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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Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Original Molly Pitcher

As quoted yesterday, two publications from 1835—one in English and one in German—appear to be the first print appearances of the name “Molly Pitcher” in stories about a female artillerist at the Battle of Monmouth.

But that name had already appeared in print attached to a completely different person: a fortune-teller active in Lynn in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

An article about “Witchcraft” in the October 1825 issue of the Boston Monthly Magazine, edited by Samuel L. Knapp, mentioned “Moll Pitcher, of Lynn,” and stated: “she was so well known to most persons, that their recollections will be better than any description.” Pitcher was such a celebrity, at least locally, that she needed no introduction.

In 1829 Bernard Whitman published A Lecture on Popular Superstitions in Boston. He wrote:
Not many years ago, a man was suddenly missing from a certain town in this commonwealth. The church immediately sent one of her members to consult the far famed fortune telling Molly Pitcher. After making the necessary inquiries, she intimated that the absent person had been murdered by a family of negroes, and his body sunk in the deep waters behind their dwelling. Upon this evidence, the accused were forthwith imprisoned, and the pond raked in vain from shore to shore. A few days previous to the trial, the murdered man returned to his friends safe and sound; thus giving the naughty skeptics occasion to say, that the fortune teller, instead of receiving from the devil information of distant and future events, had actually played the very devil with the superstitious church.
I have no clue about the accuracy of that story, which Whitman told with a frustratingly low number of specifics that can be tracked down.

In that same year, a more complimentary description of Pitcher appeared in the first edition of Alonzo Lewis’s History of Lynn:
The celebrated Mary Pitcher, a professed fortune teller, died on the ninth of April, 1813, at the age of 75 years. Her grandfather, John Diamond, lived at Marblehead, and was for many years celebrated for the exercise of the same pretensions. She was married to Robert Pitcher of Lynn, in 1760, and had several children.

This person has been more celebrated than any individual of her class in modern times. Not only was her name known in most towns throughout the United States, but probably there is not a port in Europe, visited by American ships, that has not heard of the skill of “Moll Pitcher.” Many persons came from places far remote, to consult with her on affairs of love or loss of property, or to obtain her surmises respecting the vicissitudes of their future fortune. Every youth who was not assured of the reciprocal affection of his fair one, and every maid who was desirous of anticipating the hour of her highest felicity, repaired at evening to the humble dwelling of Molly Pitcher, which stood on what was then a lonely road, near the foot of High Rock, with a single habitation nearly opposite, at the gate of which stood two bones of the great whale, which the waves of ocean, in the liberality of their power, had cast upon the beach.

To that place also were seen repairing sailors from the neighboring commercial towns, who were desirous of ascertaining the probable success of their future voyages. Many a reputable merchant too, of whose treasures on the faithless waves, the courier of intelligence had not brought the expected information, and being fearful of betraying the nature of his business by inquiring directly for “Moll Pitcher,” has raised a smile by asking in what part of the town he should find the bones of the great whale.

Her skill was principally exercised for the discovery of things lost, either material objects which had been mislaid or purloined, or the affections of some disconsolate fair one, which had taken the advantage of some favorable opportunity to elope. Her power of evil, if she possessed any, was never exerted, unless to punish such delinquents as refused to pay her for the knowledge which she pretended to impart. Some instances have been related, in which she has evinced an unusual degree of discernment; while in others her assertions have had no relation to facts, but appear to have been the result of mere guess work and presumption.

Her only ostensible means of obtaining secret knowledge, was the simple use of tea-grounds poured into a cup; and as the grains were disposed in a peculiar manner, or assumed a particular form, so she judged of the things to which she fancied a resemblance. She also availed herself of every ordinary mode of information, particularly by causing one of her domestics to talk with her visitors, to elicit the nature of their business, while she remained in an adjoining room, pretending to be absent. These arts, added to her natural shrewdness, and readiness to seize the slightest hint which might assist her in her surmises, appear to have constituted the whole amount of her power.

Her sagacity bore no proportion to the infatuation of those who trusted to it. She seems even to have admitted this, especially in one instance, when some gentlemen offered her a large sum, if she would inform them what ticket would draw the highest prize in a certain lottery. “Do you think,” said she, “if I knew, I should not buy it myself?”

