J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Orations at Old South, 21 Mar.

On Wednesday, 21 March, the Old South Meeting House will host “Speak Out!”, its fourth annual remembrance of the Boston Massacre orations.

From 1771 to 1783, Boston had a yearly town meeting to commemorate the fatal violence on King Street. The tradition was started by Dr. Thomas Young speaking at the Manufactory on 5 Mar 1770, and the town’s politicians decided the event was successful enough to make it an official occasion, not just a speech by a radical who wasn’t even from around here.

That year the town had assistant schoolmaster James Lovell speak in April. From then on, the orations were always on 5 March or, if that date fell on a Sunday, 6 March. The invited orator was usually a rising young politician. In order:
In 1783 Boston decided that remembering the Massacre was less vital now that Massachusetts was independent, and the town shifted its annual patriotic oration to the Fourth of July.

The Old South event focuses on the orations leading up to the war. The description says:
Join us to hear selected excerpts of these speeches, performed by an inter-generational group in the grand hall where the orations took place 240 years ago! Learn about the orations and their significance with special guests Bostonian Society Executive Director Nathaniel Sheidley, historian Robert Allison, and Dr. Joseph Warren biographer Dr. Samuel Forman. Audience members will also have the option to read from a selection of excerpts; prizes will be awarded to the most rousing orators in youth and adult categories!
This free event is co-sponsored by the History Department at Suffolk University, the Bostonian Society, and the Boston Public Schools’ Department of History and Social Studies.

All are welcome, but Old South asks people to please register in advance. The speeches start at 6:00 P.M. If the weather is bad, the event might be postponed for a week until 28 March.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Various reports have been current”

I came across this report from America in The North-British Intelligencer: or Constitutional Miscellany, published on 8 May 1776. It gives a sense of the difficulty that the British people, and the British government, faced gathering information about what had happened in New England two months before.

Wednesday arrived a mail from Boston, in New England, brought to Falmouth by the Lord Hyde packet boat, Capt. Jefferys, She sailed from thence March 25, and brought dispatches from General [William] Howe for Government, and several letters, since which various reports have been current;

on one hand it was given out, that the provincial army had erected a battery at Phipp’s Farm [in Cambridge], from whence they began to play upon the town with cannon and bombs, a fortnight before the forces left the place; that on this Gen. Howe found it necessary to attempt to dislodge them; but the wind blowing hard, he found it impracticable to land where he intended; he therefore the next day sent, a flag of truce to General [George] Washington, offering to evacuate the town immediately, leaving behind him his artillery, stores, &c. which request was granted, and the next day he embarked his troops, amounting to about 7000, with 1500 inhabitants, and made the best of his way to Halifax.—

On the other hand it was said, that General Howe, with the troops under his command, after having blown up the works, and taken under his protection the friends of Government, evacuated that place, without being molested by the provincials, and embarked on board the ships in the harbour, and that the vessel which brought this advice set sail before it was known to what part of America the General intended to direct his course; The provincials marched into Boston.

But on farther enquiry this day, a Gentleman of veracity informs us, that General Howe evacuated Boston on the 24th of March, by orders from home, after destroying the works and fortifications. Several men of war are left to block up the harbour, and to prevent any transports falling into their hands. He further says, that a large body of provincials, a little before they embarked, took possession of Noddle Island, and that the General had sent a detachment of 2000 men, who attacked and drove some off, killed a great number, and took the rest prisoners. It was not certainly known where the General intended to go to; but many thought to Virginia, which being a flat country, the men could act to more advantage than farther north, which was in general very hilly.
Each of these reports was partly accurate—but some much more than others.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Blanket the British Army Left Behind

Today is Evacuation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the British military left Boston.

Back in 2013, Patrick Browne wrote on his blog Historical Digression about something the British left behind, an artifact now at the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society:
A number of British regiments were camped upon Boston Common. When they departed, they left all manner of gear strewn across that open space. We can imagine curious Bostonians picking through the debris when the British were gone. Frugal Yankees, they must have scavenged a good number of useful items.

