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.

Follow by Email


Thursday, July 20, 2017

An Aged Veteran and “The Young Provincial”

I’ve been discussing the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody’s sketch “The Young Provincial,” published in 1829, and Jacob Frost’s 1832 claim for a pension as a Revolutionary War veteran. Together they raise interesting questions.

First, looking just at the pension file, Jacob Frost’s wound on Breed’s Hill was bad enough to disable him but not to kill him, even with months in prisons and eighteenth-century medicine and hygiene. He must have had one hell of an immune system.

That wound also wasn’t bad enough to keep Frost from reenlisting for a short stint in 1780. Probably his experience as a soldier in battle and a prisoner of war was a reason the company made him its orderly sergeant. Yet that same wound was enough to earn Frost an invalid pension after the war. I suspect it was awarded in recognition of his suffering as a prisoner as much as for actual disability.

Next the bigger question of how Frost’s experiences relate to “The Young Provincial.” Dave Marcus of the Tewksbury Historical Society spotted the strong parallels between “The Young Provincial” and Jacob Frost’s experiences, as this article from the Tewksbury Town Crier in 2014 reported.

The Springfield Republican article from 1829 confirms that connection: “all the narrative parts of it are facts, in the life of a Mr. FROST, now living in Norway, Maine.” Even more clearly it made a connection between that literary sketch and “Dr. JOSHUA FROST of this town,” the veteran’s little brother.

Tewksbury vital records confirm that Jacob Frost, born 9 July 1753, had a little brother named Joshua, born 2 Dec 1765 and thus nine years old at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, just as the newspaper stated. Dr. Joshua Frost graduated from Harvard in 1793.

(Curiously, Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield from 1893 says that Dr. Frost was “born in Fryeburg, Me., in 1767.” Fryeburg wasn’t even formed into a town until 1777. It’s about thirty miles from Norway, where Jacob settled, but perhaps the two communities were more closely linked in the eighteenth century. But there’s some mix-up there.)

Given the Springfield newspaper’s hints, it seems likely that the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody heard stories about Jacob Frost from the old soldier himself during a visit, or from Dr. Frost, talking about his big brother.

The next question is whether “The Young Provincial” is a reliable source on Jacob Frost’s military experiences, filling out the bare-bones account that he submitted to the federal government. And on that question I’m skeptical. I think Peabody took so much literary license that we can’t accept any particular detail as reflecting Frost’s own story unless it also appears in his own account.

It’s not just a matter of how much dramatic detail “The Young Provincial” has but also how details contradict Frost’s own statement:
  • Frost stated that after the Battle of Lexington and Concord “he immediately enlisted at Cambridge near Boston for a term of eight months.” The narrator of “The Young Provincial” says he went home after the battle, joined a company in Tewksbury, and “arrived at the camp the evening before the battle of Bunker Hill.”
  • Frost was quite clear that he “was employed on the night previous to the battle of Bunker Hill on the 17th. Day of June 1775, in throwing up breast works.” The “Young Provincial” narrator describes other men doing that work; he “happened to reach the spot just as the morning was breaking in the sky.” (Veterans who worked all night digging and then had to fight the battle tended not to let anyone forget.)
  • Frost was “severely wounded in the hip” during that battle. For the narrator, “the ball entered my side,” and he also “was beaten with muskets on the head.”
  • The “Young Provincial” arrives home “on a clear summer afternoon.” Frost stated it was “the last of September.”
  • The final scene of “The Young Provincial” turns on the soldier’s family believing him to be dead, based on a report from a companion on the battlefield. In 1775 and 1776, Massachusetts newspapers published lists of provincial prisoners from the Battle of Bunker Hill which told everyone that Frost was still alive. His return home was a surprise, but not that much of a surprise.
Thus, I think we have to say “The Young Provincial” was inspired by a true story of a young soldier being wounded, imprisoned, and transported before escaping back home. But we can’t say the sketch is a true story.

(Thanks once again to Boston National Historical Park’s Jocelyn Gould for setting me off on this investigation. The photo above is the headquarters of Norway, Maine’s historical society; Jacob Frost would have known that 1828 building in its original location.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The True Author of “The Young Provincial”

The idea that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “The Young Provincial,” the sketch I quoted yesterday from The Token, for 1830, wasn’t a bad guess.

In 1830 Hawthorne wrote to the editor of that volume, Samuel G. Goodrich, proposing a collection titled Provincial Tales. The next year’s volume of The Token contained two sketches unquestionably by Hawthorne, and he wrote more for later volumes—so many that in one year Goodrich worried about publishing too many pieces by one author.

Hawthorne never claimed “The Young Provincial,” but he left some hints about not wanting some of his early literary output rediscovered. And he suppressed his 1828 novel Fanshawe altogether.

In 1890 Moncure D. Conway published a biography of Hawthorne stating positively that “The Young Provincial” was one of his early stories that had “escaped the attention” of scholars. He repeated that claim in an 8 June 1901 article in the New York Times Saturday Review.

Franklin B. Sanborn also argued that Hawthorne wrote seven previously unrecognized stories, including “The Young Provincial,” in the New England Magazine in 1898 and elsewhere. George Edward Woodbury discussed the sketch as likely Hawthorne in his 1902 biography of the author, and John Erskine accepted that possibility in Leading American Novelists (1910).

There were some doubters. Nina E. Browne said the sketch “probably was not written by Hawthorne” in her 1905 bibliography of his work. But there was enough consensus about “The Young Provincial” that variously titled editions of Hawthorne’s collected works published in 1900 included it in an appendix.

However, back in late 1829, when The Token, for 1830 first appeared for sale, the author of “The Young Provincial” was named. The 25 November Springfield Republican reprinted the story and reported:
The Token, for 1830.—This elegant little work, published S. G. Goodrich, Boston, has been before the public some weeks. We have had opportunity to read only the following story; but if this may be considered a specimen of the merits of the other articles, the book must be interesting. Its typographical execution exceeds any thing of the kind we ever saw. It will doubtless be gratifying to our readers in this vicinity, to know that the following story was written by a gentlemen of this town who has contributed much to elevate the standard of American literature; and that all the narrative parts of it are facts, in the life of a Mr. FROST, now living in Norway, Maine, and brother of Dr. JOSHUA FROST of this town. Dr. Frost, who was then about nine years of age, was “the little brother who ran to the meeting-house” to carry the tidings of the young provincial’s return from captivity.
That item was reprinted in the Essex Register, and then in the 13 Feb 1830 Columbian Centinel. Those newspapers added a phrase to the Republican’s identification of the author as a Springfield local: “[meaning, we presume, the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody.]” The Essex Register was published in Salem, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home town, but he didn’t object to crediting the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody with “The Young Provincial.”

The Rev. William Bourn Oliver Peabody (1799-1847, shown above) was a Unitarian minister in Springfield. He wrote poems, hymns, book reviews, and short biographies for Jared Sparks’s Library of American Biography as well as sermons. The Token, for 1828 contained his poem “To an Aged Elm,” so he was definitely in touch with Goodrich.