Whatever may have been the witchcraft recognised in the Hebrew law, whether an actual communication with evil spirits, or the practice of deception by the means of false pretensions, an impartial investigation of the facts respecting “Moll Pitcher,” justify the conclusion, that her skill had no other foundation, than the practice of uncommon arts, assisted by an unusual degree of shrewdness and discernment.
In the next decade other authors appropriated Mary Pitcher for literary creations. In 1832 John Greenleaf Whittier published a poem, Moll Pitcher, which described her as stereotypical old witch. (The image above comes from a copy of that book owned by the University of Texas; in it someone has drawn several pictures of Pitcher talking back to Whittier.)

Two years later Samuel G. Goodrich’s Token and Atlantic Souvenir included a fictional story called “The Modern Job” with Pitcher as a character: “Moll Pitcher, or, as she is still called in the neighborhood where she resided, Molly Pitcher, was no ordinary woman. . . . In short, poor Molly, by degrees, was made to be a fortune-teller, and a diviner, in spite of herself.”

Thus, when American authors referred to the Monmouth artillerist as “Molly Pitcher” in 1835, they were echoing a name already well known among American sailors and New Englanders in general. Was that echo some kind of inside joke or allusion lost on us? Or had Revolutionary soldiers nicknamed the artillerist after the fortune-teller from Lynn, and why?

Again, Ray Raphael already noted this curious concatenation of Molly Pitchers in his book Founding Myths and in this Journal of the American Revolution article. Because Pitcher lived in Revolutionary New England, I’m going to dig a little deeper into her curious career.

TOMORROW: Moll Pitcher in the flesh.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Legend of Molly Pitcher—A New Source

Since I was on a Battle of Monmouth kick, I’ll jump to one of the most enduring American legends to come out of that fight: Molly Pitcher.

As Ray Raphael wrote in Founding Myths and this article for the Journal of the American Revolution, there’s solid evidence of a woman helping her husband in the Continental artillery at that battle. In his memoir, first published in 1830, army veteran Joseph Plumb Martin wrote:
A woman whose husband belonged to the artillery and who was then attached to a piece in the engagement, attended with her husband at the piece the whole time. While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation.
There’s also contemporaneous documentation of the state of Pennsylvania awarding a pension to Margaret Corbin, who took her husband’s place at a cannon during the defense of Fort Washington in 1776.

But the specific legendary figure we’ve come to know as Molly Pitcher first showed up in the second volume of Freeman Hunt’s 1830 collection American Anecdotes:
Before the two armies, American and English, had begun the general action of Monmouth, two of the advanced batteries commenced a very severe fire against each other. As the warmth was excessive, the wife of a cannonier constantly ran to bring him water from a neighbouring spring. At the moment when she started from the spring, to pass to the post of her husband, she saw him fall, and hastened to assist him; but he was dead. At the same moment she heard an officer order the cannon to be removed from its place, complaining he could not fill his post by as brave a man as had been killed. ‘No,’ said the intrepid Molly, fixing her eyes upon the officer, ‘the cannon shall not be removed for the want of some one to serve it; since my brave husband is no more, I will use my utmost exertions to avenge his death.’ The activity and courage with which she performed the office of cannonier during the action, attracted the attention of all who witnessed it, finally of Gen. Washington himself, who afterwards gave her the rank of Lieutenant, and granted her half pay during life. She wore an epaulette, and every body called her Captain Molly.
Five years later the story was in print again, in two sources, one of which I don’t think has been discussed before. A Popular Cyclopedia of History, an oft-reprinted reference book compiled by Francis Durivage, stated:
In the beginning of this battle [of Monmouth], one Molly Pitcher was occupied in carrying water from a spring to a battery, where her husband employed in loading and firing a cannon. He was shot dead at last, and she saw him fall. An officer rode up, and ordered off the cannon. “It can be of no use, now,” said he. but Molly stepped up, offered her services, and took her husband’s place, to the astonishment of the army. She fought well, and half pay for life was given her by Congress. She wore an epaulette, and was called Captain Molly, ever after.
And here’s a source I don’t think anyone has spotted before, also from 1835: Allgemeine Beschreibung der Welt [General Description of the World] published in Philadelphia. This book was credited to E. L. Walz with editing by Heinrich Diezel of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. It was printed in old Gothic type, and I’ve never studied German. I’m therefore at the mercy of Google’s O.C.R. transcription and translation services, but this is what I think that book says:
In Monmouth County siel im Revolutionskriege eine Geschichte vor, welche noch immer häufig in N. I. erzählt wird: Die Amerikaner unter Washington, und die Engländer unter Henry Clinton, schlugen sich hier wasser herum. Es war an diesem Tage heiß und schwühl. Mitten in der Schlacht sah man eine Frau, Molly Pitcher, die einigen Artilleristen Wasser zutrug, unter denen auch ihr Mann sich befand. Von einer Kanonenkugel getroffen, stürzte er leblos nieder. Molly that nun, was 1000 andere Weiber nicht gethan haben würden. Statt zu weinen, stellte sie sich an die Stelle des Gefallenen und versah mit wahrem Heldenmuthe seine Dienste. Sie kam glücklich davon. Von dieser Zeit an behielt sie bis zu ihrem Tode den Namen: Major Molly.