One such Bostonian was William Hickling [1742-1790], a merchant, roughly 30 years old. He was a patriot who had been out and about on the fateful night of the Boston Massacre back in 1770, though, according to the deposition of Richard Palmes, Hickling went home before the real trouble began. Hickling had been, according to family tradition, rather more active during the Boston Tea Party in 1773 as evidenced by the tea leaves that were found in his shoes the following morning.
According to his will, quoted here, Hickling was officially a distiller, but he sold other things besides rum. His father was also a distiller named William Hickling (1704-1774), and he had a son and a nephew of the same name, so there’s opportunity for a lot of confusion.

The name of William Hickling doesn’t appear on most lists of men involved in the Tea Party, even the expansive roster in Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves. The family tradition that he helped to destroy the tea was nonetheless in print by 1900.

Other sources do show William Hickling as a participant in Boston’s pre-Revolutionary politics. But which William Hickling attended the Sons of Liberty dinner in Dorchester in 1769? Which was renting rooms to Pvt. James Hartigan and his new wife Elizabeth in 1770? Which was a member of the North End Caucus in 1772? I’ll play the odds and say that Palmes encountered the younger William Hickling (and his brother John) on 5 Mar 1770, and that the younger William was also the caucus member, but I won’t hazard a guess about the other questions.

The William Hickling born in 1742 was almost certainly the man who joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1764 and served as paymaster of Col. John Brooks’s Continental Army regiment in 1777 and 1778.

But back to the spring of 1776 and Patrick Browne’s essay:
Foraging across Boston Common, Hickling probably picked up a number of things. One of them was the white woolen blanket of a British soldier. The “standard issue” blanket, bearing the royal symbol of the King’s Arrow and the initials “GR” for George Rex (or King George) eventually made its way to Duxbury, Massachusetts after William’s death when his widow moved in with her daughter [Sarah] and son-in-law, bringing a number of Hickling family objects with her. The son-in-law was Captain Gershom Bradford, a Duxbury master mariner. Fast forward to 1968, Gershom Bradford’s house, along with a vast number of family belongings, was donated to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society by the captain’s great-grandsons.
It sounds like the blanket didn’t come with a provenance, not like the tea story. But it certainly appears to be a standard-issue British army blanket.

Friday, March 16, 2018

“Enlisted for six months & served that time”

Capt. Moses Harvey’s November 1775 advertisement (which I quoted Wednesday) pointedly described five men who had deserted from his Continental Army company in the preceding summer.

What happened, I asked myself, to those men? And quickly I had to give up on Simeon Smith of Greenfield and Matthias Smith of (I think) Springfield because their names are just too common.

Nor could I find anything about John Daby of Sunderland, even under the spelling Darby or Derby. (There was a different John Daby from Harvard.)

Likewise, there are multiple men named John Guilson or Gilson in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors and U.S. pension records, but their details don’t mesh with the guy in Harvey’s company. White and Maltsby’s Genealogical Gleanings of Siggins, and Other Pennsylvania Families (1918) states that our John Gilson was born in 1750 in Groton, but was in Sunderland in 1769 to marry Patience Graves. According to descendants, they married on 20 June; their first daughter, Lydia, arrived on 30 December, explaining why they married.

The Gilsons were still in Sunderland in 1783, but by 1791 they had moved to Salisbury, Connecticut, where they had a daughter named Betsey. (There may well have been other children.) After some time in New York the family moved out to western Pennsylvania in 1803—different sources say they traveled “by ox-cart” or “in canoes and flat-boats.” John Gilson died in Warren, Pennsylvania, in 1811, and was later considered one of that town’s pioneers.

The best documented of Capt. Harvey’s five deserters is Gideon Graves, though once again I had to sort him out from a man of the same name. Gideon Graves of Palmer (1758-1834), when applying for a Revolutionary War pension, said he had served “two months at Roxbury & four months at Ticonderoga” before joining Col. John Crane’s artillery in March 1777. Somehow he produced two pension files.

