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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mary Sanderson and the Man in Her Bed

Mary Munroe was born in 1748 in a “part of Lexington called Scotland” for the number of Scottish immigrants who had settled there. She reportedly kept “a little of the Scottish accent…all her life.”

In October 1772, Mary Munroe married Samuel Sanderson, a cabinetmaker who had moved into town from Waltham four years before. A man who knew her later wrote that Sanderson was “reputed an excellent workman, and a man of strong, native, good sense, but of a rather phlegmatic and desponding temperament, with whom the world never wagged so cheerily as with many.”

The Sandersons had a boy named Amos in July 1774. Samuel’s brother Elijah also lived and worked with him in his house (shown here, courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection).

In April 1775, Samuel Sanderson was a corporal in the Lexington militia, standing on the common as the British column arrived. Local historian Michael J. Canavan recorded this story about how Mary Sanderson experienced the outbreak of war:
When he heard that the British were coming he piloted his wife over to her father’s carrying his babe, and accompanied by a little girl who was at their house. Over at Scotland they found the mother getting breakfast and the brothers at first did not believe the report.

After the British retreated Mary returned home and found a good many things had been stolen. Her cow (which was a good part of her marriage portion) had been killed; and a wounded British soldier was stowed away in her bed. She cried out “I wont hae him there. Why didn’t you knock him on the head?”

But the town authorities insisted he be taken care of. . . . The soldier begged for Tea but she refused. “what for should I gae him tae for? He shall hae none.”

The wounded man refused to eat or drink unless the food was tasted by some of the family.
Smart man.

Despite crippling arthritis, Mary Sanderson lived to be a centenarian. On 23 Sept 1852 the women of Lexington organized a “levee” in her honor at the town hall, with refreshments and music. It raised $300. She died less than a month later at the age of 104.

Monday, April 20, 2015

“Shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous”

On 19 Apr 1775, two companies of militiamen marched from Andover. Anticipating that the British column was headed to Concord, where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had collected supplies, they marched toward that town, but kept adjusting their course as they received more news.

Here’s the account of Sgt. Thomas Boynton from Capt. Benjamin Ames’s company:

This morning, being Wednesday, about the sun’s rising the town was alarmed with the news that the Regulars was on their march to Concord. Upon which the town mustered and about 10 o’clock marched onward for Concord. In Tewksbury news came that the Regulars had fired on our men in Lexington, and had killed 8. In Bilricke news came that the enemy were killing and slaying our men in Concord. Bedford we had the news that the enemy had killed 2 of our men and had retreated back; we shifted our course and persued after them as fast as possible, but all in vain; the enemy had the start 3 or 4 miles. It is said that their number was about 1500 men. They were persued as far as Charlestown that night; the next day they passed Charles River. The loss they sustained as we hear were 500; our men about 40. To return, after we came into Concord road we saw houses burning and others plundered and dead bodies of the enemy lying by the way, others taken prisoners. About eight at night our regiment came to a halt in notime. The next morning we came into Cambridge and there abode.
The Andover men never made contact with the enemy that day, but they did become part of the army besieging Boston.

Another man on that march was James Stevens, a carpenter born in 1749 who was in Capt. Thomas Poor’s company. His diary was published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections in 1912, offering a vivid picture of the aftermath of battle:
April ye 19 1775 this morning a bout seven aclok we had alarum that the Reegerlers was gon to Conkord we getherd to the meting hous & then started for Concord we went throu Tukesbary & in to Bilrica we stopt to Polords [Solomon Pollard’s tavern, burned in 1977] & eat some bisket & Ches on the comon. we started & wen into Bedford & we herd that the regerlers was gon back to Boston

we went through Bedford, we went in to Lecentown. we went to the metinghous & there we come to the distraction of the Reegerlers thay cild eight of our men & shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous. we went a long through Lecintown & we saw severel regerlers ded on the rod & som of our men & three or fore housen was Burnt & som hoses & hogs was cild thay plaindered in every hous thay could git in to thay stove in windows & broke in tops of desks we met the men a coming back very fast we went through Notemy & got into Cambridg we stopt about eight acloke for thay say that the regerlers was got to Chalstown on to Bunkers hil & intrenstion we stopt about two miles back from the college

Thursday ye 20 this morning we had alarum about day we imbodied as son as posable & marcht into the comon we herd that the regrelers was gon to Boston we staid on the Comon a spel & then retreted back to the hils & exspected them out on us we herd severl small canons & one or two swevels from a tender we staid while ten or a leven aClok & then come down & got some refreshment & men come in very fast
Stevens’s idiosyncratic spelling probably gives a good sense of what he sounded like. It’s also clear that even then people had trouble spelling “Billerica.”