[From Monmouth County in the revolutionary war fell a story which is still frequently told in N.J.​​: The Americans with Washington, and the English under Henry Clinton, this also reflected around water. It was hot and schwühl on this day. In the midst of the battle some artillerymen saw one woman, Molly Pitcher, that was happening water in which her ​​husband was. From a cannonball hit, he fell down lifeless. Molly now did what 1000 other women would not have done. Instead of crying, she stood in the place of the dead man and adorned with true heroism his services. She got off lucky. From that time on she kept until her death the name: Major Molly.]
It’s notable that the story penetrated the German-American community so early. That might lend credence to the interpretation that the real Molly Pitcher was Mary (Ludwig) Hays, the daughter of German immigrants to Philadelphia. On the other hand, Mary Hays settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, after the war, and lived until 1832, a local character who also received a state pension. So it’s a little surprising that this book’s source for the story seems to come from New Jersey rather than two counties away.

Clearly this anecdote grew in the telling. Mary Hays was supposedly called “Sergeant Molly” after the battle and later in life. In these early sources the corresponding detail became “the rank of Lieutenant” and “Captain Molly,” then “Major Molly.” There’s no documentation to support the claims that this woman received such a rank or a pension from “Gen. Washington himself” or the Congress. But clearly by the 1830s Americans of many sorts were telling the story of Molly Pitcher.

TOMORROW: But there already was a famous Molly Pitcher.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Road to Concord Goes Through Washington, D.C.

Next week I’m traveling to Washington, D.C., for a couple of talks about The Road to Concord.

On Wednesday, 31 August, at 6:00 P.M. I’ll speak at Anderson House, the museum and library of the Society of the Cincinnati in Dupont Circle.

The museum’s website says:
In the early spring of 1775, on a farm in Concord, Massachusetts, British army spies located four brass cannon belonging to Boston’s colonial militia that had gone missing months before. British general Thomas Gage had been searching for them, both to stymie New England’s growing rebellion and to erase the embarrassment of having let cannon disappear from armories under redcoat guard. Anxious to regain those weapons, he drew up plans for his troops to march nineteen miles into unfriendly territory. The Massachusetts Patriots, meanwhile, prepared to thwart the general’s mission. There was one goal Gage and his enemies shared: for different reasons, they all wanted to keep the stolen cannon as secret as possible. Both sides succeeded well enough that the full story has never appeared until now.
Okay, that’s actually the jacket copy for my book, which I drafted, so I like it. At Anderson House I’ll focus on the Patriots’ effort to gather cannon for their nascent army—buying old guns wherever they could, dragging them out of shore batteries, and even stealing them out from under British sentries. And how did the Boston Patriots get their cannon out of town with the king’s soldiers and sailors everywhere?

This is a public lecture in a setting so luxurious that even this year’s Republican Presidential nominee would feel at home. It’s free and open to the public, with light refreshments and the chance to have copies of The Road to Concord signed.

