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

Follow by Email

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Taking Liberties

The History Channel released this photo to promote its upcoming series Sons of Liberty. According to the caption on its website, it shows:
I have a feeling that this series will relate to the actual history of the American Revolution in Boston rather like Turn relates to its history on Long Island during the war. That is, at the same distance or more as the Marvel movies relate to the Marvel Comics “continuity.”

There will be characters in Sons of Liberty with the same names as actual historical figures. Those characters will have some of the very basic attributes as their real-life counterparts: Hancock will be rich, Warren militant, Samuel Adams radical. But we mustn’t expect their histories, costumes, behaviors, personalities, or outlooks to match anything we’ve read. If there is a match, it will be a pleasant “Easter egg” surprise.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Street View and the 1700s

Back in February the Guardian newspaper featured artist Halley Docherty’s images of historic paintings of London laid over (and, thanks to Photoshop, somewhat under) Google Street View photographs of the modern city.

Above, for example, is Canaletto’s 1750s view of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, one of my favorite parts of London. The skyline hasn’t changed that much, but there appears to be much less traffic on the river.

In March the newspaper published Docherty’s similar work on other cities around the world, including the view of Paris below. Shortly after Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet painted the Pont Notre-Dame in 1756, that built-up bridge was taken down for safety.
Since then Docherty has done photo features on album covers, the World Wars, and the Berlin Wall.

I just tried doing the same thing with Henry Pelham’s print of the Boston Massacre and modern State Street. (Pelham had a better handle on perspective than Paul Revere, who copied his engraving.)

My main conclusion is that Pelham must have sat in a second-story window to get his view of the Old State House with its lion and unicorn and tower behind. He was clearly higher than those Street View cameras that Google employees walk around with.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“Behaving with discretion & Calmness”

On 1 Nov 1769, Boston’s selectmen appointed Thomas Bradford a temporary Constable of the Watch for the south part of town.

On their authority, town clerk William Cooper issued Bradford these instructions:
1st. That you with the Watchmen under you attend at sd. Watch House at the Hours of 9 oClock every Night from the 20th. of Septr. to the 20th. of March and continue till clear day light, and at the Hours of 10 0Clock from the 20th. of March to the 20th. of September, that you & each of you continue upon Duty untill Sunrise; & if any of your Division should misbehave you must inform the Select men of it.

2d. That you keep a fair Journal of your doings every Night, how you find the State of the Town, and who of the Watchmen are on Duty, and Report to the Selectmen every Wednesday.

3d. That two at least of your Division taking their Staves with them walk the Rounds within your Ward, twice at least every Night, or oftner if necessary, setting out from the Watch House at such Times in the Night as you shall judge best, varying the Time according to your discretion.

4th. In going the Rounds Care must be taken that the Watchmen are not Noisy but behave themselves with strict decorum, that they frequently give the Time of the Night & what the Weather is with a distinct but moderate Voice, excepting at Times when it is necessary to pass in Silence in order to detect and secure Persons that are out on unlawful Actions.

5th. You & your Division must endeavour to suppress all Routs Riots & other Disorders that may be committed in the Night and secure such Person as may be guilty; that proper steps may be taken the next Morning for a prosecution as the Law directs, we absolutely forbid your taking private satisfaction, or any bribe that may be offer’d you to let such go or to conceal their offence from the Selectmen.

6thly. You are to take up all Negroes Indian and Molatto Slaves that may be absent from their masters House after nine oClock at Night and passing the Streets unless they are carrying Lanthorns with light Candles and can give a good and satisfactory Account of their Business that such offenders may be proceeded with according to Law.
Of course, since it would be impossible to determine if someone was enslaved just by looking at him, that meant stopping and questioning every person of color.

But in doing so, Bradford and his men were not supposed to swear or be impolite.
7thly. The Selectmen expect that you execute your office with Resolution & Firmness not using any affronting langage but behaving with discretion & Calmness, that it may appear you do not abuse even Offenders & they recommend to you and your Division that you behave with Sobriety Temperance Vigilence and Fidelity and agreeable to the Laws; Your Office requires a Conduct; the Security of the Town demands it, & you may be assured that your continuance in the place to which you are appointed altogether depends upon it
Bradford received a permanent appointment to this post in March 1771.