(The picture of the Lexington meetinghouse above comes courtesy of the First Shot! smartphone tour, created by Rick and Marilyn Rea Beyer and the Lexington Historical Society.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Reuben Brown, the Link Between Lexington and Concord

Reuben Brown was born in Sudbury in 1748. In 1770, soon after coming of age, he moved to Concord and established himself as a saddler. Three years later, on 12 May 1773, he married a girl from his old town, Mary (Polly) How. Their daughter Hepzibath arrived four months later on 15 September, and their second daughter Sally on 9 Mar 1775.

Also in early 1775, according to Concord historian Lemuel Shattuck, Brown made “cartouch-boxes, holsters, belts, and other articles of saddlery” for local militiamen. The town’s Liberty Pole stood in a field behind his shop.

But those weren’t Brown’s most significant contributions to the Battle of Lexington and Concord. He had a unique perspective on the action, as described in his highly wrought obituary in the 3 Oct 1832 The New England Farmer (reprinted from the Boston Courier):
Died at Concord, Mass. on the 25th ult. [i.e., of last month] Mr Reuben Brown, a rare specimen of that hardy, industrious, intelligent and fearless yeomanry which, fifty years ago, was the glory of the Commonwealth and the bulwark of the Union.

Mr Brown, who was a native of Sudbury and a grandson of the first minister of that ancient settlement, removed to Concord about the year 1771, and was of course just in season to witness the earliest scenes of the great Drama of the Age. He did witness them literally, indeed, for on the eventful morning of the 19th of April, long before day-break, he was on his way, alone, at the request of some of the Concord authorities, to reconnoitre the advance of the British to Lexington.

He reached the “Common” just as they were seen marching up the Boston road. He advised the American officers, who were wholly unprepared to meet an enemy, to withdraw; but they declined, chiefly from the firm belief, which their men shared with them, that the British would never think of firing upon them at all events.

Mr Brown waited to see the issue of the meeting—the blood of the first martyrs of American liberty—and he then returned rapidly to Concord and reported progress.

His work had now but commenced. His shop was closed—a large saddler’s establishment in which he had already fitted out several companies of cavalry and infantry—and then his house—standing on the main road in the village—and his wife with her infant children instructed to manage for herself in the woods north of the town, with many other females and infirm people of the place—

Mr. Brown then mounted his horse again, it being now about day-break, and commenced the task of alarming the neighboring country. And his efforts will need no comment when we say that he rode that day about 120 miles in the performance of this noble duty. The result of the exertions in which no single man probably bore so active a part as himself, is well known to all readers of a history which “the world has by heart.” On many other occasions he was equally efficient, though he did not happen to be at any time engaged in fighting the enemy in the field. Two of his brothers were at Bunker Hill.

Universally respected by his fellow citizens for his sound judgment, his energy, his industry, his public spirit, his cordial benevolence, and, above all, for that staunch old fashioned honesty which knew no shadow of turning—his gray hairs were crowned with the praise of a Patriot, and his death with the peace of a Christian. He came to his grave at the venerable age of 84.
Brown was thus the communication link between Lexington and Concord at the start of the fight. His report that the British troops were willing to shoot warned his own neighbors to be cautious about confronting those soldiers, putting off the confrontation in Concord for a few hours until more militia units arrived.

Reportedly, before leaving town the regulars took a chaise from Brown’s shop, perhaps to transport a wounded man. That man might well have been Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould—at least, men in Cambridge later took control of both Gould and Brown’s chaise. Reuben Brown also had a connection to another prisoner, Lt. Richard Potter of the Marines: the provincials held him for a while in Brown’s house.

Here is an old photograph of that house from the collection of the Boston Public Library. Brown’s account books from a couple of decades later are at the Concord library.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jeremiah Lee’s Very Bad Night

Jeremiah Lee was a non-battlefield casualty of the fight on 18-19 Apr 1775. On the one hand, that’s appropriate because he was central to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s effort to build up an artillery force, which prompted the British army march tp Concord. On the other hand, Lee’s death was probably unnecessary.

Lee was a Marblehead merchant, militia commander, and member of the congress’s Committee on Supplies. He was the conduit for its payments to the Salem painter David Mason as he collected and mounted cannons.