The following Wednesday, 7 September, I’ll speak to the American Revolution Round Table of D.C. at its usual meeting-spot, the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant in Alexandria. The group’s website says, “RSVPs should be submitted at least one week before the meeting. As usual, payment for the meal may be made ‘at the door’.” The event starts at 6:00 P.M.

The same well-written description of The Road to Concord appears on the D.C. Round Table’s website. But in the hopes that some people may wish to attend both talks, on that second evening I’m going to talk about the other side of the conflict in early 1775: Gen. Gage’s increasingly risky moves to stymie the Patriots, spy out their secrets, and recover the stolen cannon.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A James Wilson Memorial Award for Gen. Charles Lee

When I saw the movie musical 1776 during the Bicentennial, it left me with a strong impression of James Wilson. He was the Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress shown casting the decisive vote for independence. In the movie Wilson, played by Emory Bass, is a dithering, insecure man who finally chooses sides because he prefers to be in the crowd rather than be remembered for standing up to it.

In real life, Wilson was a highly respected Pennsylvania judge who in 1774 published an important pamphlet on the limits of Parliament’s authority over the colonies. In the Congress he advocated independence early on, withholding his vote only until he felt sure the people of Pennsylvania were behind it.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Wilson was one of the leading theorists of government and a member of the committee of detail, which produced the first draft. After the federal government was in place, President George Washington nominated him to be one of the first Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

None of those contributions to the country are in 1776. The movie Wilson is simply a pawn in the dramatic conflict between the hard-driving John Adams and the more reluctant revolutionary John Dickinson. I knew that the real Wilson wasn’t part of a singing chorus, of course, and that the conversations in the Congress didn’t proceed precisely as shown. But I didn’t expect the creators of 1776 would distort a historical figure so much.

How did Wilson become vulnerable to such distortion? He had stopped being a household name, even in Pennsylvania. That allowed the playwright Peter Stone to sacrifice Wilson’s real career for the cause of drama.

In the twenty-first century, the Revolutionary figure most deserving of a James Wilson Memorial Award for being misrepresented in historical drama seems to be Gen. Charles Lee. Versions of Lee are supporting characters in both the first two seasons of the television series Turn: Washington’s Spies and the Broadway musical Hamilton. But both stories bend the facts of Lee’s life.

Turn depicts Lee’s capture at the end of 1776, portraying him (played by Brian T. Finney) as caught during a sex game. That’s not so far off as there have been rumors that Lee was visiting a mistress at the New Jersey tavern where British dragoons found him.

In the second season Lee becomes a British secret agent, trying to throw the Battle of Monmouth. Again, there’s a historical inspiration for that plot twist—the captive general did offer Gen. Sir William Howe ideas on how to defeat the colonists—but Lee never tried to undermine the Americans as Turn shows. Instead, as the book discussed yesterday argues, he performed well on the battlefield, causing trouble off of it, mostly for himself.

Even so, that depiction of Lee as a treacherous villain is nothing compared to how he appears as an incompetent buffoon in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. That show features the duel between Lee and Col. John Laurens, with Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton as their seconds. (Burr gets inserted into a number of events to increase dramatic unity.) That scene serves to set up the duel everyone knows is coming at the end.

In the play Hamilton refers to Lee as a Virginian, classifying him with his adversaries Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. While Lee did buy land on the Virginian frontier in 1775, he was English by birth and upbringing.

In the musical number “Stay Alive,” Hamilton complains of Washington, “Instead of me, he promotes Charles Lee, makes him second-in-command.” To which Lee, most often played by Jon Rua, memorably responds, “I’m a general. Whee!

Lee could have responded that the Continental Congress had made him its third-ranking general in June 1775, when Hamilton was still a private in his college militia company. The next spring, with Artemas Ward staying in Massachusetts, Lee became second-in-command. He and Hamilton were never up for the same job.

Later, Hamilton asks, “How many died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?"

Lee was the Continental general with the widest military experience when the war began. He had been a professional soldier since his teens and actually studied military science. He had fought in major campaigns and sieges, in the American wilderness and on European plains. Americans were delighted that Lee brought all that experience to their army.