After Peabody died in 1847, his twin brother Oliver William Bourn Peabody started to write a biography to be published with his literary work. “A few of his productions may be found in ‘The Token’,” Oliver wrote about his brother William. Oliver also dabbled in literary pursuits, publishing a poem in The Token, for 1831 himself, while working as a Boston lawyer, legislator, bureaucrat, and college professor. But in 1845 the pull of parallelism had become too strong, and Oliver became a Unitarian minister like his twin, preaching in Vermont.

In fact, that parallelism was so strong that Oliver died in 1848, just one year after his brother. The biography of William had to be completed by a friend before being published in a collection of William’s sermons. In 1850, Everett Peabody edited The Literary Remains of the Late William B. O. Peabody, D.D. He chose only reviews and poetry from the North American Review, leaving out “The Young Provincial” and everything like it.

As a result, no book credited W. B. O. Peabody with that sketch until Volume XI of the Centenary Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne. That scholarly edition of Hawthorne’s tales cited the newspaper articles I quoted above about “The Young Provincial.” It also took four other tales that Conway and Sanborn had attributed to Hawthorne and showed they had been written by Lydia Maria Child, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edward Everett.

Ironically, the 1900 collections of Hawthorne that include “The Young Provincial” are now in the public domain and thus available on Google Book and as digital texts. The more reliable Centenary Edition is protected by copyright and priced for research libraries. Therefore, people looking into “The Young Provincial” are once again apt to come across statements that it was most likely written by Hawthorne—I did so at first. This book dealer is even selling The Token, for 1830 on the possibility that it might contain an early Hawthorne story.

But all that literary investigation is just in service of the question of whether “The Young Provincial” has historical value. Is it a reliable narration of a certain private’s experiences in the first year and a half of the Revolutionary War?

TOMORROW: Back to Jacob Frost.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“The Young Provincial” on Bunker Hill

At the end of 1829 the writer and editor Samuel G. Goodrich published an anthology of short stories and literary sketches by various authors titled The Token, for 1830.

One of those pieces was titled “The Young Provincial,” and it began:
“Now, father, tell us all about the old gun,” were the words of one of a number of children, who were seated around the hearth of a New England cottage. The old man sat in an arm-chair at one side of the fireplace, and his wife was installed in one of smaller dimensions on the other. The boys, that they might not disturb the old man’s meditations, seemed to keep as much silence as was possible for individuals of their age; the fire burned high, with a sound like that of a trumpet, and its blaze occasionally shone on an old rifle which was suspended horizontally above the mantel.
Of course, the Revolutionary-era gun above a mantel in a New England cottage wouldn’t have been a rifle but a musket.

The story the old man tells those boys begins with him as a youth in “Tewksbury, a small town in Middlesex county.” He and the other “younger men of our village” formed a minuteman company. The story says: “Perhaps if you accent the last syllable of that word minute, it would better describe a considerable portion of our number, of whom I was one.”

The narrator of the “Young Provincial” describes experiences that closely parallel those of Jacob Frost, quoted yesterday, except in a much more elevated language. This is how Frost’s pension application of 1832 discussed the Battle of Bunker Hill:
[He] was in the battle and was then severely wounded in the hip, and entirely disabled, and he laid among the wounded until the day after the battle—when he was taken up by the British & carried to Boston & there kept a prisoner
The Token story says:
As soon as Boston was invested, we heard that our services were called for, and nothing more was wanted to fill the ranks of the army. I arrived at the camp the evening before the battle of Bunker Hill. Though weary with the march of the day, I went to the hill upon which our men were throwing up the breastwork in silence, and happened to reach the spot just as the morning was breaking in the sky. It was clear and calm; the sky was like pearl, the mist rolled lightly from the still water, and the large vessels of the enemy lay quiet as the islands.

Never shall I forget the earthquake-voice with which that silence was broken. A smoke like that of a conflagration burst from the sides of the ships, and the first thunders of the revolutionary storm rolled over our heads. The bells of the city spread the alarm, the lights flashed in a thousand windows, the drums and trumpets mustered their several bands, and the sounds, in their confusion, seemed like an articulate voice foretelling the strife of that day.

We took our places mechanically, side by side, behind the breastwork, and waited for the struggle to begin. We waited long and in silence. There was no noise but of the men at the breastwork strengthening their rude fortifications. We saw the boats put off from the city, and land the forces on the shore beneath our station. Still there was silence, except when the tall figure of our commander moved along our line, directing us not to fire until the word was given.

For my part, as I saw those gallant forces march up the hill in well ordered ranks, with the easy confidence of those who had been used to victory, I was motionless with astonishment and delight. I thought only on their danger, and the steady courage with which they advanced to meet it, the older officers moving with mechanical indifference, the younger with impatient daring. Then a fire blazed along their ranks, but the shot struck in the redoubt or passed harmlessly over our heads. Not a solitary musket answered, and if you had seen the redoubt, you would have said that some mighty charm had turned all its inmates to stone.

But when they stood so near us that every shot would tell, a single gun from the right was the signal for us to begin, and we poured upon them a fire, under which a single glance, before the smoke covered all, showed us their columns reeling like some mighty wall which the elements are striving to overthrow. As the vapor passed away, their line appeared as if a scythe of destruction had cut it down, for one long line of dead and dying marked the spot where their ranks had stood.

Again they returned to the charge; again they were cut down; and then the heavy masses of smoke from the burning town added magnificence to the scene. By this time my powder-horn was empty, and most of those around me had but a single charge remaining. It was evident that our post must be abandoned, but I resolved to resist them once again.

They came upon us with double fury. An officer happened to be near me; raising my musket, and putting all my strength into the blow, I laid him dead at my feet. But, meantime, the British line passed me in pursuit of the flying Americans, and thus cut off my retreat; one of their soldiers fired, and the ball entered my side. I fell, and was beaten with muskets on the head until they left me for dead upon the field.

When I recovered, the soldiers were employed in burying their dead. An officer inquired if I could walk; but finding me unable, he directed his men to drag me by the feet to their boats, where I was thrown in, fainting with agony, and carried with the rest of the prisoners to Boston. One of my comrades, who saw me fallen, returned with the news to my parents. They heard nothing more concerning me, but had no doubt that I was slain.
Like Jacob Frost, the “Young Provincial” narrator is kept in the Boston jail for months, then transported to Nova Scotia in March 1776. He and five other men break out of their new prison on a night that’s literally described as “dark and stormy.” He struggles through the wilderness toward Massachusetts, benefiting from strangers’ kindness. At last he arrives in Tewksbury on a Sunday.
I went to my father’s door, and entered it softly. My mother was sitting in her usual place by the fireside, though there were green boughs instead of fagots in the chimney before her. When she saw me, she gave a wild look, grew deadly pale, and making an ineffectual effort to speak to me, fainted away. With much difficulty I restored her, but it was long before I could make her understand that the supposed apparition was in truth her son whom she had so long mourned for as dead.

My little brother had also caught a glimpse of me, and with that superstition which was in that day so much more common than it is in this, he was sadly alarmed. In his fright he ran to the meeting-house to give the alarm; when he reached that place, the service had ended, and the congregation were just coming from its doors. Breathless with fear, he gave them his tidings, losing even his dread, in that moment, for the venerable minister and the snowy wigs of the deacons.

Having told them what he had seen, they turned, with the whole assembly after them, towards my father's house; and such was their impatience to arrive at the spot, that minister, deacons, old men and matrons, young men and maidens, quickened their steps to a run.

