reference Library, 1121 14Q, as by Copley, represents a young man dressed in the attire of a dandy of about 1770. It is not mentioned by Barbara Neville Parker and Ann Bolling Wheeler, John Singleton Copley, American Portraits in Oil, Pastel and Miniatures with Biographical Sketches, Boston, 1938. The portrait is at present part of the George A. Plimpton Collection, Columbia University Library. “I cannot find,” says Mrs. Plimpton in a letter (June 24, 1938) to the writer, “that we have anything but the dealer’s word for the authenticity of the Freneau portrait.” I have been convinced that it is neither by Copley nor of Freneau. 
The Frick Art Reference Library continues to list that painting as “not by Copley.” As for the “Circle of Copley,” in 1770 that circle consisted entirely of Henry Pelham, who didn’t travel with his stepbrother to the New York area when he supposedly painted this canvas.