As with Judge Wilson, not many people know about Gen. Lee these days. That’s left dramatists free to reshape the details of his career to serve their stories. Given Hamilton’s popularity, a generation of young people is being introduced to Charles Lee as an inexperienced rival to Hamilton from Virginia.

The irony is that there’s no need to change anything about Charles Lee to create drama. He was drama on horseback, roving restlessly through the nascent U.S. of A. with his Italian manservant and his portable Shakespeare and his dogs. The man was a larger-than-life character: smart, slovenly, hot-tempered, witty, eccentric, and self-defeating. Someday I hope we’ll see a more accurate representation of Lee, writing political pamphlets and military plans and indiscreet letters, Washington’s most experienced officer and his biggest headache. Now that would be a show.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Charles Lee on a Fatal Sunday

Mount Vernon just shared an interview with Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone about their recently published book, Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle.

Here’s the authors’ positive appraisal of how Gen. Charles Lee behaved as a battlefield commander on 28 June 1778:
Charles Lee had a difficult assignment. He had to lead a vanguard of some 3,500 to 4,000 men of mixed commands, led by officers he didn’t know, into terrain he didn’t know, against an enemy whose strength and intentions were unknown. He had to do this in the face of conflicting intelligence reports and without adequate cavalry or other scouting capabilities.

Nevertheless Lee executed a nearly perfect movement to contact, quickly assessed the enemy situation, and formulated a reasonable plan to cut off what he thought was a relatively small British rear guard. It would have been exactly the limited blow and victory [George] Washington had in mind. When faced with an overwhelming British counter-attack, and an unauthorized retreat by a sizable part of his command, Lee pulled back in fairly good order, looking for a place to make a stand until Washington brought up the main army.

When he met the commander-in-chief—and the two generals had their famous contretemps—Lee in fact was headed for the very ground on which Washington organized the main American line. Lee then fought an admirable delaying action at the Hedgerow, buying the time Washington needed to form the main army. Charles Lee certainly made some mistakes—lots of officers did that day—but all in all he fought a good battle at Monmouth.
Of course, after quarreling with Washington, Lee demanded a public vindication which took the form of a court-martial. He thus destroyed his American career, turning a battlefield draw into a permanent defeat as surely as Washington had turned it into a victory.

TOMORROW: Charles Lee in the 21st century.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Celebrating the National Park Service Centennial

On 25 August the National Park Service is celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the law that founded the agency. Parks are charging no fees on 25-28 August. In addition, many N.P.S. sites have special events planned.

Not all those events relate to the Revolutionary period, even in greater Boston. Boston National Historical Park, for instance, is focusing on World War II. But here’s a selection that fit our period:

Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters, Cambridge—
In addition to family activities, a teddy bear tea, a 1916 jazz concert, a poetry slam, and a teen centennial celebration on different days, the site will host a showing of the movie 1776 on the evening of Saturday, 27 August. This musical was part of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s inspiration for Hamilton; his book even quotes a line from its opening number. The showing will be outside after sunset, so hope that day’s weather is like Philadelphia in the summer of 1776: no rain and warm.

Minute Man National Historical Park
At the visitor center near the Lexington-Lincoln border, activities scheduled all weekend include “Junior Ranger Centennial Activity Books.” There will also be a Battle Road Trail Walk starting at the visitor center at 12:30 P.M. on Saturday; “Bring plenty of water and wear comfortable shoes!” And there will be cake.

At the North Bridge in Concord, on Saturday at 2:30, there will be a presentation on “Sculpting an American Icon: Daniel Chester French and the Minute Man” by Donna Hassler of Chesterwood and David Wood of the Concord Museum. Rep. Niki Tsongas, N.P.S. Deputy Regional Director Rose Fennell, park superintendent Nancy Nelson, and local officials will also speak. And there will be cake.

On Sunday, the world-famous Middlesex County Volunteers Fife & Drum Corps will perform at the North Bridge at 11:00 A.M. No cake promised.