Never was there such a confusion in our village. The young were eloquent in their amazement, and the old put on their spectacles to see the strange being who had thus returned as from the dead.
Again, Jacob Frost’s 1832 account said simply that “he finally arrived at his residence in said Tewksbury the last of September 1776”—which was in fact a Monday.

“The Young Provincial” thus seems to be an elevated version of Jacob Frost’s experiences. But did the author really hear about those events from Frost? Might the story’s hero be a composite of Frost and other men with similar war records? Can we use the story’s details to fill out Frost’s bare-bones pension application, or must we assume that the author used a lot of literary license? Those were questions that Jocelyn Gould of Boston National Historical Park and I started discussing earlier this month.

The easiest place to find “The Young Provincial” now is at the end of this volume of The Complete Writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1900. The picture above shows Hawthorne in 1841, or about eleven years after “The Young Provincial” was published. By then he had become locally known for his short stories, many based on New England history.

TOMORROW: But this story is not actually by Hawthorne.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jacob Frost’s Revolutionary War

On 13 Sept 1832, an eighty-year-old man from Norway, Maine, named Jacob Frost signed an affidavit describing his experiences during the Revolutionary War.

Frost’s statement, part of his plea for a federal government pension, said:
on the 19th day of April 1775, on the alarm of the enemys being on their march from Boston to Lexington, at Tewksbury in the State of Massachusetts, his then residence, he then being a minute man, he marched to Concord in the company commanded by Capt. John Trull of the Massachusetts militia and pursued the enemy to Boston and he immediately enlisted at Cambridge near Boston for a term of eight months, in the company commanded by Capt. Benjamin Walker, in the regiment commanded by Col. Ebenezer Bridge,

and was employed on the night previous to the battle of Bunker Hill on the 17th. Day of June 1775, in throwing up breast works—was in the battle and was then severely wounded in the hip, and entirely disabled, and he laid among the wounded until the day after the battle—when he was taken up by the British & carried to Boston & there kept a prisoner until March 1776, at which time the British evacuated Boston—when he was put on board a British man of war ship, called the Centurian—& carried in Irons to Halifax in Nova Scotia
The Nova Scotia diarist Simeon Perkins wrote on 1 April that “The Centurion man of war is off the harbour.”
and there kept in prison untill the 21st. of June 1776, when he with some others found means to escape from prison, & wandered almost without clothes & entirely without money through the woods, till he finally arrived at his residence in said Tewksbury the last of September 1776, being one year & five months absent from his enlistment aforesaid until his return to his home.

In the month of July 1779 [actually 1780] he again enlisted at Tewksbury aforesaid for the term of three months, as a private in the company commanded by Capt Amos Foster, and was immediately appointed a sergeant, said company was attached to the regiment commanded by Colo. [John] Jacobs, and was marched to Rhode Island where he served said three months—and was there verbally discharged—

He further represents that he is an Invalid Pensioner, as will appear by the certificate hereunto annexed—
That certificate, dated 29 Aug 1788, stated that Frost, then aged thirty-five, had been disabled by “one Musket ball, through his left hip bone.” He was awarded a pension of 15 shillings per month.

In a separate 1832 document, Frost added:
during the period of three months, that I served as orderly sargeant in the Company commanded by Capt. Amos Foster in Col. Jacobs regiment, on Rhode Island in the year A.D. 1779—the orderly Sargeant was appointed to act as a Lieut. in consequence of the absence of one of the Lieuts—and I was thereupon appointed to fill the vacancy and served the term of three months in that capacity—and I further declare that I did not receive a warrant from any officer, but acted without one.
Other veterans attested to Frost’s work as the company’s orderly sergeant.

TOMORROW: The literary version.

(The photograph above, courtesy of Classic New England, shows the Brown Tavern on Main Street in Tewksbury, built in 1740. The prominent porch is a later addition, as is the bank branch inside.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

“The Road to Concord” Ends in Stow, 20 July

On Thursday, 20 July, I’ll speak about The Road to Concord at the Randall Library in Stow, Massachusetts.

For this talk I plan to stress the end of the story, as Gen. Thomas Gage strove to find the cannon that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was accumulating in the countryside—particularly in Concord.

On 29 Oct 1774, that congress appointed Henry Gardner (1731-1782) of Stow as its “receiver general”—the shadow treasurer for a shadow government. The congress asked towns to send Gardner all the taxes they collected for Massachusetts instead of sending them to Harrison Gray, the royal government’s treasurer in Boston.

In 1907 Edward Everett Hale wrote for the Massachusetts Historical Society, “It would seem as if Henry Gardner might be called the first person who by public act was instructed to commit high treason against the King.”

Be that as it may, Gardner was responsible for managing payments for the cannon, carriages, and artillery equipment that the congress bought over the months before the war. Given how the economy worked, he may simply have kept track of the debts that tradesmen or wealthy Patriot merchants were accruing. Many towns apparently chose to keep their tax collections themselves rather than forwarding them on to either side.

Stow has another link to the story in The Road to Concord. It looks like that town was the farthest west that the Boston militia artillery company’s four brass cannon traveled in 1775. The town’s website says, “Cannon were hidden in the woods surrounding the Lower Common, gunpowder and other armaments in the Meeting House and a small powderhouse on Pilot Grove Hill.” I look forward to seeing those sites.

This talk will start at 7:00 P.M. at the Randall Library, 19 Crescent Street in Stow. It is free and open to the public. I’ll have copies of The Road to Concord and other books available for sale and signing.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Col. Putnam and the Cannon Balls

As shown by postings like this one, I keep my eyes peeled for stories of Continental soldiers during the siege of Boston
picking up British cannon balls for reuse.

Here’s one variation that appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on 14 Sept 1775 in a section on news from London. It was most likely printed in a London newspaper that, at least that early in the war, supported the American cause.
July 10. We hear Gen. [Israel] Putnam, who distinguished himself last war under Gen. [Jeffery] Amherst, by his ingenious inventions and invincible courage, having nearly expended his cannon ball before the King’s schooner [H.M. S. Diana] surrendered, took this method to get more from the Somerset in Boston harbour:

He ordered parties, consisting of about two or three of his men, to shew themselves on the top of a certain sandy hill, near the place of action, in sight of the man of war, but at a great distance, in hopes that the Captain would be fool enough to fire at them.

It had the desired effect, and so heavy a fire ensued from this ship and others, that the country round Boston thought the town was attacked. By this means he obtained several hundred balls, which were easily taken out of the sand, and much sooner than he could have sent to the head-quarters for them.

Other accounts say, that towards the close of the day he ordered meal bags to be filled with straw, and set up with hats on, and guns shouldered, which produced the desired effect.
This item was reprinted in New York’s Constitutional Gazette newspaper and thence in Frank Moore’s 1850s compilation Diary of the American Revolution.

However, I haven’t found any such tricks in first-hand descriptions of the fight from Massachusetts, either newspaper accounts or letters. The story fits a common “crafty Yankees” trope. I’m not convinced it actually happened.

Friday, July 14, 2017

EXTRA: A Projectile from the Plains of Abraham Pops Up

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported:
A cannonball fired by the British during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 has been unearthed at a building site in Old Quebec.