The Gideon Graves from Sunderland was a younger brother of Patience (Graves) Gilson. He was a son of Reuben and Hannah Graves, born in 1753. John Montague Smith’s History of the Town of Sunderland (1899) quotes an unidentified local diary from “sometime in the ’70’s” saying: “Gideon Graves caught a buck alive.” Which is rather impressive, though hard to pin down.

Graves applied for a federal pension while living in Stillwater, Saratoga County, New York, in 1818. He stated
That in the year 1775 he enlisted for six months & served that time and was in the battles of Bunker Hill near Boston & in 1776 he served nine months in Capt. [Phineas] Smiths Company Colonel [Elisha] Porters Regiment of the Massachusetts line [a militia regiment assigned to the northern campaign]. That for the last term of his Service he was a Sergeant.
Furthermore, this Graves enlisted for a third time in Bennington in 1777, joining Col. Rufus Putnam’s regiment and serving until 1782. He also testified to having been wounded at Saratoga.

Thus, in his pension application Graves stretched his service in 1775 and said nothing about how he had gone home without permission. But he did reenlist and spent years as a soldier. For him, not wanting to serve under Ens. Eliphalet Hastings wasn’t just an excuse to justify leaving the army for good. The U.S government awarded Graves a pension. He died intestate in Saratoga County, New York, in 1824.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Problem with Ens. Eliphalet Hastings

Yesterday I quoted Capt. Moses Harvey’s newspaper advertisement from November 1775, minutely describing five soldiers who had deserted from his Continental Army company.

Harvey surmised that those men had left for these feeble reasons:
They have been apt to make excuses for their running away, and intimate they took a dislike to one Eliphalet Hastings, who was put in Ensign over them, and found much fault with the continental allowance.
Of course, it’s a soldier’s prerogative to grumble about food and pay. But what was the problem with the new ensign?

Eliphalet Hastings (1734-1824) was a veteran soldier. He had enlisted early in the French and Indian War, a decision that didn’t turn out well. In January 1760 the Massachusetts legislature voted to pay him £8 because
in the Year 1757 being a Soldier in the pay of this Province, he was taken Prisoner by the Indians near Fort William Henry by whom he was sold to the French and carried to Quebeck from whence he was sent to France where he remained till October 1758 when he was sent to England; and did not return home till May 1759
Hastings’s descendants understood that he had also participated Gen. James Wolfe’s Québec campaign and even “assisted in carrying General Wolfe to the rear, when mortally wounded.” But the timing for that would be awfully tight.

In April 1775, Hastings had marched as a minuteman, then rose to sergeant as Massachusetts formed its army. According to his pension application, he
was in the battle of Bunkers hill, commanded a company in Col Jonathan Brewers Regt in the Massachusetts line, had twenty-nine killed and eleven wounded besides myself out of seventy nine in that action, had my right arms and collar bone shot to pieces
Col. Brewer’s regiment was stationed mostly between the provincial breastwork and the rail fence. It got pretty shot up, with Brewer (d. 1784) and Lt. Col. William Buckminster (1736-1786) both wounded. But a Massachusetts report in 1775 said that in all the regiment suffered twelve dead and twenty-two wounded, far less than the figures Hastings recalled for one company decades later.

Col. Brewer had already gotten into hot water for aggressive recruiting tactics in Middlesex and Worcester Counties. He in turn complained about other colonels, on 4 July petitioning the Massachusetts legislature about how
a number of men that enlisted in different Companies in my Regiment have, through the low artifice and cunning of several recruiting officers of different Regiments, re-enlisted into other Companies, being over-persuaded by such arguments as, that Colonel Brewer would not be commissioned, and that if they did not immediately join some other Regiment, they would be turned out of the service; others were tempted with a promise to have a dollar each to drink the recruiting officer’s health; others by intoxication of strong liquor; by which means a considerable number have deserted my Regiment, as will be made to appear by the returns therefrom, as also the different Companies and Regiments they are re-enlisted into.
Around the same date, on 1 July, Eliphalet Hastings was appointed an ensign in the company of Capt. Moses Harvey. I can’t tell which company Hastings had been a sergeant in—perhaps Capt. Edward Blake’s—but it wasn’t Harvey’s.