(The cartoon above, from 1784, depicts British politician Charles Fox as a London watchman. The lantern, staff, and long coat appear to have been emblematic of the job.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Looking Narrowly at Broadcloth with Hallie Larkin

This fall the Readex Report, published to highlight research that folks can do with that company’s digital databases, included costume expert Hallie Larkin’s article, “‘Suitable to the Season’: Using Historical Newspapers to Help Reproduce 18th-Century Clothing.”

She starts with advertisements for dry goods:
Merchant advertisements list the goods being brought into port. From nails to needles, advertisements provide detailed lists of merchandise available. Early American Newspapers allows a search of these ads by location, date and multiple keywords. As an example, broadcloth was one of the most frequently used fabrics in the construction of men’s clothing during the 18th century. A heavily fulled, wide (54-60 inches), dense fabric that wore like iron, it was one of the most important exports of England and one of the most frequently advertised imports into America. . . .

An advertisement appearing in the Boston Post Boy on 10 June 1765 lists “a large assortment of superfine Broadcloths with a variety of inferior cloths.” This ad clearly indicates that more than one quality of Broadcloth was available to the consumer. Would a seller today use the word “inferior” to describe any product?

Colonial advertisements rarely used product images, so words had to get buyers into the shop. In addition to price and quality, color was almost always a descriptor, as seen in this text from the Massachusetts Gazette on 5 June 1771:
Pea and grass Green, white, mazarine and Wilke’s Blue, cinnamon mixture, nutmeg mixture, coffee, chocolate, claret and bloom colour’d superfine, middling and low pric’d Broadcloths.
Everyone knows the color of peas, grass and white. Even claret is still easily visualized today. But this ad throws a couple of color curve balls. Mazerine? Wilke’s Blue? The color of mazerine I discovered is a deep blue color, named for Cardinal Mazerin in the 17th century. But what color was Wilke’s Blue? (I am still looking for a source that will answer this question.)
This isn’t my area of expertise, but I’m going to toss out the idea that “Wilke’s Blue” refers to the blue or purple dye from whelks. And that spelling might be due to the interest in John Wilkes in 1771.

Larkin’s article goes on to discuss another valuable source on people’s clothing to be gleaned from newspapers: advertisements for runaways that described what they wore in detail.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lucinda Foote’s Entrance Examination

Last week I shared the account of a Yale entrance examination for a seven-year-old in 1757. Here’s another notable Yale applicant from 1783.

Once again the story includes the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles, by then president of the college. In his diary for 22 December, he wrote:
I examined Miss Lucinda Foot aet. [i.e., aged] 12, Daugh. of the Revd Mr Foot of Cheshire [Connecticut]. She has learned the 4 Orat. agt. Cataline, the four first Books of the Aeneid, & St. Jno.’s Gospel in Greek. I exam’d her not only where she had learned but indifferently elsewhere in Virgil, Tully, & the Greek Testament, & found her well fitted to be admitted into the Freshman Class. She was born May 19, 1772. I gave her the followg. Certificate or Diploma on Parchment.

(L. S.) Prases Collegij Yalensis, Omnibus S. P. D.
Vobis notum sit quod Dominam
Lucindam Foot Aetat 12. Examine probavi, eanique in Linguis edoctis, Latina et Graeca, laudabilem progressum fecisse; eo ut familiariter et reddidisse & tractasse reperivi, tum verba tum Sententias, alibi in Aeneide Virgilii, in selectis Ciceronis Orationibus, et in Graeco Testamento. Testorque omnino illam, nisi Sexus ratione, idoneam ut in Classem Recentium in Universitate Yalensi Alumna admitteretur. Datum e Bibliotheca Collegij Yalensis, 22 die Decembris, Anno Salutis MDCCLXXXIII.
An English translation of that document:
The President of Yale College, to all to whom these Presents shall come,—Greeting: Be it known to you, that I have examined Miss Lucinda Foote,—twelve years old,—and have found that in the Learned languages,—the Latin and the Greek.—she has made commendable progress,—giving the true meaning of passages in the Eneid of Virgil, the Select Orations of Cicero, and in the Greek Testament; and that she is fully qualified, except in regard to sex, to be received, as a Pupil of the Freshman Class in Yale University. Given in the College Library, the 22 of December, 1783.
Lucinda Foote was not, of course, admitted to the college. Not because she would be only twelve years old at the start of the next academic year, but because she would still be only a girl.