On 18 April, Lee attended a joint meeting of the Committee on Supplies and the Committee of Safety at a tavern in Menotomy, the western village of Cambridge that’s now Arlington. When the meeting broke up, he and two other men from Marblehead, Elbridge Gerry and Azor Orne, decided to stay the night. Richard Devens of Charlestown later wrote:
After we had finished the business of the day, we adjourned to meet at Woburn on the morrow,—left to lodge at Newell’s [the tavern], Gerry, Orne, and Lee. Mr. [Abraham] Watson and myself came off in my chaise at sunset.

On the road we met a great number of B[ritish]. O[fficers]. and their servants on horseback, who had dined that day at Cambridge. We rode some way after we met them, and then turned back and rode through them, went and informed our friends at Newell’s. We stopped there till they [the officers] came up and rode by. We then left our friends, and I came home, after leaving Mr. Watson at his house.
Likewise, Gen. William Heath wrote of himself in the third person: “on his return home, soon after he left the committee, and about sun-setting, he met eight or nine British officers on horseback, with their swords and pistols, riding up the road towards Lexington.”

The province was abuzz with rumors that the London government had ordered Gen. Thomas Gage to arrest leaders of the rebellion—and those rumors were pretty much true. The committee men were naturally nervous. Gerry sent a warning west to John Hancock and Samuel Adams, then staying at Lexington. Nonetheless, Devens and Watson had passed through the British officers twice with no trouble.

Later that evening, a long column of British troops passed by the tavern on the way to Concord. Lee, Gerry, and Orne got out of bed to watch. Suddenly they perceived some soldiers from that column coming toward the front door. Half-dressed, the three men dashed out the back and threw themselves down in a field, hoping the stalks of the previous year’s crop would hide them. Heath wrote that he heard they suffered “some injury from obstacles in the way, in their undressed state.”

The three men remained on the ground for about an hour before they decided it was safe to return to the building. Lee, who had just turned fifty-four, took sick from the cold and stress. He died on 10 May, his family and friends blaming the events of that night.

Here’s the sad irony: those British troops weren’t seeking to arrest anyone on the Committee on Supplies. Gen. Thomas Gage’s orders for that march say nothing about arresting Provincial Congress members or searching buildings before the column reached Concord. None of the several British officers who left detailed accounts of the night wrote about such a search on the way west. Heath wrote that he’d heard the troops “halted” outside the tavern, which they might have done just to get water from a well, but he didn’t say they went inside.

In his 1828 biography of Gerry, James T. Austin wrote that British troops had searched Newell’s tavern on the night of 18 April. Of course, saying that made Gerry’s decision to hide outside in the fields seem more smart than scared. And although Austin claimed, “even the beds in which they had lain were examined,” he had to acknowledge that nothing, not even “a valuable watch of Mr. Gerry’s, which was under his pillow,” had been disturbed. No eyewitness accounts from 1775 said troops had gone into the tavern, and the Massachusetts Patriots hadn’t shied from complaining about British actions that day.

I therefore suspect that Lee, Gerry, and Orne could have stayed inside their bedroom the whole night without being disturbed. And Lee might have lived for many more years.

Friday, April 17, 2015

John Goddard Carts Supplies to Concord

On 24 Febr 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s Committee of Safety and Committee on Supplies voted to procure these items and store them in Concord:
1000 candles; 100 hhds. [hogsheads] salt; a suitable supply of wooden spoons; 20 casks of raisins; 20 bushels of oatmeal; 1500 yards Russia linen; also 2 barrels Lisbon oil; 6 casks of Malaga wine, and 9 casks of Lisbon wine, to be lodged at Stow.
The committees had already started to amass other supplies, including some with no other purpose but to wage war. The congress needed someone to move all that stuff around, so on that same day the committees
Voted, unanimously, that Mr. John Goddard, of Brookline, be waggon master for the army, and that Capt. [Benjamin] White inform him of his choice by the province.
Goddard (1730-1816) had been one of Brookline’s three representatives to the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress, convening in October 1774, but for the February session the town had sent only White.

In 1898 the Brookline Historical Society printed John Goddard’s expense book, listing these entries for the beginning of the year 1775:
The Committee for Supplies to John Goddard of Brookline Dr. for his Expense of Time —

March 4th 1775 to one day going to Boston & engaging Team £0.. 5 .. 4
[etc. etc.]