The rusted, 90-kilogram projectile was unearthed during excavation work last week at the corner of Hamel and Couillard streets and still contained a charge and gunpowder.

The work crew that found the ball picked it up and gathered around it for photographs, unaware that it was still potentially explosive.

Municipal authorities were contacted, and archeologist Serge Rouleau was called in.

Rouleau brought the cannonball back to his home, and noticed it still contained a charge.
Technically, I think the gunpowder inside makes this a mortar shell, not a cannonball. But such distinctions wouldn’t matter if someone loses an eye.

The C.B.C. report includes a photograph of the excavation workers gathered around the artifact before it was rendered harmless.

When Jefferson Investigated the Storming of the Bastille

Since this is Bastille Day, I’m linking to Sara Georgini’s article on for the Smithsonian magazine, “How the Key to the Bastille Ended Up in George Washington’s Possession.”

Here’s a taste:
On July 14, 1789, a surge of protesters stormed the medieval fortress-turned-prison known as the Bastille. Low on food and water, with soldiers weary from repeated assault, Louis XVI’s Bastille was a prominent symbol of royal power—and one highly vulnerable to an angry mob armed with gunpowder. From his two-story townhouse in the Ninth Arrondissement, the Virginian Thomas Jefferson struggled to make sense of the bloody saga unspooling in the streets below.

He sent a sobering report home to John Jay, then serving as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, five days after the Bastille fell. Even letter-writing must have felt like a distant cry—since the summer of 1788, Jefferson had faithfully dispatched some 20 briefings to Congress, and received only a handful in reply. In Jefferson’s account, his beloved Paris now bled with liberty and rage. Eyeing the narrowly drawn neighborhoods, Jefferson described a nightmarish week. By day, rioters pelted royal guards with “a shower of stones” until they retreated to Versailles. At evening, trouble grew. Then, Jefferson wrote, protesters equipped “with such weapons as they could find in Armourer’s shops and private houses, and with bludgeons…were roaming all night through all parts of the city without any decided and practicable object.”

Yet, despite his local contacts, Jefferson remained hazy on how, exactly, the Bastille fell. The “first moment of fury,” he told Jay, blossomed into a siege that battered the fortress that “had never been taken. How they got in, has as yet been impossible to discover. Those, who pretend to have been of the party tell so many different stories as to destroy the credit of them all.” Again, as Jefferson and his world gazed, a new kind of revolution rewrote world history. Had six people led the last charge through the Bastille’s tall gates? Or had it been 600? (Historians today place the number closer to 900.)

In the days that followed, Jefferson looked for answers. By July 19, he had narrowed the number of casualties to three. (Modern scholars have raised that estimate to roughly 100.) Meanwhile, the prison officials’ severed heads were paraded on pikes through the city’s labyrinth of streets. With the Bastille in ruins, the establishment of its place in revolutionary history—via both word and image—spun into action. Like many assessing what the Bastille’s fall meant for France, Thomas Jefferson paid a small sum to stand amid the split, burnt stone and view the scene. One month later, Jefferson returned. He gave the same amount to “widows of those who were killed in taking the Bastille.”

At least one of Jefferson’s close friends ventured into the inky Paris night, bent on restoring order. Major General Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, a mainstay at Jefferson’s dinner table, accepted a post as head of the Paris National Guard. As thanks, he was presented with the Bastille key.
I saw that key a couple of years ago; here’s that little story.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

John Pigeon’s Petulance and Property

I was tracing the political career of John Pigeon, a Boston merchant who retired to Newton a few years before the Revolution. In the early months of 1775 he went from clerk of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety to commissary of stores to commissary general of the Massachusetts army.

And within two months Pigeon decided that job was too much for him. On 20 June he petitioned to be allowed to resign. The congress instead adopted this recommendation from a committee:
Resolved, That Mr. John Pigeon, commissary general, requesting a dismission from his said office, being under a mistake, have liberty to withdraw his petition; that the conduct of said commissary general in his office, has been such as to merit the approbation of this Congress, and of the public in general; and that said John Pigeon be desired to attend his business as commissary general in the service of this province.
The legislature agreed to assist Pigeon by appointing a deputy commissary for every regiment, adding considerably to its payroll. On 25 June Pigeon told the committee of safety that he also needed a “supervisor” near each of the main camps of the American army, in Cambridge and Roxbury. Men
whose duty it shall severally be, constantly to attend said camps and examine into the supplies of each Regiment, to see that such supplies are properly delivered out in time, quantity, and quality, and timeously to advise the Commissary-General when and what articles of supplies are wanted at the respective camps, and also to take care that the empty casks are saved and returned to the Commissary-General’s office for further service.
Gotta collect those empties.

Three days later, at Pigeon’s request, the congress appointed a committee to examine his account books. This was a common way to respond to accusations of malfeasance or other criticism.

And Pigeon was getting criticism. After the Battle of Bunker Hill the army had spread out, putting more men on Prospect and Winter Hills to prevent any redcoats from charging off the Charlestown peninsula. That made it harder to supply every regiment. On 30 June Gen. Artemas Ward wrote to Pigeon:
There, are now on Prospect Hill nearly four thousand men, who at present are obliged to come to the store in [Harvard] college, for all the provisions they stand in need of. If they can be supplied with provisions at the hill, it will tend much to the safety of the lines there, for a great number of the men are now obliged daily to leave the lines that they may convey provisions to others upon the hill; and the milk especially, when it is conveyed from the store in college to the hill, is unfit for any person in camp to eat; therefore, if possible, it must be altered.
The next day, the commissary general gave the congress a list of twenty-six men he wanted appointed deputies.

But by then, apparently, Pigeon had damaged his reputation with his colleagues. On 9 August James Warren, president of the congress, told John Adams, “his temper is so petulant, that he has been desirous of quitting for some time, and, indeed, I have wished it.”

The Continental Congress’s takeover of the New England army offered a way to resolve this situation. On 19 July the Congress in Philadelphia appointed Joseph Trumbull, politically well connected and already in camp as commissary for the Connecticut troops, to be commissary general of the whole army. On 12 August the Massachusetts General Court responded by passing this resolve:
all Contracts made by our Committee of Supplies, for Victualling said Massachusetts Army, are terminated; and the Commissary General of said Continental Army, is to be considered at Liberty to purchase Supplies for Victualling said Army, of such Persons, and in such Way and Manner as he shall see fit.
Pigeon might have stayed on as Trumbull’s deputy or the Massachusetts government’s liaison to his office. Members of his staff continued to work for the army. But his accounts for the Cambridge and Roxbury stores and his ledger stop abruptly in early August, even before the legislature’s vote. (Thanks to Stephanie Dyson at the Massachusetts Archives for sending those links.)

By November 1775 the Massachusetts government was treating Richard Devens, a reliable member of the committee of safety from Charlestown, as its head commissary. No one’s found a date for his official commission; Devens seems to have slid into the office after working on other assignments, but by the end of the year he had the title.

