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

•••••••••••••••••

Friday, May 25, 2018

Going through the Motions on Election Day

On 25 May 1768, 250 years ago today, Election Day finally arrived in Boston.

At 9:00 A.M. the towns’ representatives to the Massachusetts General Court gathered in the Town House and took their oaths of office. They unanimously reelected Thomas Cushing as the assembly’s speaker and Samuel Adams as the clerk.

At 11:00, Gov. Francis Bernard walked over from his official residence, the Province House, escorted by two upper-class militia units: the Horse Guards under Col. David Phips and the Cadets under Lt. Col. Joseph Scott. Bernard received Cushing and approved the assembly’s choice, and then everyone walked a block to the Old Brick Meeting-House to hear a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Shute (1722-1802) of Hingham.

Shute had chosen to speak on Ezra 10:4: “Arise: for this Matter belongeth unto thee; we also will be with thee: be of good Courage; and do it.” While hearing that exhortation to action, the gentlemen got to sit for a long time. According to merchant John Rowe, “This was a very long sermon, being one hour & forty minutes.”

Then came the midday dinner. Boston’s town meeting had barred the use of Faneuil Hall as long as the governor invited the Commissioners of Customs to dine. Many of the Cadets had said they wouldn’t participate in any such event, either. But Gov. Bernard was not about to back down on an issue of respecting the royal prerogative.

Therefore, there were two dinners on that Election Day. As the 26 May 1768 Boston News-Letter reported, Bernard and Cushing “together with the Council, and several other Gentlemen, went in Procession to the Province House, (preceded by the Militia Officers, and escorted by the Cadets,) where an elegant Dinner was provided by His Excellency…”

Meanwhile, “A public entertainment was provided at the British Coffee-House, where the militia Officers, Troop of Guards, and Company of Cadets dined, & where also many loyal Toasts were drank.” There were also traditional cannon salutes from the North and South Batteries and Castle William.

The week before, most of the Cadets were refusing to promise to participate in the Election Day pageantry. Maj. John Hancock had reportedly torn up his commission, and company members talked about replacing Lt. Col. Scott as their commander. But, most likely because of an after-hours meeting that Thomas Flucker facilitated between Hancock and Gov. Bernard, the Cadets did escort the governor after all. The separate dinners meant they didn’t have to sit down with the Customs Commissioners.

There may have been another part of the deal. On 2 June, the News-Letter reported:
His Excellency the GOVERNOR hath appointed JOHN HANCOCK, Esq; to be first Major of the Independant Company of Cadets, and WILLIAM COFFIN, jun. Esq; to be second Major of the said Company.
Hancock already held the rank of major; I don’t know if becoming “first Major” was a promotion. Nor can I tell if he participated in the Cadets’ procession on Election Day or sat that one out. But, even after his vocal protest, Bernard restored Hancock’s high rank.

Hancock may have come around to the position that the Cadets should respect the office of the governor even when they disagreed with his actions. In May 1773 there was another controversy over the presence of the Customs Commissioners at an Election Day gathering. Two Cadets, Moses Grant and James Foster Condy, clubbed their muskets and participated in the raucous protest outside. By then Hancock had become the colonel in charge of the company, and he booted Grant and Condy out.

In the end, the public dispute about the Customs Commissioners and the dinner was symbolic. But Election Day was also about allocating real political power.

TOMORROW: Electing the governor’s Council.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

“One of the leaders of the Disaffected in this town”

In May 1768, as I quoted yesterday, Boston’s town meeting took a stand against letting the Commissioners of Customs dine in Faneuil Hall on Election Day. If Gov. Francis Bernard wanted to invite those tariff-collecting officials to the day’s traditional dinner, he’d have to find somewhere else to dine.

One Bostonian was in an even sharper feud with the Customs service that spring: John Hancock. I’ll save the meat of their dispute for an anniversary next month. For now, I’ll simply say that Hancock had declared that he wouldn’t participate in any dinner that involved the Customs Commissioners. That meant not joining the usual military escort for the governor as an officer in the Company of Cadets, the province’s most prestigious militia company.

On 12 May the Commissioners complained about the situation in a letter to London, as Neal Nusholtz quoted in this article at the Journal of the American Revolution:
We cannot omit mentioning to your Lordships that Mr. Hancock before named is one of the leaders of the Disaffected in this town, that early in the Winter he declared in the General Assembly that he would not suffer our officers to go even on board any of his London Ships and now he carries his opposition to Government to even a higher pitch.