A family chronicler later wrote, “She pursued a full course of College Studies, and also studied the Hebrew, with President Stiles, subsequent to the date of this Certificate.” Unfortunately, Stiles’s diary, which is quite detailed, doesn’t confirm that. Stiles did remain in contact with her father, a fellow minister, but never mentioned Lucinda again.

It does seem certain that Lucinda Foote remained, as her descendants said, “altogether a woman of much learning and great mental power.” She grew up to marry Dr. Thomas T. Cornwall of Middletown in 1790. According to The Foote Family (1849), they had nine children between 1791 and 1801, a very high number, and then another in 1811. Nonetheless, she lived until 1834. Her husband died twelve years later, aged seventy-eight, having practiced medicine for more than half a century.

(Yale finally admitted young women as undergraduates in 1969. The photo above shows the university’s Mead Visitor Center, in a 1767 house on Elm Street.)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lion and Unicorn Returning to Boston, 23 Nov.

On Sunday, 23 November, the figures of the lion and unicorn will be reinstalled at the Old State House in Boston.

The lion has been regilded, and the unicorn repalladianized, making them shinier than they’ve been in years and probably far shinier than the original statues looked in colonial times. The balcony below them has had major repairs, as had the building’s west façade.

Aa was widely reported this fall, the lion’s head contained a time capsule from 1901. The conservator placed a new time capsule into the gilded scroll that the lion statue stands on, to be more easily accessible to people in another century.

Like the 1901 time capsule, the new box contains material reflecting this moment: today’s mayor and other officials, today’s fads, &c. But it also includes “Two 18th-century hand-wrought nails removed from the Old State House tower in 2008,” and a “Fragment of a 1713 brick removed from Old State House during the 2014 west façade restoration project.”

At 10:00 A.M. the statues are due to be unveiled at street level on the “Boston Massacre Plaza” beside the building. That will probably be the best time for many years to get a close-up look at them. Then they’ll be hoisted up to the roof with a crane.

Friday, November 21, 2014

John Trumbull’s Entrance Exam

Yesterday I described the accomplishments of young John Trumbull, son of a Westbury, Connecticut, minister. His mother, daughter of another clergyman, taught him from an early age.

Then, as he wrote about himself, Trumbull started to eavesdrop on lessons by his father:
The country clergy at that time generally attempted to increase their income, by keeping private schools for the education of youth. When he was about five years of age, his father took under his care a lad, seventeen years old, to instruct and qualify him for admission as a member of Yale-College.

Trumbull noticed the tasks first imposed; which were to learn by heart the Latin Accidence and Lilly’s Grammar, and to construe the Select Colloquies of Corderius, by the help of a literal translation. Without the knowledge of any person, except his mother, he began in this way the study of the Latin language. After a few weeks, his father discovered his wishes, and finding that by the aid of a better memory, his son was able to outstrip his fellow-student, encouraged him to proceed.
The unfortunate teenager who got to see his tutor’s little son outstrip him was, notes by the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles show, William Southmayd (1740-1778).

In September 1757, the Rev. John Trumbull took his namesake son and his student Southmayd down to Yale to be “examined by the tutors” there. In 1897 Moses Coit Tyler wrote:
What were the requirements at that time exacted for admission to Yale College may be seen in the following statute printed in the year 1759: “Admissionem in hoc Collegium Nemo expectet, nisi qui é Praesidis et Tutorum Examine, Tullium, Virgilium et Testamentum Graecum extemporè legere, ad Unguem redere, ac grammaticè resolvere, et Prosâ veram Latinitatem scribere potuerit; et Prosodia ac Arithmetices vulgaris Regulas perdidicerit: atque Testimonium idoneum de Vitâ ac Moribus inculpatis exhibuerit.”
So that’s a pretty high hurdle.

Yet another teenager trying for admission that year was Nathaniel Emmons. He later claimed that he held little John on his lap during the tutors’ questioning.

The result was remarkable enough to be published in New Haven’s Connecticut Gazette on 24 Sept 1757, according to Henry Bronson’s History of Waterbury (1858). It reported the notable news that the boy “passed a good examination, although but little more than seven years of age.”