And on 9 December, the legislature had to resolve:
Whereas, John Pigeon, the late Commissary of the Forces raised by this Colony, keeps his books at some distance from the Army, by reason whereof the Officers of the Army are prevented from settling their Rolls as ordered by this Court:

Therefore, Resolved, That the said Pigeon be, and he hereby is directed to furnish the Officers of said forces with such Accounts as said Pigeon is possessed of, necessary to the making up their Rolls at Cambridge, and that he be desired to attend there, to settle said Accounts, as long as his presence there may be necessary.
That order might be why the state archives now contains some of Pigeon’s accounts. Then again, a couple of later resolutions suggest that the legislature had to guess about what to pay men for work in the commissary department, so Pigeon may not have turned over all his records.

John and Jane Pigeon’s only daughter, Patience, died in Newton in 1777 at age twenty-four. Their sons John, Jr., and Henry both married in 1790 and started having children. Then Henry died in 1799; John, Sr., in 1800; and John, Jr., in 1801. Widow Jane Pigeon passed away in 1808.

Pigeon’s estates in Newton became the town’s poor farm for a while. But one grandson born in 1799, the Rev. Charles Dumaresq Pigeon, remembered that property fondly. He bought land in the “Riverside” area in 1846, convinced a railroad to build a stop there, and recruited other clergymen to retire nearby. The result was the genteel suburb that the Rev. Mr. Pigeon dubbed Auburndale.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The First Continental Death Under Gen. Washington

Back in February, the Journal of the American Revolution ran Patrick H. Hannum’s article “America’s First Continental Army Combat Casualty.” Hannum confined his search to the riflemen from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland, categorizing the New England troops already at the siege of Boston as militia. He named Pvt. William Simpson as the first man from those rifle companies to die.

I was among the commenters responding that by the end of May 1775 the New Englanders were legally enlisted as full-time soldiers for the rest of the year. And the Continental Congress adopted the colony armies around Boston at the same time it recruited men from the south and appointed George Washington, Philip Schuyler, Charles Lee, and other generals. Thus, all the troops around Boston were Continentals.

Another such commenter was Jim Gallagher, who went on to explore the question of who was the first soldier from
any unit of the Continental Army to die under Washington’s command. I’m running his findings as a guest blogger on this anniversary.

We can identify the first fatal casualty of the Continental Army according to Gen. George Washington’s reports to Congress. In his first report of 10 July 1775, addressed to John Hancock, the new commander reported a successful action with no American casualties (driving British troops from an outpost at Brown’s house/store).

In his second report, written 14 July, Washington reported the action of 12 July; the first engagement under his command which resulted in casualties. Casualties consisted of one soldier wounded and another killed on Moon Island in Boston Harbor. This soldier was killed while covering the withdrawal of a party burning hay to prevent its use by British troops.

According to a letter from Richard Cranch to John Adams the valiant soldier killed in this expedition was a “Mr. Clarke, of Stoughton.”

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War verifies the death (pg 562), listing this soldier as Nehemiah Clark, of Stoughtonham, who marched on the alarm of April 19 and then enlisted on 8 May 1775 in Col. Joseph Reed’s 20th Reg’t, Capt. Samuel Payson’s Co., killed at Squantom 12 July 1775. Squantom is the town nearest to, and incorporates, Moon Island, and this engagement is known colloquially as “the Battle of Squantom”.

Nehemiah Clark’s story is equally compelling and offers glimpses into the relationships between the soldiers, their cause, and their families. Nehemiah was born 23 Feb 1741, son of Ichabod and Sarah Clark of Stoughton.

He married Judith Payson, sister of the man who became his company commander, on 9 Aug 1764, in Sharon, where the couple lived. At that time Sharon was an unincorporated area of Stoughton; an area from which today one can see the lights and hear crowd noise from Gillette Stadium, home field of the New England Patriots. The couple had six children, four of whom survived to adulthood. One of the twins born ten months after their marriage died shortly after birth, and another child died in 1774 at seven months of age.

Nehemiah left his wife and four children behind. Following his death, records show that his pay and the value of the “bounty coat” he never received were collected by his lieutenant on behalf of the family. Judith Clark never remarried, and died in 1786 of jaundice and scurvy. (“Clarks of Sharon”, 1999, Dr. Frank O. Clark.)

Thanks to Jim Gallagher, and to Patrick H. Hannum, for bringing to light the names and details of those unfortunate men, making them more than casualty figures again.

The photograph above shows Moon Island today, connected to the mainland by a causeway. It now belongs to Quincy, and is used by the Boston Police and Fire Departments for training.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Birth in Braintree 250 Years Ago

On this date 250 years ago, Abigail Adams gave birth to her second child and first son.

No letters or diary entries survive from the Adams household that month. Decades later, Abigail’s husband John mentioned the event in his autobiography:
The Year before this, i.e. in 1767 My Son John Quincy Adams was born on the             day of August, at Braintree, and at the request of his Grandmother [Eizabeth] Smith christened by the Name of her Father John Quincy on the day of the Death of his Great Grandfather, John Quincy of Mount Wollaston.
Later still, John Quincy Adams himself went into his father’s papers, wrote “eleventh” in the space for the date and corrected “August” to “July.” Always the careful one.

J. Q. Adams wrote to a friend about his great grandfather:
He was dying when I was baptized; and his daughter, my grandmother, present at my birth, requested that I might receive his name. The fact, recorded by my father at the time, has connected with that portion of my name a charm of mingled sensibility and devotion. It was filial tenderness that gave the name. It was the name of one passing from earth to immortality. These have been among the strongest links of my attachment to the name of Quincy, and have been to me, through life, a perpetual admonition to do nothing unworthy of it.
John Quincy (1689-1767) died on 13 July, two days after the birth of his great-grandson. He had represented Braintree in the Massachusetts General Court for well over twenty years, in many of those terms serving as speaker. When the north precinct of Braintree became a separate town in 1792, it took the name of Quincy in his honor.

Monday, July 10, 2017

John Pigeon Becomes Massachusetts Commissary

As I wrote yesterday, in 1768 the Boston merchant and insurance broker John Pigeon retired to a farm estate in Newton. But in 1773, as he neared his fiftieth birthday, he became politically active in his new town. The next fall he was elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and became clerk of its committee of safety.

Starting in November 1774, that committee and the parallel committee on supplies secretly began to collect artillery for a provincial army outside royal control. Some seaside towns and the Boston militia train had already secured their ordnance. To gain control of that process, the committees had to contact the people holding those weapons, find others willing to loan guns they owned, and prepare them all for battle.

Pigeon worked not just at the provincial level but locally. On 2 Jan 1775 he presented his neighbors in Newton with two cannon (size and source unknown). Local historian Francis Jackson summarized the town meeting’s response this way:
Nathan Fuller, Amariah Fuller and Edward Fuller were chosen to obtain subscriptions to mount the two field pieces.

Voted, to raise men to exercise the field-pieces, and Captain Amariah Fuller, Captain Jeremiah Wiswall, and Major Benjamin Hammond, were chosen a committee for that purpose, and instructed them to raise a company of Minute Men, consisting of thirty-two men, besides the officers; and that said Minute Men meet once a week, during the Winter season, half a day, for exercise; and all that attend, shall be paid eight pence each.
With those actions, Newton was going to war.

On 22 February, the committee of safety made Pigeon its commissary of stores as well as its clerk. Of course, members put as little in writing as possible. For instance, on 17 April Pigeon wrote to the Worcester militia captain Timothy Bigelow:

The committee desired me to write you, to desire the favor of your company, next Wednesday, the 19th instant, at Mr. [Ethan] Wetherby’s, at the Black Horse, in Menotomy, on business of great importance.