Being Major of his company of Cadets which distinguished itself in the year 1766 [actually September 1765] by putting a stop to the riots, and it being usual for the Governor to invite all the servants of the Crown to Dine with him on the Day of their general election, which happens on the 25th instant, a Majority of his Corps met together a few days ago and came to a resolution to acquaint the Governor, that they would not attend him on that occasion as usual if he invited the Commissioners of the Customs to dine with him, and this being signified to His Excellency, he answered that he would enter into no stipulation with them, and positively required their attendance.
Gov. Bernard liked the Cadets because they had helped keep the peace after the worst Stamp Act riot. He had given the company commander, Leonard Jarvis, some very good introductions before he sailed to London in late 1767. Now the governor summoned the acting commander, Lt. Col. Joseph Scott. (Scott took over formally in 1769. He makes a notable appearance in The Road to Concord because he was an ironmonger who sold artillery ordnance.)

According to a detailed account signed “Marmaduke Myrmidon” and published in the 9 May Boston Gazette, Gov. Bernard told Scott that the Cadets’ disrespect for his office “would tend to anarchy and confusion, and erase the very shadow of military discipline.” He ordered Scott to summon the entire company and ask each man in turn if he would report on Election Day. If anyone said no, the lieutenant colonel should respond that “the G[overnor] thank’d him for his past services, and dismiss’d him from any further employment.”

The Cadets balked at the governor’s demand. The Gazette article said “a very few” promised to attend, “some” said they wouldn’t, and most refused to answer either way. The Customs Commissioners said, “Mr. Hancock thereupon tore the seal off his Commission, and all the rest of the Company except nine Declared they would not continue any longer in the service.”

On 12 May, the same day as the Commissioners’ letter, the bulk of the Cadets met without Scott. They talked about replacing him with a commander they preferred. The next day those men sent a committee out to Gov. Bernard’s home in Jamaica Plain to tell him of their preference. The day after that, the governor’s secretary, John Cotton, replied that the ex-Cadets were just piling one affront on top of another. (“Marmaduke Myrmidon” would publish Cotton’s note in the 23 May Gazette.)

However, at the end of that week, with Election Day coming closer, men moved to patch things up. On 18 May, Cotton wrote to Hancock “conveying the Governor's displeasure at the unlawful assembly of the Cadets and Hancock after the latter’s dismissal” but opening the door to a dialogue. (That description comes from the catalogue of the Cadets’ papers at Boston University.) Bernard was willing to meet and clear up misunderstandings—as long as there was a witness present. At noon on Sunday, 22 May, Council member Thomas Flucker invited Hancock to come to his house “immediately after sunset” to meet with the governor.

On 23 May, the Boston town meeting confirmed their vote against letting Gov. Bernard use Faneuil Hall for any dinner involving the Customs Commissioners. Later that day, the Boston Evening-Post carried a two-paragraph announcement from Joseph Scott, desiring “The Gentlemen of the Cadet Company under my Command” to report that evening and the next at Faneuil Hall, presumably for drill and inspection, and then to gather “at the usual Place of Parade” at 9:00 A.M. on Wednesday—Election Day.

TOMORROW: Election Day at last.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“To refuse the use of Faneuil Hall” on Election Day

In late colonial Boston, “Election Day” wasn’t the day that people voted for their representatives in the Massachusetts General Court. The special town meetings for that purpose convened on different days in early May, whenever the local selectmen chose.

In 1768, 250 years ago, for example, Boston had its town meeting to elect representatives on 4 May. James Otis. Jr. (shown here), moderated and was also chosen one of the town’s four representatives to the legislature.

“Election Day” was when all the towns’ representatives met for the first time as the General Court and voted with the members of the outgoing Council on who would serve on the Council for the following year.

The legislators could name up to twenty-eight Councilors. The provincial charter required a certain number from the old Plymouth colony and the Maine district. But the royal governor could “negative,” or veto, any members he didn’t want to work with.

That election usually took place in late May. There was always a sermon for the assembled politicians; being asked to deliver the Election Day sermon was a big honor for a minister, and the result was usually published. There was also a fancy banquet for the assembled gentlemen.

In 1768, Election Day was scheduled for 25 May. And the Election Day banquet was already a bone of contention.

Back on 4 May the Boston town meeting had named its four representatives and then voted:

That the Selectmen be directed to refuse the use of Faneuil Hall to his Excelly. the Governor and Council on the Ensuing Election Day unless they shall be ascertained that the Commissioners of the Board of Customs, or their Attendants are not to be invited to dine there on said Day
Those Customs Commissioners were the royal appointees collecting Parliament’s new Townshend duties.