At the same time, the newspaper said, “on account of his youth his father does not intend he shall at present continue at college.” Or as the grown-up John Trumbull wrote:
Trumbull, however, on account of his extreme youth at that time, and subsequent ill health, was not sent to reside at college till the year 1763. He spent these six years in a miscellaneous course of study, making himself master of the Greek and Latin authors usually taught in that seminary, reading all the books he could meet with, and occasionally attempting to imitate, both in prose and verse, the style of the best English writers, whose works he could procure in his native village. These were of course few. The Paradise Lost, Thompson’s Seasons, with some of the poems of Dryden and Pope, were the principal.

On commencing his collegiate life, he found little regard paid to English composition, or the acquirement of a correct style. The Greek and Latin books, in the study of which only, his class were employed, required but a small portion of his time. By the advice of his tutor, he turned his thoughts to Algebra, Geometry, and astronomical calculations, which were then newly introduced and encouraged by the instructors. He chiefly pursued this course during the three first years. In his senior year he began to resume his former attention to English literature.
John Trumbull finally graduated from Yale in 1767, ten years after his admission. He stuck around some more years to earn a master’s degree, then a couple more as a tutor. After all, he didn’t want to go home to “his native village,” where he’d already read all the books.

(The photo above shows Connecticut Hall at Yale, built in the early 1750s.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

John Trumbull: “this weird urchin”

Last week I shared a portrait of John Trumbull (1750-1831), the author of M’Fingal and Connecticut jurist. He was a child prodigy, according to the biographical introduction to the 1820 collection of his work (which he apparently wrote himself):
Being an only son, and of a very delicate and sickly constitution, he was of course the favorite of his mother. She had received an education superior to most of her sex, and not only instructed him in reading, from his earliest infancy, but finding him possessed of an extraordinary memory, taught him all the hymns, songs and other verses, with which she was acquainted.

His father’s small library consisted mostly of classical and theological books. The Spectator and Watts’ Lyric Poems were the only works of merit in the belles-lettres, which he possessed. Young Trumbull not only committed to memory most of the poetry they contained, but was seized with an unaccountable ambition of composing verses himself, in which he was encouraged by his parents.
Trumbull appears to have offered more detail in 1788 to the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles (shown above), who took detailed notes on their conversation, eventually published in his Extracts from the Itineraries and Other Miscellanies:
Aet. [i.e., age] 2, began [New England] Primer & learned to read in half a year without School. Mother taught him all the Primer Verses & Watts’ Children’s Hymns before read.

Aet. 4. Read the Bible thro’—before 4. About this time began to make Verses. First Poetry, Watts’ Lyrics, & could repeat the whole—& only poetical Book he read till Aet. 6.

Aet. 5. Attempted to write & print his own Verses—Sample large hugeous Letters. This first attempt of writg. by himself—& before writg. after Copy. Scrawls.

Aet. 6. In Spring began to learn Latin & learnd half Lilly’s Grammar before his Father knew it—catchg. it as his Father was instructg. [William] Southmayd: same Spring as six y. old. Learned Quae genus by heart in a day. Tenacious Memory.

Aet. 9. On a Wager laid—to commit to memo. one of Salmon’s Pater Nosters in a quarter of an Hour—he effected it—recitg. by Memo. the Pater Noster in Hungarian and Malebar: & retains it to this day. I heard him repeat the Hunga.
In 1897 Moses Coit Tyler added this anecdote in The Literary History of the American Revolution, 1763-1783, citing Trumbull’s manuscripts:
Emulous, no doubt, of the laurels of the heavenly and much desired Watts, he began at about the age of four to make verses for himself, as much as possible in the true Wattsian manner; but not having as yet advanced so far in learning as to be able to write, he could only preserve these valuable productions by storing them away in his memory.

At five, being still unable to write, he hit upon the device of transcribing his verses by imitating printed letters. His first attempt of this kind consisted of four stanzas of an original hymn, and his “scrawl of it filled a complete sheet of paper.” Having perceived a want of connection between the third and the fourth lines of one of his stanzas, this weird urchin was greatly perplexed thereby; but “after lying awake some nights,” meditating upon the problem, he finally solved it by the proper verbal corrections.
So what do you do with a boy like that?

TOMORROW: Take him to Yale, of course.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“32 of which years he dressed as a woman”

From the 6 August 1764 Boston Evening-Post:
We hear from the Vineyard, that one Deborah Lewis, of that Place, about 32 Years of Age, who, till within a few Days since, constantly appeared in the Female Dress, and was always supposed to be one of the Sex, suddenly threw off that Garb, and assumed the Habit of a Man; and sufficiently to demonstrate the Reality of this last Appearance, is on the Point of marrying a Widow Woman.
This item was reportedly reprinted in the Pennsylvania Gazette and possibly elsewhere.