Sir, your most humble servant,
J. PIGEON, Clerk.

P. S. The committee meet at ten o’clock.
Needless to say, that meeting didn’t take place. Pigeon was soon sending out more committee orders to move gunpowder, cannon, oatmeal, rice, and raisins around eastern Massachusetts.

The emergency of 19 April brought out the militia. (One chronicler wrote that Newton’s alarm signal was a shot from Pigeon’s cannon.) Over the next few weeks some of those men returned home while others stayed, unsure of their command structure or pay. Gen. Artemas Ward urged the congress to enlist soldiers for the rest of the year. Such an army also needed an administrative structure and a supply chain.

On 19 May the congress created the post of commissary general:
Resolved, That Mr. John Pigeon be, and he hereby is appointed and empowered, as a commissary for the army of this colony, to draw from the magazines, which are or may be provided for that purpose, such provisions and other stores as, from time to time, he shall find necessary for the army; and he is further empowered, to recommend to the Congress such persons as shall be necessary, and as he shall think qualified, to serve as deputy commissioners: and said deputy commissioners, when confirmed by the congress for the time being, shall have full power to act in said office, and are to be accountable to the commissary for their doings; also, said commissary is empowered to contract with, and employ, such other persons to assist him in executing his office, as shall be, by him, found necessary; and his contracts, for necessaries to supply the army, during the late confused state of the colony, shall be allowed; and the committee of supplies are hereby directed to examine, and if they find them reasonable, considering the exigencies of the times, to draw on the treasury for payment of the same.
Pigeon had already appointed four deputies at Roxbury, Medford, Watertown, and Waltham back on 7 May. The army had two big storehouses at Cambridge and Roxbury for the army’s two wings. In addition, Joseph Trumbull had arrived from Connecticut as that colony’s commissary. With New Englanders largely united behind the war and the region’s farmlands and roads safe from any British attack, food was not hard to find.

Pigeon also remained involved with the army’s armaments. On 24 June, the committee of safety assigned artificers to work “in Newton, in buildings of Mr. John Pigeon,” on cannon and other military stores. But by then, it appears, the job of commissary was proving too much for him.

COMING UP: Mr. Pigeon’s petulance.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

John Pigeon Retires to the Country

John Pigeon (1725-1800) was a prominent Boston merchant specializing in dry goods, meaning cloth and clothing.

Pigeon married Jane Dumaresq, from a wealthy Huguenot family, in 1752. He was an Anglican, a warden of Christ Church in the North End.

In the 1750s Pigeon ran notices in the Boston News-Letter and Boston Evening-Post announcing what people could buy “At his Shop near Doctor [John] Clark’s” on Fish Street in the North End. These were long advertisements in small (italic) type listing a broad assortment of cloths with now-unfamiliar names, subtle variations on types of handkerchiefs, and garments of many sorts.

As was typical at the time, Pigeon didn’t confine himself to one line. He also offered “Cheshire cheese, starch, best London pipes,…Philadelphia flour, rice, English west-india rum, New-England cheese, indigo, sugars, cocoa, coffee, whale-bone and turpentine.”

In 1762 Pigeon shifted his business. The 25 October Evening-Post stated:
This is to give Public Notice, That the Underwriters at Mr. John Welsh’s Insurance Office, North-End of Boston, have removed a little further to the Northward, to a New Insurance Office, just opened by Mr. John Pigeon, where he lately kept Shop; and where constant Attendance will be given by said Pigeon, to any Gentleman that will favour him with their Business, and the Business transacted with the greatest Dispatch and Fidelity.
Going into the insurance business didn’t mean Pigeon got out of shopkeeping entirely, however. On 18 Feb 1765 he advertised that “At the Insurance-Office in Fish-Street” people could buy “A small Parcel of choice CYDER, Anchors, Deck and Sheathing Nails, and English GOODS at the cheapest Rate.” On 30 September he offered a schooner, “80 or 90 Tons, nine Months old”; a sloop; salt; fish; anchors; and shoes, as well as those “English GOODS.”

Pigeon showed other signs of prosperity, admirable and regrettable. He was elected one of Boston’s wardens, responsible for enforcing the Sabbath. He was also a slave owner. In 1753 his servants Manuel and Dinah got married. In 1763 Pigeon advertised for the return of another slave named Zangoe, “a middling sized Fellow, about 28 Years old, speaks broken English, but can talk pretty good French.”

Because Pigeon sold so many things, possibly on behalf of others, it’s not clear whether the “convenient Dwelling House with a Shop” that he offered on 29 Sept 1766 was his own. That property came with “a good large Yard and Garden, a Barn, Warehouse and Wharf, situate in Boston, near the Hay-Market,” plus three people, “Two Negro Men and one Negro Woman.”

By 1768, Pigeon had moved out to Newton. In May he asked readers of the Boston News-Letter and Boston Chronicle to alert him to any debts he still owed through “Mr. Nathaniel Barber, at the Insurance Office.” He was by then “but seldom in Boston.” Pigeon had retired to the life of a country gentleman.

Pigeon bought a house and land in Newton in 1769, then 60 acres and another house in 1770, and the house shown above in 1773. It’s possible he was moving around, but he also had two young sons—Henry and John, Jr.—to set up eventually. So maybe those other properties were meant for them.

Newton had no Anglican church for the family. The Pigeons took in John Marrett (1741-1813), a 1763 graduate of Harvard College, probably as a tutor for those boys. After trying for other pulpits, Marrett was installed in 1773 at the Woburn parish that became Burlington. He was a Congregationalist, and it seems significant that John Pigeon, Jr., went to the Presbyterian college at Princeton in May 1773 rather than Harvard, which was closer and more welcoming for Anglicans.

In January 1774, Newton’s town meeting named John Pigeon to its new committee of correspondence, headed by Edward Durant. That September, Pigeon chaired the committee to instruct the town’s representatives to the Massachusetts General Court, including Durant. He joined those men in the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress the following month.

At the congress, one of Pigeon’s committee assignments was assessing the financial losses caused by the Boston Port Bill. His familiarity with Boston business suited him for that. On 29 October, he was also elected to the congress’s crucial committee of safety. Four days later, at that committee’s first meeting, he was chosen clerk. That put John Pigeon right in the middle of Massachusetts’s preparations for war.

TOMORROW: Pigeon as commissary.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

“The Road to Revolution in Newton,” 11 July

On Tuesday, 11 July, I’ll speak at the Newton Free Library on the topic “The Road to Revolution in Newton.”

This will be another talk based on The Road to Concord with a local twist:
In September 1774 the farmers of Middlesex County rose up and ended royal government in most of Massachusetts. For the next seven months, Patriot activists and the British governor raced to seize artillery. Cannon disappeared from ships, shore batteries and even armories under redcoat guard. In Newton, citizens voted to form their own artillery company. 
Over the next couple of days I’ll consider the rise and fall of the man who donated the cannon for that company, John Pigeon.

This talk is special to me since I grew up in Newton and live there now. In fact, I found the first intriguing tidbits of information about cannons being stolen from Boston armories under redcoat guard in the Newton Free Library’s fine regional history collection. (No matter that the accounts in nineteenth-century chronicles like The Hundred Boston Orators and Tea Leaves are riddled with misinformation it took me years to sort out.)

