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, July 09, 2009

“Dashed the Body of the Sulky all to Pieces”

So what did John Adams have to say about the Massachusetts delegates’ entrance into New York on 7 May 1775? Unlike John Hancock and Silas Deane, he didn’t write home about how the crowd had tried to honor those men by unhitching their horses and pulling their carriages along.

For one thing, Adams didn’t have a carriage, only a “sulky,” or two-wheeled cart, borrowed from his father-in-law, the Rev. William Smith. For another, his servant Joseph Bass seems to have been riding in it alone; Adams was apparently in another delegate’s carriage. But most important, things hadn’t gone so well for him.

On 8 May 1775, John told his wife Abigail:

Jose Bass met with a Misfortune, in the Midst of some of the unnecessary Parade that was made about us. My Mare, being galled with an ugly Buckle in the Tackling, suddenly flinched and started in turning short round a Rock, in a shocking bad Road, overset the sulky which frightened her still more. She ran, and dashed the Body of the Sulky all to Pieces. I was obliged to leave my sulky, ship my Bagage on board Mr. [Thomas] Cushings Carriage, buy me a Saddle and mount on Horse back. I am thankfull that Bass was not kill'd. He was in the utmost danger, but not materially hurt.

I am sorry for this Accident, both on Account of the Trouble and Expence, occasioned by it. I must pay your Father for his sulky. But in Times like these, such Little Accidents should not affect us.
When the delegates entered Philadelphia a few days later, the Loyalist Samuel Curwen noted “John Hancock and Samuel Adams in a phaeton and pair,...John Adams and Thomas Cushing in a single horse chaise; behind followed Robert Treat Paine, and after him the New York delegation and some from the Province of Connecticut etc. etc.”

(The thumbnail above is Carl Rakeman’s vision of the Boston Post Road in 1763, painted for the Bureau of Public Roads sometime between 1921 and 1952. The man in the chaise is supposed to be Benjamin Franklin, the woman on horseback his daughter.)

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