Capt. Harvey was a late addition to Brewer’s regiment, not listed among his officers in early June. He had also come late to the Battle of Bunker Hill. A soldier from that company named Moses Clark recalled, “I was on the march towards Bunkers Hill on the day that battle was fought we arrived there just after the battle ended, while our men were carrying away the wounded.”

Col. Brewer appears to have assigned Ens. Hastings to Capt. Harvey’s company, rewarding a wounded veteran and filling out that company’s ranks so he could have more soldiers under him. But that created a problem.

Moses Harvey had been born in Sunderland, in the part of town that became Montague in 1754, and he had recruited men from that area. Of the five soldiers in his deserter ad, three had enlisted in Sunderland: John Daby; Gideon Graves, born in that town in 1753; and John Guilson, born in Groton in 1750 and married to Graves’s sister in 1769. Simeon Smith came from Greenfield and Matthias Smith from Springfield, other towns in the Connecticut River Valley. Capt. Harvey knew them so well he could describe them in acute detail.

In contrast, Eliphalet Hastings lived in Waltham, on the eastern side of Middlesex County. Harvey’s men didn’t know him. By tradition, New England soldiers enlisted under neighbors they knew and trusted. They expected to elect their own officers instead of having someone assigned over them. So over the summer of 1775 those five men decided to head back home to western Massachusetts.

Capt. Harvey was lenient enough not to advertise for their return right away; he didn’t even report them as deserted until 27 September. But as November came around, there was new pressure from Gen. George Washington to recruit soldiers for the coming year. Harvey might have thought his own hopes to remain in the army depended on showing that he could maintain discipline in his company. So on 8 November he finally put his neighbors’ names and descriptions into the newspaper. Did he really expect them to return, or did he just want to make their lives in and around Sunderland a little less comfortable?

TOMORROW: What became of those deserters?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

“Deserted from Col. Brewer’s regiment…”

On 9 Nov 1775 and again a week later, the New-England Chronicle ran this advertisement, which offers characterizations of Continental soldiers worthy of a Smollett novel:
Deserted from Col. [Jonathan] Brewer’s regiment, and Captain Harvey’s company, one Simeon Smith of Greenfield, a joiner by trade, a thin spar’d fellow, about 5 feet 4 inches high, had on blue coat and black vest, a metal button on his hat, black long hair, black eyes, his voice in the hermaphrodite fashion, the masculine rather predominant:

Likewise one Matthias Smith, a small smart fellow, a sadler by trade, grey headed, has a younger look in his face, is apt to say I swear! I swear! and between his words will spit smart; had on a green coat, and an old red great coat; he is a right gamester, although he wears something of a sober look:

Likewise one John Daby, a long hump shoulder’d fellow, a shoemaker by trade, drawls his words, and for comfortable says comfable, had a green coat, thick leather breeches, slim legs, lost some of his fore teeth:

Also one John Guilson, a man well known in Sunderland, wears a watch, midling stature, a cooper by trade, has a black beard, wears a light colour’d coat and jacket and has a surly look:

Likewise his brother in law, Gideon Graves, about a midling stature, somewhat stocky, his looks, jestures and words generally crabbed, had a sad red coat, a pale blue vest, dark brown thickset breeches, and had a large cutlass.---

They have been apt to make excuses for their running away, and intimate they took a dislike to one Eliphalet Hastings, who was put in Ensign over them, and found much fault with the continental allowance.

Whoever will take up said deserters and secure or bring hem into the camp, shall have two dollars reward for each, and all necessary charges paid by me,
Prospect-Hill, Nov. 8, 1775.