From the 22 Jan 1770 Boston Evening-Post, datelined “Hartford” (and therefore probably first printed in that town’s newspaper):
We are credibly informed, that about 23 [sic] years ago a child was born in the South Part of the Massachusetts-Bay, who bearing a similarity of both Sexes, it was disputed what apparel it should be dressed in, but ’twas at last agreed to dress it in Women’s, and it was baptised by the name of Deborah; this person grew up, and till lately passed for a woman; but having for some time past lodged with one of that Sex, the latter found herself to be with child, and has swore the former to be the Father of it.—The consequence has been that they are married together, and the Father instead of his former name, was married by that of Deborah Francis Lewis.
That article was reprinted in several American newspapers, including the Pennsylvania Gazette, New-York Journal, Newport Mercury, and New-Hampshire Gazette.

From the 22 Jan 1823 Boston Daily Advertiser:
DIED,—…
In Tisbury, (Martha’s Vineyard,) Mr. Francis Lewis, ag. 93—32 of which years he dressed as a woman, and was supposed to be such.
That item was also published in several papers and magazines. The 12 Feb 1823 Geneva (New York) Gazette reportedly continued the line: “After that, he took his proper apparel as a man, and passed the remainder of his life in the marriage state, and has left numerous descendants. The family has always deserved and received the respect of those who knew it.” That might have appeared earlier in the 5 Feb 1823 Providence Gazette.

The story of Deborah/Francis Lewis isn’t totally unknown. Alfred Young came across the Pennsylvania Gazette references and a Martha’s Vineyard genealogy in his research on Deborah Sampson and shared them with Thomas A. Foster, who noted Lewis in Long Before Stonewall. Marya C. Myers quoted the Newport news item in a 2006 issue of American Genealogist. So I’m just adding some references from Massachusetts newspapers to the pile.

Back in 1911 the Martha’s Vineyard genealogist Charles Edward Banks identified Francis Lewis’s parents as John and Thankful (Crowell) Lewis of Yarmouth. Banks said Lewis was born as Deborah on 19 Feb 1730 (two years off the age stated in the first article above), and came to Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, as a child.

According to Banks, ten days after the first article above, Francis Lewis married Anne Luce, who was just about to turn twenty-four; she does not appear to have been a widow. They had five children together between November 1765 and August 1782. Banks noted no child as arriving within nine months of their marriage. But of the whole family, only the eldest daughter’s marriage appears in the published Tisbury vital records.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Plumb Crazy

Constabulary notes from the Old Bailey Online, 10 Oct 1733 in London:

John Sherman was indicted for the Murder of John Wiggans, by striking him on the left side of the Head with a Cane, by which he fell to the Ground, and by that Fall received one mortal Wound and Bruise on the Fore part of his Head, Sept. 20 of which Wound he linguished till the 26th of the same Month, and then died. He was a 2d time indicted on the Coroner’s Inquest for Manslaughter.

The Prisoner and the Deceased were at the Tewksbury-Church Alehouse in White-chappel; they sat in different Boxes; the Prisoner and his Company were spelling Words, and at last a Tankard of Beer was laid about spelling Plumb; upon which the Deceased started up, and said, God damn you all for a Parcel of Blockheads, P, l, u, m, b, spells Plumbn

Some of the Prisoner’s Company said, what silly Fellow is that, to trouble his Head with us?

The Deceased came to them, and swore he was as good a Man as any of them, and he’d fight e’er a Man there with a Stick, either for Love or a Tankard of Beer, and at last he would needs sight the Prisoner. The Prisoner declined it, but the Deceased went home, and returned with his Cane, and challenged the Prisoner to go into the Yard.

They fought, and broke one another’s Heads.—The Prisoner’s Cane was split. They parted. The Deceased would have t’other Bout. The Prisoner knocked him down, and he fell with his Head upon the Pavement; he was help’d up; they went in; their Heads were dress’d; they drank to one another; shook Hands; parted Friends, and the Deceased went home, and not imagining the Wound to be dangerous, neglected to send for a Surgeon till it was too late; his Skull was fractured, and it proved the Cause of his Death.

Manslaughter.
Good times.