[That same town meeting also approved building a new gunhouse beside Boston Common, a crucial site in The Road to Concord.]

As Election Day of 1768 grew closer, some Bostonians apparently felt that the town had made its point but shouldn’t be so obstreperous. On the afternoon of 23 May, with Otis once again moderating the town meeting,
It was moved and accordingly put, That there be a reconsideration of a late Vote enjoining the Selectmen to refuse the use of Faneuil Hall to his Excellency the Governor & Council on the ensuing Election Day unless they shall be ascertained that the Commissioners of the Board of Customs or their Attendants are not to be Invited to dine there on said Day —

which Question passed in the Negative almost unanimously.
So the town of Boston and Gov. Francis Bernard were headed for a collision.

TOMORROW: And they weren’t the only ones.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Making Clothing for the Army

Another of Alex Burns’s recent postings on eighteenth-century soldiers at Kabinettskriege was on the impracticality of soldiers’ uniforms.

To fill out that topic, I can also point to John U. Rees’s article "’The taylors of the regiment’: Insights on Soldiers Making and Mending Clothing, and Continental Army Clothing Supply, 1776 to 1783,” published in Military Collector & Historian in 2011 and now available through Scribd.

Armies relied on tailors in their own ranks to alter garments received in bulk from suppliers, and in some cases to make that clothing from cloth.

Rees quotes a 25 Jan 1780 letter from Lt. Erkuries Beatty of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment to one of his brothers about the clothing workshop near Morristown:
…when we join’d the [main] Army I found I had to do the Duty of Regiment[al] Clothier to[o], which is the Cause of all my trouble, for I have lately drew Cloathing for the Regt. & it is almost all to make up from the Cloth all which I must oversee, which keeps me very Close confined–

If you was just now to step into my Hutt (which is only a very small Room if it ever got finished) I will tell you just how you would find me. . . . You’ll find me sitting on a Chest, in the Center of Six or Eight Taylors, with my Book Pen & Ink on one side and the Buttons and thread on the other–the Taylors yo’ll find some A Cutting out, others sewing, outside of the taylors you will see maybe half Dozen Men naked as Lazarus, begging for Cloathing, and about the Room you will see nothing but Cloth & Cloathing, on the floor you’ll find it about knee deep with Snips of Cloth & Dirt–

If you stay any time you’ll hear every Minute knock–knock at the door & I calling walk in, others going out, which makes a Continual Bussle–presently I begin to swear, sometimes have to jump up blundering over two or three taylors to whip somebody out of the house–othertimes [Capt. George] Tudor and my Mess Mates they begin to swear, & with our Swearing, and the taylors singing (as you know they must), and the Men a grumbling…makes pretty Music for your Ear, and thats the way from morning to night, & from Weeks End to weeks end, & I am sure I need not complain for want of Company…
Lt. Beatty (1759-1823, shown above) was only twenty years old at the time, but he had years of military experience. He had enlisted in 1775 as a sixteen-year-old private nicknamed “Arky.” A minister’s son, he was promoted into the officer‘s ranks at the start of 1777. By the winter of 1780 Beatty was serving as his regiment’s paymaster, which was no doubt why he got to oversee the uniform shop as well.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Soldiers and the King’s Half-Penny

Last month Alex Burns, currently doing doctoral work on the Seven Years’ War at West Virginia University, shared his research on how well—or how poorly—ordinary soldiers were paid in the eighteenth century.

Some extracts:
Their pay certainly ranked in the lower strata of eighteenth-century incomes but was above or roughly the same as other groups in a similar social class: such day laborers or husbandmen. Pay varied between states. For example: the Austrians paid their common soldiers 5 or 6 creutzer, British paid their men six-pence a day, when adjusted for stoppages [i.e., deductions to pay for uniforms and other goods supplied to the soldiers], while the Prussian army paid their men 8 groschen a day. Yearly pay ranged from 12-14 Pounds a year in the British army to 24 Thaler a year in the Prussian Army. Soldiers in the Continental Army were promised a bit more, around $29 per year, but in practice, this was the equivalent of a few Spanish milled dollars. The average soldier earned around $1,500 per year, when adjusted to today's currency. . . .

Indeed, when measuring these sums, it may be easier to understand eighteenth-century wages through the lens of purchasing power, or labor value. When measured in these ways, the £12 is more like a yearly wage of around £20,000 in 2018 currency. So, while not rich by any standard of measure, these soldiers were not exactly destitute either. . . .