This event is co-sponsored by Historic Newton. It will start at 7:00 P.M. in the auditorium of the library at 330 Homer Street. There’s ample free parking, and I’ll have books to sell and sign.

Friday, July 07, 2017

EXTRA: Would You Give an Arm and a Leg for These Amputation Kits?

RR Auction is offering the amputation kits that Dr. John Warren used in the Revolutionary War. Bidding ends on 12 July, with the last online bid at 6:00 P.M. and the final bids handled by phone after that.

According to the company’s announcement on Art Daily:
One kit is covered in shark or ray skin (shagreen) and contains: bullet forceps with scissor handles; tissue forceps; a grooved director; a Petit-style tourniquet; bow-framed metacarpal saw; and an extra blade for a large amputation saw. Attached inside the hinged top cover is a 19th-century hand-written card tracing the provenance, reading: “Revolutionary Instruments given by Joseph Warren to John Warren to John C. Warren to Henry J. Bigelow. Copy of letter describing them in possession of J. Collins Warren.” . . .

The second kit is mahogany and contains: a capital amputation saw, with a wooden-handled instrument with hexagonal nut to adjust the blade; a curved amputation knife; surgical scissors; and tissue forceps (possibly non-original). The interior is fitted for the instruments, and one (a scalpel) is absent. Nailed to the front edge is a very faint handwritten 19th-century identification label that is extremely difficult to read, but with enhanced contrast can be deciphered: “Used during the Revolutionary War by Dr. John Warren.”
In addition, in 1850 Dr. John Collins Warren, son of the surgeon who used these instruments, guessed that “The case was probably given to him by his brother General Joseph Warren, when he served as a medical pupil.” He also wrote, “The tourniquet is a French instrument from a model of great antiquity. It is, perhaps, the best instrument of the kind which has been invented.”

“The colonies submit to pay all external taxes”

On 11 Apr 1767, a letter signed “Benevolus” appeared in the London Chronicle. It was reprinted in two other London newspapers within the week.

The Pennsylvania Chronicle, the influential newspaper still co-owned by Benjamin Franklin, ran the letter on 8 June, and Boston newspapers carried it by the end of that month.

“Benevolus” wrote to refute several misconceptions about the American colonists, such as “That they refused to contribute towards the expence of those [recent] wars,” and “That they pay no taxes.”

Misconception number 8 was “That the colonies contend the parliament of Britain has no authority over them.” The essayist assured London readers:
The truth is, that all acts of the British legislature, expressly extending to the colonies, have ever been received there as laws, and executed in their courts, the right of parliament to make them being never yet contested, acts to raise money upon the colonies by internal taxes only and alone excepted.
For “internal taxes” on trade or property within the colonies, Americans insisted—just as Britons did—that only a legislature which represented them could enact such taxes.

But “Benevolus” allowed something else:
The colonies submit to pay all external taxes laid on them by way of duty on merchandizes imported into their country, and never disputed the authority of parliament to lay such duties.

The distinction indeed between internal and external taxes is here looked upon as groundless and frivolous, and some are apt to wonder how a sensible people should ever advance it. But an American founds it thus; an internal tax to be raised in the colonies by authority of parliament, forces the money out of my purse without the consent of my representative in assembly: An external tax or duty is added to the first cost and other charges of the commodity on which it is laid, and makes a part of its price: If I do not like it, at that price I refuse it. If I do like it, I pay the price, and do not need to give my consent by my representative for the payment of this tax, because I can consent to it myself in person.

However, whether there be validity in this distinction or not, seems to be immaterial; since if they are willing to pay external though not internal taxes, and we say they are the same, ’tis then the same thing to us, provided we get the same money from them, as much as they ought or are able to pay, and we may let them please themselves with their futile distinction as long as they think proper.
Assurances like this one emboldened Charles Townshend to propose new bills in May 1767 laying tariffs on tea, wine, glass, paper, and other goods shipped into the American colonies. After all, those were all “external taxes.” That distinction was how Townshend could say ”he would cut off that Hand before he would vote for taxing America” at the same time he was proposing new Customs duties to be collected in America.

“Benevolus” wasn’t just any political observer, though. He was the designated agent for multiple colonial governments and the most respected American in London. He was Benjamin Franklin.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

A New Approach to “American Affairs” in 1767

On 6 July 1767, 250 years ago today, the Boston Post-Boy printed important news from London. A letter dated 11 May described the new policy of Britain’s finance minister, Charles Townshend:
A few Days before the House of Commons adjourned for the Easter Holidays, the Ch[ancello]r of the Ex[cheque]r opened his budget, with very great Applause, even Mr. G——lle [George Grenville, former prime minister] complimented him on the Occasion: among other things he made it appear, that besides paying the Navy and Army and all other Charges for Government for the Last Year, he had sunk [i.e., reduced] Three Millions, nine hundred Thousand Pounds of the National Debt, and assured them that the next Year he would discharge a much greater Sum, notwithstanding they had reduced the Land-Tax one Shilling in the Pound.

He took an Occasion Yesterday to say, that it was reported out of Doors that he was for taxing America. I declare, says he, I am not, nor never was; I thought the Stamp-Act a very improper Measure, and us’d my Endeavours for the Repeal; and (holding out his Hand) he said he would cut off that Hand before he would vote for taxing America; and if any of the Duties laid on Trade shall appear burthensome, nothing shall be wanting in me to remove them.
“Duties laid on Trade”? What did that refer to? The newspaper then printed under the dateline of 14 May:
Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer mov’d the House for Leave to bring in the following Bills, which was agreed to.

An Act to permit Wine, Fruit and Oil to be carried from Spain and Portugal directly to North-America

An Act laying a Duty on China, Paper, Glass, and Painters Colours, shipped from Great-Britain to the Colonies.

An Act for settling a Salary on the Governor, and Judges, &c in North America.

An Act for Establishing a Board of Revenue in North America.
And there was yet more information in letters sent by “some Gentlemen at the New-England Coffee House”—merchants doing business with the region, some of whom had family there as well. Those came with some passengers on a ship that left London on 14 May.
The Parliament met the 13th of May upon American Affairs, and resolved that a Bill be brought in after the following Manner,

That a Tax be laid on Painters Colours, Paper, Glass and China. That the Americans may have Liberty of importing Lemmons, Wine, Fruit & Oil directly from Spain and Portugal, subject to a Duty, the Duty on Wine to be 7£ per Ton

That the Duty on Tea remaining in England be taken off, and a Duty of 3d. per lb. be laid on the Importation in America.

That there be a Board of Customs, as also a Court of Exchequer in New England.

That the Legislative Power of New-York cease until they comply with the Billeting Bill.

That the Governors and Judges be made independent by encreasing their Salary, which is to be paid out of the Revenues of the Customs.

George Grenville made a Motion to oblige the Americans to take an Oath of Allegiance and Obedience to the Parliament of Great Britain, which was put to Vote—for the Question 90[;] against it 180 odd.
The chancellor of the exchequer’s new bills became known as the Townshend Acts—a program that installed new tariffs on selected goods shipped from Britain to America, strengthened the Customs service to collect that revenue, and directed it to officials appointed by the London government.