Adams National Historical Park, Quincy
On Thursday from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. the park will host visits from a young John Adams (as portrayed by Michael Lepage) and a matriarchal Abigail Adams (Patricia Bridgman), as well as John Quincy Adams (Jim Cooke) and his wife Louisa Catherine Adams (Judy Bernstein, 1:00-2:00 only).

For more details on each of these events and others, please visit the N.P.S.’s own websites.

Finally, Oxford University Press is honoring the Park Service by launching a webpage that “has brought together, and made freely available, some of its best online, scholarly content related to the National Park Service.” I can’t say I’m impressed with the range of resources so far, but I found the O.D.N.B. biography of Lord George Germain.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Jackson on Calhoun and Clay

One Presidential candidate’s recent suggestion of a “Second Amendment” response to losing the election prompted a Twitter discussion of Presidents threatening violence to their opponents. I noted the precedent of a reported remark from Andrew Jackson: “My only regrets are that I never shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.”

And then I realized that I was repeating a story without checking its sources, something I chide others for doing when it comes to the Revolutionary period. The Jackson administration is well past the period I research, to be sure. But as a teenager he did fight in the Revolutionary War, as shown in the print above. So I figured I could stretch a little.

The anecdote about Jackson’s regrets is quite widespread. Robert V. Remini, the leading Jackson biographer of our time, cites the story in his biography of Henry Clay. Harry Truman told it multiple times, including at a public dinner in 1951.

On the other hand, I found that authors split on when Jackson made that remark. Some say he said it on leaving the White House in 1837. Others date the statement to Jackson’s final illness in 1845. So that’s a red flag.

The earliest recounting of the remark that I could find through Google Books is an address titled “Precedents of Ex-Presidents,” delivered to the Nebraska Bar Association by George Whitelock in 1911. He said, “Old Hickory had had his drastic way, except, as he sadly lamented when departing for the Hermitage near Nashville, old, ill and in debt, that he had never got a chance to shoot Henry Clay, or to hang John C. Calhoun.” It’s notable that that’s not a direct quotation, just an expression of sentiment.

And there are some fairly authoritative sources for Jackson’s sentiment as far as Calhoun is concerned. James Parton’s three-volume biography of Jackson, published in 1860, includes this passage:
The old Jackson men of the inner set still speak of Mr. Calhoun in terms which show that they consider him at once the most wicked and the most despicable of American statesmen. He was a coward, conspirator, hypocrite, traitor, and fool, say they. He strove, schemed, dreamed, lived, only for the presidency; and when he despaired of reaching that office by honorable means, he sought to rise upon the ruins of his country—thinking it better to reign in South Carolina than to serve in the United States. General Jackson lived and died in this opinion. In his last sickness he declared that, in reflecting upon his administration, he chiefly regretted that he had not had John C. Calhoun executed for treason. “My country,” said the General, “would have sustained me in the act, and his fate would have been a warning to traitors in all time to come.”
In 1886 the journalist Benjamin Perley Poore published Perley’s Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis. Now Poore started counting those sixty years from his first visit to Washington, D.C., as a six-year-old. He didn’t enter journalism until after the Jackson administration. Nonetheless, he was a nationally known correspondent and Washington insider; indeed, Poore founded the Gridiron Club. So his stories carried weight.

Like Parton, Poore presented Jackson’s extreme dislike of Calhoun as a matter of hanging:
During the last days of General Jackson at the Hermitage, while slowly sinking under the ravages of consumption, he was one day speaking of his Administration, and with glowing interest he inquired of his physician:

“What act in my Administration, in your opinion, will posterity condemn with the greatest severity?”

The physician replied that he was unable to answer, that it might be the removal of the deposits.

“Oh! no,” said the General.

“Then it may be the specie circular?”

“Not at all!”

“What is it, then?”

“I can tell you,” said Jackson, rising in his bed, his eyes kindling up—“I can tell you; posterity will condemn me more because I was persuaded not to hang John C. Calhoun as a traitor than for any other act in my life.”

This was in accord with an earlier answer made by “Old Hickory,” before he had so far succumbed to disease and prior to his union with the Presbyterian Church. When his old friend and physician, Dr. Edgar, then asked him, “What would you have done with Calhoun and the other nullifiers, if they had kept on?”