P.S. Said deserters have been gone some time, and because I expected they would return, I have omitted advertising them.
According to Massachusetts records, John Gilson deserted on 14 July; Gideon Graves, Matthias Smith, and John Daby in early August, and Simeon Smith on 16 September. So Capt. Harvey (1723-1795) had indeed waited for months before advertising for them in November.

Not that he had to get so personal.

TOMORROW: What was the problem with Ens. Hastings?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Newburyport Newspapers

Through Alexander Cain of Untapped History, I learned about this database of digitized documents from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

At the top are the links to (as of today) 646 pages from the 1770s and 1,131 from the 1780s. Those are mostly pages from Newburyport’s only newspaper at the time, the Essex Journal. Or, to give it the full original name, the Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet: Or, the Massachusetts and New-Hampshire General Advertiser.

The format of this newspaper database is different from any I’ve seen before. Clicking on each page opens up first a terrible O.C.R. transcription, then a full page image. The images are quite readable, so thumbing through is a fine way to immerse oneself in the life of a small New England port during the Revolutionary period.

The story of the Essex Journal starts with Isaiah Thomas and his ambition to franchise his Massachusetts Spy operation the way that Benjamin Franklin had sponsored and profited from other newspapers two generations before. Newspaper printers could benefit by building networks to share news, mail, advertising, and bookselling. Often those networks were built along family lines. Thomas was at a disadvantage without many relations, but he did have apprentices.

According to Thomas himself, he launched the Essex Journal in 1773 “At the request of several gentlemen, particularly the late rev. Jonathan Parsons [1705-1776].” Which is to say, Thomas supplied the printing equipment but stayed in Boston looking after his own newspaper and Royal American Magazine.

The actual printer in Newburyport was a young man named Henry-Walter Tinges. Facts about him are hard to come by. According to Thomas, he was “born in Boston” but “his parents were Hollanders,” or Dutch. Suffolk County probate records show that a Henry Tinges was assigned a guardian in 1767. He apprenticed first with John Fleeming and then, perhaps after the Boston Chronicle folded, with Thomas. Presumably he came of age in 1773 and was ready to manage his own shop.

Thomas and Tinges started collecting subscriptions for the Essex Journal in December 1773, distributing a sample issue for free. A lot of the early advertisers were Boston merchants—perhaps Thomas had given them a deal to advertise in both the Massachusetts Spy and the Essex Journal. The initial plan was to publish on Saturdays, but in response to public feedback the newspaper appeared on Wednesdays.

In August 1774, with Boston under army occupation for the second time, Thomas “sold the printing materials to Ezra Lunt, the proprietor of a stage” between Newburyport and Boston who thus had an interest in promoting local business. Lunt was a Newburyport native, thirty-one years old. Tinges remained the junior partner.

That arrangement lasted until May 1775, when Lunt became a captain in Col. Moses Little’s regiment of the Massachusetts army. According to local lore, “a stirring discourse from Rev. Jonathan Parsons” had prompted Lunt and his men to volunteer. The company saw action at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill, acting as a rear guard during the provincial retreat off the Charlestown peninsula. After the war, Lunt joined the Yankee exodus to the Ohio Territory and died in the town of Marietta.

Meanwhile, back in Newburyport, Tinges had a new senior partner: John Mycall (1750-1833). According to Thomas, Mycall was “born at Worcester, in England; and was a schoolmaster at Almsbury”—Amesbury, where he had married in 1772. A “man of great ingenuity,” within a year he was able to manage the press himself and publish the Essex Journal under his own name. Probably during this time he took on his nephew William Hoyt (1759-1812) as an apprentice.

Henry-Walter Tinges remained in Newburyport at least into January 1777, when his intention to marry Eunice Knight was announced. According to his old master Thomas, at some point he went “to Baltimore, and from thence to sea, but never returned.”

In February 1777, Mycall had to stop publishing the Essex Journal, apparently due to paper shortages and business uncertainty. The Newburyport database therefore has no local material from 1778 until 1784, when Mycall restarted the newspaper. It continued for another ten years, published by either Mycall or Holt, until Mycall finally retired in 1794, first to rural Harvard and then to bustling Cambridge. And that was the end of the Essex Journal.