It may be more illuminating to see what a daily soldier’s wage could purchase. 1 pence could purchase a measure of gin, enough coal to heat a room for a day, or a enough firewood to heat a home for a day. 1.5 pence could purchase a pound of soap. For half of day’s wages (3 pence), you could purchase a dinner of bread, cheese and beer. Items priced about sixpence in eighteenth-century London included: a pound of cheese, a pound of hair powder, a lower-class dinner out consisting of meat, bread, and alcohol. Amenities available for 8 pence included:, a middle-class dinner out and a pound of butter. If able to save for five days, a soldier could afford to buy a pig.
Understandably, soldiers complained that they were paid very little. However, unless they had some sort of lucrative skill or pension, civilian life paid even less.

[The photograph above shows a half-penny coin issued in Britain in 1770, courtesy of Tony Clayton’s Coins of the U.K.]

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Call for Papers on “Women Waging War”

The Sons of the American Revolution’s annual scholarly conference to be held on 14-16 June 2019 in Philadelphia will be on the topic of “Women Waging War in the American Revolution.”

The lead organizer, Prof. Holly Mayer, has just issued this call for papers:
The conference will examine women’s words, actions, and influence in the War for American Independence. The SAR, as part of its Congressional mandate to encourage historical research, is sponsoring this conference in alliance with the Museum of the American Revolution, which invites people to engage with the Revolution’s ideas, stories, and artifacts.

Mary Silliman wrote in 1776 that she had “acted the heroine as well as my dear Husband [General Gold Selleck Silliman] the hero.” Not all women—or men—acted heroically in the war, but they did act, not just react, and their agency informs this conference. How did women fight the Revolution: that is, fight for it, fight against it, and fight in it?

Proposals for Women Waging War in the American Revolution should introduce how the authors will explore women’s involvement with armies and militias or their actions in defense of persons and property on the home front. The conference intends to examine women warriors, followers, and activists with American, French, British, German, Loyalist, and Native American forces. It also invites comparisons to women’s martial engagements in the broader revolutionary Atlantic World between 1750 and 1800.
Proposals should include a 250-word abstract and a curriculum vitae no more than two pages long. The deadline for proposals is 1 Oct 2018. Send proposals to Holly Mayer in the Department of History at Duquesne University by email at mayer@duq.edu with the subject line “2019 SAR Conference Proposal.”

History scholars of all sorts are invited to submit proposals. For those selected to present their work, the S.A.R. will provide a $500 honorarium plus travel and lodging expenses. There will be an edited volume of the papers, and for that reason the organizers will ask participants to submit versions of their work 5,000-6,000 words long by 10 May 2019.

This year’s S.A.R. conference will take place on 8-10 June at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It is on the theme of “Spain and the American Revolution.” 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Trail Work at the North Bridge

Minute Man National Historical Park has begun an “extensive rehabilitation” of the North Bridge Trail on the west side of the North Bridge in Concord.

Sections of that trail are closed, meaning that there’s no pedestrian access to the North Bridge from the park’s Concord visitor center or Liberty Street. That situation is scheduled to last until 15 June.

Folks can still visit the North Bridge and its nearby monuments by approaching from the east side, which has its own parking area. And they can separately still visit the Concord visitor center, which houses the “Hancock” cannon (one of the four stolen cannon that ignited the Revolutionary War, I believe).

This phase of work on the trail is scheduled to end on 15 June. Then the contractors will begin similar rehabilitation for the trail east of the bridge, probably limiting access there. But again, people will still be able to get to the bridge from one side.

I talked about what was going on west of the bridge at midday on 19 Apr 1775 during the videotaped conversation with Lee Wright of the History List that folks can view on this page.

Friday, May 18, 2018

“Declaring Independence” Presentations Around Massachusetts

“Declaring Independence: Then and Now,” is an ongoing commemoration and exploration of the Declaration of Independence presented by Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area and the American Antiquarian Society.

Each presentation is tailored to the community where it is staged, meaning no two productions are the same. A “Declaring Independence” performance consists of a reading of the Congress’s Declaration and portrayals of people from the host community during the Revolution as drawn from first-hand accounts. A narrator explains the eighteenth-century terms and ideas, challenging the contemporary audience to consider their relevance today.

There are many different stagings scheduled between now and Independence Day.