“Hung them, sir, as high as Haman!” was his emphatic reply.
John Todd Edgar—a doctor of theology, not of medicine—had also been a source for Parton. He converted Jackson to Presbyterianism near the end of his life, though only after some brinksmanship involving an unbaptized child. So it looks like we’re on solid ground to say that Edgar, who was close to Jackson in his last years, told the story of the former President expressing regret for not having hanged Calhoun as a traitor.

That said, Parton’s 1860 Life of Andrew Jackson also includes this statement about the President’s departure from the White House:
It appears to rest upon good testimony that, during his stay at Cincinnati, he expressed regret at having become estranged from Henry Clay. Clay and himself, he said, ought to have been friends, and would have been, but for the slander and cowardice of an individual whom he denominated “that Pennsylvania reptile,” and whom he said he would have “crushed,” if friends had not interceded in his behalf.
For this information Parton cited, “N. Y. Evening Post, March 21st, 1859. Communication.” (I haven’t had a view at that newspaper for any more clues.)

So the part of the famous anecdote that involves shooting Clay not only doesn’t appear to have nineteenth-century backing, but there’s actually evidence that Jackson’s major regret toward Clay was not being friends.

On the other hand, we seem to be on fairly safe ground in saying that Andrew Jackson felt John C. Calhoun deserved to hang. So much so that none of the anecdotes portrays him as wanting to put Calhoun on trial first.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Finding Stuff on Boston 1775

As Boston 1775 has grown to contain so many stories and articles, it’s become harder to find postings about particular topics simply by glancing around the front page. So here are some tips for more efficient searching.

Instructions for that task are complicated by how Blogger websites can appear differently on small mobile devices, and sometimes in different browser programs. So these tips are based on the standard desktop version of the site.

1) Use your browser program’s function for finding text on the current webpage (usually “Find”) to search for the name of a person, place, battle or other event, or for a broad topic like “riots” or “animals.” If I’ve used that name or phrase as a label on Boston 1775, your browser will highlight that label in the column on the right side of the page. Then you can see how many postings I’ve tagged with that label—a number that might seem manageable or daunting.

2) At the upper left of the screen, next to Blogger’s trademark orange B, is the service’s own search box. Enter a word or phrase there, and the service will search Boston 1775 for any posting with that text. Put quotation marks around a phrase if you want to narrow down the search. The top results will be posts with the text in their titles, followed by posts with the words in their interiors.

3) Go to Google (Blogger’s parent company) and use its search function. Type “site:boston1775.blogspot.com” and the words you want to search for to restrict the results to Boston 1775 postings. This method could be especially useful if you’re seeking a particular quotation (put a distinctive phrase in quotation marks) or you want to narrow down the many Boston 1775 posts on, say, John Adams to only those about John Adams and pudding. (Avoid searching for phrases that are already labels in the right-hand column; since they appear on every blog page, that won’t narrow down anything.) Due to how Blogger/Google archives blogs, the results take two forms: links to specific postings or links to months in which those postings appear.

4) If you end up with a Boston 1775 page that contains many postings, go back to your browser program’s command for finding text on the current webpage (“Find”). Use that to quickly move through the postings to what you want.

Be aware that eighteenth-century spelling was very variable, even for proper names. Transcriptions can also vary, and nineteenth-century books often cleaned up the spelling and grammar of a Revolutionary text. I try to quote sources exactly, strange spellings and all, which affects what text a search will find. Also, people often shared the same names, so postings labeled with, say, “Josiah Quincy” might refer to multiple separate people.

Finally, I hope you have enough time to enjoy the search and check out cross-references. I think of Revolutionary New England as a vast network of relationships. It’s usually eye-opening to follow threads branching off from my initial topic to see who and what else is connected.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

“A British grenadier made prisoner”

In his History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America, in a section dated to late 1776, the Rev. William Gordon included this anecdote of the war:
It happened, that a garden of a widow woman, which lay between the two camps, was robbed at night. Her son, a mere boy and little of his age, asked leave for finding out and securing the pilferer, in case he should return; which being granted, he concealed himself with a gun among the weeds.