But the Newburyport database continues uninterrupted with the town’s new newspaper, the Morning Star.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Lecture Series at Bunker Hill Museum Starting 15 Mar.

This week the National Parks of Boston will launch a spring lecture series at the Bunker Hill Museum. Here’s the lineup:

Thursday, 15 March
Curtis White
Customs Enforcement in Massachusetts, 1760-1775: Prelude to War
Ranger White from Salem Maritime National Historic Site will explore how British Customs agents in the colonial ports of Boston and Salem sparked unrest and galvanized colonists to defy British rule. This talk will trace such historic events as the Navigation Acts, the Stamp Act, and the Boston Tea Party as taxes and tariffs shaped public opinion in the prelude to war.

Thursday, 19 April
Jayne Triber
A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere
Dr. Triber, author of the 1998 scholarly biography of Revere, commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War on this date by describing the silversmith’s fateful mission for Dr. Joseph Warren, his busy midnight ride, and “The Shot Heard ’Round the World”—and Revere’s many other activities for the Patriot cause.

Thursday, 17 May
J. L. Bell
Meet the New Neighbors: The British Army in Boston, 1768
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the first military occupation of Boston as army regiments disembarked in October 1768 to assert the London government’s control over the port. That move only escalated social and political tensions. How did Boston residents respond to the sudden arrival of hundreds of soldiers? How did those soldiers find their new American home? What individual stories do the sources hold for us?

All these talks are free and open to the public. Each starts at 7:00 P.M. in the Bunker Hill Museum’s lower level meeting room at 43 Monument Square in Charlestown.

This lecture series is offered in cooperation with Revolution 250, the coalition commemorating the Sestercentennial of events in Massachusetts leading up to 2026.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

“Henry Knox’s Mission” Lecture in Cambridge, 15 Mar.

On Thursday, 15 March, I’ll speak at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge about “Myths and Realities of Henry Knox’s Mission.”

Here’s the set-up:
On November 16, 1775, Gen. George Washington gave Henry Knox a mission to travel to New York and bring back cannons for the Continental Army. Knox was a 25-year-old bookseller with no military rank. His trek back to Cambridge has become a beloved part of the American saga. This talk digs deeper into that story, examining such questions as who first had the idea to fetch cannon from Lake Champlain, how Knox had contributed to the Patriot movement, ways weather affected the mission, and if those cannon changed the British army’s plans.
This is the latest of a series of talks I’ve delivered at this headquarters site around Evacuation Day. This year’s talk is most closely tied to that anniversary since most American histories credit Col. Knox’s mission for the British military’s withdrawal. I won’t say that’s wrong—just that the situation was more complicated.

This event is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters and the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. It’s free, but seating is limited, so please call (617) 876-4491 or email reservationsat105@gmail.com to reserve a spot. We start at 6:30 P.M.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Seasholes on “The Changing Shape of Boston,” 14 Mar.

On Wednesday, 14 March, the Old North Church will host a talk by Nancy S. Seasholes on “The Changing Shape of Boston: From ‘One if by land, and two if by sea’ to the Present.” This talk is co-sponsored by the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

The Old North Speaker Series event description says:
Did you know that Boston was once a small peninsula? How did the fact that Boston was located on a peninsula affect the choices made by both the British and the Patriots on April 18, 1775? What happened to that small peninsula afterwards to transform it into the Boston of today? This talk will explore the changes in Boston’s topography from the time of the Revolutionary War to the present.
Seasholes is the expert on how Boston has physically grown over the years. She is the author of Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston and Walking Tours of Boston’s Made Land.

Right now Seasholes is directing a project to produce an historical atlas of Boston, to be published by the University of Chicago Press in fall 2019. I’m one of the many contributors she’s wrangling to get that book finished.

This talk starts at 6:00 P.M. Reserve seats through this webpage. Admission is on a “pay what you will” basis. (This was Old North Church’s previous general admission policy; it has just announced a big change.)