Another new law put pressure on the New York assembly to supply barracks and firewood for royal troops in that province. Though the House of Commons voted down Grenville’s proposal that Americans have to swear an oath of allegiance, the rest of the package had a lot to concern North American Whigs, regardless of Townshend’s assurance that he opposed “taxing America.”

And by the time the Post-Boy and other newspapers printed that intelligence, the laws had already sailed through the entire Parliament. On 29 June, King George III gave his assent, and the Townshend Acts became law.

TOMORROW: Who assured Townshend that Americans wouldn’t object to tariffs?

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Gen. Washington at His Headquarters in Cambridge, 8 July

On Saturday, 8 July, John Koopman will once again portray Gen. George Washington at his Cambridge headquarters, now the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site.

That date is the anniversary of when the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s Committee of Safety voted to fix up the mansion belonging to John Vassall for the new commander-in-chief. Vassall, a Loyalist, had left a very fine house behind when he moved into Boston.

After arriving on 2 July, Washington and Gen. Charles Lee first stayed in the house usually reserved for the Harvard College president. Back in 2012, I shared my thinking on why Washington preferred to move to the Vassall house.

It’s not exactly clear who was in the John Vassall House in early July. Massachusetts Committee of Safety records for 15 May refer to moving “the three companies at Mr. Vassal’s house” out to “Mr. Foxcroft’s house.” Four days later, the committee proposed to use the Vassall house itself, “as soon as General [Artemas] Ward shall provide for the soldiers in said houses in some other places.”

But then came the Battle of Bunker Hill. The provincial army suddenly needed more hospital space for the wounded, and on 22 June Col. John Glover’s regiment was summoned from Marblehead to Cambridge to strengthen the siege lines. Washington’s account book states that the Vassall house “had been occupied by the Marblehd. Regimt” before he moved in, but no other source offers more information about that.

On 28 June, Ward ordered “That Lieut.-Colonel [William] Bond occupy one room, in the south-east corner of Col. Vassall’s house, upon the second floor, for the sick belonging to said regiment.” That was the regiment of Col. Thomas Gardner. Its medical staff consisted of Dr. Abraham Watson, Jr. (1752-1804), of Cambridge as surgeon and Dr. William Vinal (1752-1781) of Watertown as his mate. Though Watson and Vinal, classmates in the Harvard class of 1771, weren’t formally commissioned until early July, they probably treated the wounded in the Vassall house. That may even have been where Col. Gardner himself died of his wounds on 3 July.

Washington’s return visit to his headquarters at 105 Brattle Street will take place on Saturday from noon to 4:00 P.M. The site is free to all visitors, but Cambridge parking rules apply to nearby spaces, so it may be easier to stroll out from the Harvard Square subway station.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Declaration as Historiography

Inspired by the Course of Human Events blog’s “Fresh Takes” project, I’ve been thinking about the Declaration of Independence as a historiographical text. It presents a philosophy of history, describes historical events, and bases its argument on history.

Philosophically, the Declaration reflects Whiggish ideas about the origin of government and the legitimacy of some past revolutions:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The document finds weight in the passage of time, expressing a respect for “Governments long established.” But it also acknowledges, again drawing on the past, that tyrannies have gone on too long: “all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

At the core of the Declaration is an examination of more recent history as ”a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object”:
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. . . .
The grievances that follow can all (sometimes with a little squinting) be connected to at least one event in the preceding ten to twelve years.

Finally, in addressing the British nation, the Continental Congress wrote: “We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here.” While looking ahead, the Congress was looking back.

Monday, July 03, 2017

”What is necessary to be done relative to a Colony Seal”

As I described yesterday, in October 1775 Gen. Thomas Gage discovered that the royal seal of Massachusetts had disappeared from the Council Chamber in what’s now the Old State House.

Naturally, we might assume that Patriots had stolen it. After all, they had stolen four cannon from militia armories under redcoat guard in September 1774 [see The Road to Concord].

The British military engineer Capt. John Montresor at some point even wrote in his diary about “General Gage having all his Cabinet papers, Ministers’ Letters, &c., and his Correspondence all stole out of a large Closet, or Wardrobe, up one pair of Stairs on the Landing at the Government House at Boston.” (But there’s no confirmation of such a theft, and Gage’s correspondence seems to be intact at the Clements Library.)

So was the seal spirited out of Boston for the Patriot government to use?

Probably not. Because that government outside Boston had already commissioned and started to use a new seal reflecting its ideology. The state Secretary of State states:
When the conflict between the province and England began in 1775, General Thomas Gage, the royal governor, had custody of the province seal. As his authority was no longer recognized by the province it became necessary to establish a new public seal.

The General Court passed an order on July 28, 1775, appointing a committee to consider ”what is necessary to be done relative to a Colony Seal.” The design adopted was that of an English-American man holding the Magna Carta. The seal was engraved by Paul Revere, whose original signed bill for the work is located in the Massachusetts Archives.

A motto in Latin was also chosen—“Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem”—which remains the motto of the Commonwealth today. Freely translated this means, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.” It was written about 1659 and is attributed to the famous English patriot, Algernon Sydney [sic].
It’s conceivable that the royal seal was taken out to the Massachusetts Council and that body just decided not to use it. If I were writing a spy novel, I’d imagine Patriots using it to forge a commission or other credentials for an undercover agent. But my bet is that the royal seal went missing during the turbulence of the siege, and within a few months no one cared.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

“All the Seals have been taken out of the Council Chamber”

Hace you seen the last royal seal of Massachusetts?

At left is a picture of the impression the seal made. It shows the royal arms of Great Britain, with the lion and unicorn fighting for a crown, within a motto denoting the reign of George III.

As the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s website explains, royal governors Francis Bernard, Thomas Hutchinson, and Thomas Gage used this seal on official commissions in the 1760s and early 1770s.

And then, in the middle of the siege of Boston, the royal seal disappeared. Gen. Gage issued a proclamation dated 3 Oct 1775 offering “a Reward of Ten Guineas” for its return.

The governor also summoned his Council and appointed a committee to find out where the seal had gone. On 6 October, Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver, Chief Justice Peter Oliver, Treasurer Harrison Gray, William Browne, and Richard Lechmere reported back that they had conducted “a strict enquiry and examination under oath, of all those persons who have been returned to us, as having had access to the Council Chamber between the Ninth day of September and the Fourth of October.” They had collected affidavits. But they had found no answers and no seal.

As reported in the Colonial Society of Massachusetts Transactions, Gage had to report to the Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State:
Boston 9th October 1775

My Lord…

I must inform Your Lordship that a Theft has been committed on the Province, and that all the Seals have been taken out of the Council Chamber where they were kept. This was observed on the 4th Inst; on the 6th I sent a Message to the Lieutenant Governor and Council, to make every necessary enquiry they possibly could, into the matter, which they have done, and I am sorry to tell Your Lordship without any good effect; which you will see by their answer to my message, which I have now the honor to transmit to Your Lordship.
I’m curious why the governor reported that people had noticed the seal was missing on 4 October when his proclamation was dated 3 October. Perhaps the young printer John Howe had made an error, or perhaps Gage had. He was about to leave Massachusetts for good, sailing away on 11 October, so he had a lot of other things on his mind.

TOMORROW: Did Patriots steal the seal?