A British grenadier, a strapping highlander, came and filled his large bag; when he had it on his shoulder, the boy left his covers came softly behind him, cocked his gun, and called out to the fellow, “You are my prisoner; if you attempt to throw your bag down I will shoot you dead: go forward in that road.” The boy kept close to him, threatened, and was alway prepared to execute his threatening. Thus the boy drove him into the American camp, where he was secured.

When the grenadier was at liberty to throw down his bag, and saw who had made him prisoner, he was most horridly mortified, and exclaimed—“A British grenadier made prisoner by such a d——d brat—by such a d——d brat.”

The American officers were highly entertained with the adventure; made a collection for the boy, and gave him some pounds. He returned fully satisfied with the losses his mother had sustained.

The soldier had side arms, but they were of no use, as he could not get rid of his bag.
In a footnote Gordon added, “Mr. Vanbrugh Livingston of New York told me, he had this from major Ross of Lancaster in Pennsylvania, who saw the soldier brought in.” That was presumably James Ross (1753-1808), son of Declaration of Independence signer George Ross.

Friday, August 19, 2016

An Impressive Reenactment in Newport, 27 August

Next Saturday, 27 August, the Newport Historical Society is sponsoring another of its fine large-scale reenactments in the center of town: “Naval Impressment: A 1765 Reenactment in Colonial Newport.”

The society explains:
On the afternoon of August 27, 2016, visitors to downtown Newport’s Washington Square, Perotti Park and the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House can “step back in time” to the summer of 1765. From 1pm-4pm, the Newport Historical Society will host a large scale living history event with dozens of costumed interpreters who will recreate a naval press gang incident.

In June 1765, members of the Royal Navy from HMS Maidstone impressed sailors into service from the area that is today Washington Square. In reaction to this incident, citizens stole Maidstone’s longboat which they set on fire. This negative treatment is one incident that prompted many men to participate in the Stamp Act riots in August 1765.
Rhode Islanders would go on to destroy the Customs ship Liberty in 1769 and H.M.S. Gaspee in 1772. (In contrast, Bostonians destroyed Customs Commissioner Joseph Harrison’s personal boat in 1768 and of course those shiploads of tea in 1773 and 1774. So why did the Crown focus so much of its attention on Boston? I get the feeling the ministers in London already knew Rhode Island was ungovernable.)

There will be three distinct areas of reenactment which the public can watch:
  • At Perotti Park (39 America’s Cup Avenue), interpreters will represent life in the Royal Navy as “impressed sailors” train and discuss life at sea. Visitors can also view a reproduction eighteenth-century boat moored in the harbor.
  • At the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House (17 Broadway), interpreters portraying middle- and upper-class residents will discuss the views on the naval incident and how the loss of sailors impacts their personal economic stance.
  • And Washington Square will be occupied with reenactors portraying many aspects of eighteenth-century daily life including a fish market, a merchant captain, tavern life, a sailmaker, printer, and much more.
There will also be children’s activities and a “family scavenger hunt.”

These activities take place out in Newport’s streets and parks. They are therefore free to all, with the reenactors being hard-working volunteers. Some costs of the event will be defrayed by selling handmade clay tankards which visitors can fill with apple cider at each site. Those tankards cost $25; they can be ordered in advance by calling the Brick Market: Museum & Shop at 401-841-8770 or bought there on the day of the program.

In addition, on 27 August the Newport Restoration Foundation will offer free tours of the William Vernon House, which served as General Rochambeau’s headquarters during the French occupation of the town in 1780-1781. It’s now a private residence, making this thirty-minute tour a rare opportunity to see the interior architectural craftsmanship and and eighteenth-century Chinoiserie parlor panels.

Those tours will run from 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M., starting every half-hour. Tickets are free but must be ordered in advance online or by email to Liz@newportrestoration.org.

To read up on the history behind the Maidstone conflict, visit Timothy Abbott’s “Another Pair Not Fellows” blog. He has a four-part discussion of naval impressment in the eighteenth century starting here, as well as a look at the work behind creating a Royal Navy uniform for the young midshipman in charge of recruiting sailors by any means necessary.