Sunday, 20 May, 2:00-3:30 P.M.
Leominster Public Library Community Room
Partner: Leominster Public Library

Thursday, 31 May, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
American Antiquarian Society, Worcester
Followed by “Holding These Truths: A Panel Discussion about the Declaration of Independence” with David W. Blight, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Peter S. Onuf
Partner: American Antiquarian Society

Sunday, 3 June, 2:00-3:30 P.M.
Minute Man Visitor Center (Lexington)
Partner: Minute Man National Historical Park

Wednesday, 6 June, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
Westford’s First Parish Church United
Partner: Westford Historical Society

Sunday, 10 June, 3:00-4:30 P.M.
Boxborough Town Hall
Partner: Boxborough Historical Society

2-4 July, starting at 10:30 A.M. & 1:00 P.M.
Old Sturbridge Village’s Center Meetinghouse
With admission to Old Sturbridge Village

Tuesday, 3 July, starting at 11:00 A.M., 1:00 P.M., 3:00 P.M., 5:00 P.M.
Old North Church, Boston
Partners: Old North Church, Boston Harborfest

Wednesday, 4 July, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
Lexington Depot
Partner: Lexington Historical Society

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Morrison on “Exporting the Revolution” in Exeter, 22 May

On Tuesday, 22 May, the American Independence Museum in Exeter, New Hampshire, will host a lunchtime talk by Dane A. Morrison on “Exporting the Revolution: American Revolutionaries in the Indies Trade.”

Morrison, a professor of history at Salem State University, is the author of True Yankees: The South Seas and the Discovery of American Identity. Here’s what he’ll speak about:
One of the notable consequences of the American Revolution was the opening of American trade with the East, commencing with the voyage of the Empress of China, departing New York’s East River virtually at the moment when Congress was ratifying the Treaty of Paris in February 1784. Independence had freed Yankee merchants from Britain’s mercantilist regulations, confining their vessels to the waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean, and triggered the country’s entrance onto a global stage.

This talk will examine the emergence of Americans onto a global stage, raising such questions as:
  • How did early American “citizens of the world” recollect the Revolution?
  • How did they negotiate the complications of culture in their travels around the world?
  • And, how did they hope to defend the legitimacy of the new nation and champion the republican principles that they hoped would define an emergent national identity?
This “Lunch and Learn” session will take place from 12:00 noon to 1:00 P.M. at the Folsom Tavern, 164 Water Street in Exeter. Parking is available in the nearby museum’s parking lot on Spring Street and along Water Street. People are welcome to bring lunch.

This event is free and open to the public. However, the tavern is is a historic building, and the second-floor lecture space is not handicap-accessible.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hunter on Dighton Rock in Middleboro, 19 May

On Saturday, 19 May, the Massachusetts Archaeological Society will host a special lecture by Douglas Hunter on “The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America’s Indigenous Past.”

Drawing on his book of the same name, Dr. Hunter will discuss the legacy and mythology behind a petroglyph-covered boulder found in the area that became Berkley:

First noticed by colonists in 1680, Dighton Rock in Massachusetts by the nineteenth century was one of the most famous and contested artifacts of American antiquity. This forty-ton boulder covered in petroglyphs has been the subject of endless speculation that defies its Native American origins. Hunter dissects almost four centuries of Dighton Rock’s misinterpretation, to reveal its larger role in colonization and the conceptualization of Indigenous peoples.
Among the many New England scholars who studied the rock was the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles. In 1766, while living in Newport, Rhode Island, he saw a copy of a broadside about the boulder written by the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather. (Other men who had written about the rock included Prof. John Winthrop of Harvard and Dr. William Douglass, best known for opposing smallpox inoculation and Mather’s other ideas.)

In June 1767 Stiles went to visit a man who lived half a mile from the rock. He used chalk to make the markings more distinct and then drew them in his journal, stating on 6 June: “Spent the forenoon in Decyphering about Two Thirds the Inscription, which I take to be in phoenician Letters & 3000 years old.”

Stiles returned in July for more investigation. He “washed & skrubbed the Rock with a Broom,” fighting the water level, before drawing more surfaces. The next month, two local men did the minister the favor of going out and collecting more drawings, measurements, and even what seems to be a casting of the scrapes in “the Phœnitian rock.”

Here’s one of Stiles’s drawings, courtesy of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.
In 1768 the Swiss artist Pierre Eugène du Simitière visited Stiles on his way to settle in Philadelphia. He studied the material that the minister had collected. He looked at the characters on Mather’s broadside and and observed, “They are also totally different from the copy taken by Dr. Stiles.” Indeed, most or all of those researchers were seeing what they wanted to see.

Hunter’s talk about this history and what it shows about colonial New Englanders’ attitude toward the Natives around them will take place at the Robbins Museum of Archaeology, 17 Jackson Street in Middleboro, starting at 1:00 P.M. The program is free, but the society suggests a donation of $5 per person.