March 8th 1775.
The Committee for Supplies to Sundry Persons under ye Direction of John Goddard Dr. —
To carting fifty five Barrels of Beef from Boston to Concord @5/ Pr Barrel £3..15..0

to carting two Hogsheads of Flints & other articles from Boston to Brookline 0..6..6

20th to carting 74 C:3/4 of Rice from Boston to Concord @1/2d pr C 4..19..8

22. to carting 15 C:1/4 of weights 1..0..2
to carting sheet Lead and three Barrels of Linen 0..8..0

24. To carting 2 casks of Leaden Balls 0..2..8

April 10th 1775. to carting two Ox Cart & two horse cart loads of canteens to Concord £3..6..8
to ye assistance of 3 Men in removing canteens 0..3..0

14th to carting 1 ox cart & 1 horse cart load of Canteens to Concord 1..13..4
In Nathaniel Goddard: A Boston Merchant, 1767-1853 (1906), Henry G. Pickering wrote that on the trips to Concord, “One of these teams was driven by John Goddard himself, and another by his son Joseph, then a lad of fourteen.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

“A humorous story told about town of one of the deserters”

On 20 Aug 1774, the young lawyer John Trumbull sent the following to his legal mentor John Adams, then on his way to the First Continental Congress:
There is a humorous story told about town of one of the deserters, though I cannot say it is absolutely to be depended upon as a fact: a soldier, whose name is Patrick, deserted sometime ago and settled in a country town at some distance, and there undertook to instruct a company of about fifty men in military exercises.

A sergeant and eight men were sent to apprehend deserters, got intelligence of him, and agreed with a countryman, for a couple of guineas, to conduct them to him. Patrick, it seems, was at that time exercising his company; however, being called by the sergeant and his men, he immediately came up to them. The sergeant demanded what he did there, told him he was his prisoner, and ordered him to return and join his regiment.

Sir, said Patrick, I beg your pardon, but I don’t think it possible for me to obey you at present. The sergeant repeated his orders in a very peremptory style. Patrick still assured him of the great improbability of his being able to comply with the command; but told him, as it was not absolutely certain, he would see what could be done about it.

You must know, said he, that we determine every thing here by a vote—and turning to his company, which had by this time come up,—gentlemen, says he, if it be your mind that I should leave the town and return to my regiment, please to manifest it. Not a single hand appeared in favor of the motion. He then desired that those who were contrary-minded should manifest it, which passed nem. con. [i.e., no dissenting votes]

The sergeant and his men, finding themselves in so small a minority, and seeing it in vain to oppose the general voice of the meeting, were about to return again in peace, when one or two of his men were desirous to have it put to vote whether they should not stay also. Patrick, as moderator, immediately put the question, which it was not difficult to carry in such an assembly, and the sergeant, knowing it vain to resist, returned with six men to his regiment.
It seems significant that not even Trumbull suggested this tale was factual. But it reflects how he and other New Englanders liked to see themselves in 1774: committed to traditional voting and group solidarity, capable of using force but preferring to use calm reason and numbers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Paul Revere House during School Vacation Week

With Patriots Day and Massachusetts school vacation coming up, the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End has a slate of activities for families and younger kids.

Unless otherwise noted, these events are free with museum admission, which is $3.50 for adults, $3.00 for seniors and college students, $1.00 for children ages 5–17. Members and North End residents get in free. The house is open daily 9:30 A.M. to 5:15 P.M.

Saturday, 18 April, 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.
Patriot Fife and Drum
Enjoy a lively concert of music that accompanied colonists as they marched, danced, wooed their beloveds, and waged war. David Vose and Sue Walko provide fascinating insight into each selection they perform.

Tuesday, 21 April, 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.
A Visit with Paul Revere
David Connor brings Boston’s favorite patriot vividly to life. Ask him about the details of his midnight ride, inquire about his sixteen children, or engage him in conversation about his activities as a member of the Sons of Liberty.

Wednesday, 22 April, 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 noon
Midnight Ride Storytelling Program
Find out what really happened on Paul Revere’s ride! Separate the facts from the myths, then retrace Revere’s route from his home to the banks of the Charles River. Participants don hats and carry props as they go, taking on the roles of Paul and Rachel Revere, their children, British soldiers, rowers, John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Particularly appropriate for kids in grades K-4. Reservations are required and may be made by calling 617-523-2338. $4.50 for each adult and child age 5 and up.

Thursday, 23 April, 2:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Drop-In Colonial Kids Activities
We encourage families with kids of all ages to stop by to try on clothes like Paul Revere’s kids wore, play 18th-century games in an informal setting, and write with a quill pen. This program is included with admission to the house and reservations are NOT required.

Friday, 24 April, 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 noon
Midnight Ride Storytelling Program
See Wednesday above.

Saturday, 25 April, 10:30 A.M.
Kids-eye-view Tour of the Paul Revere House
Take a tour designed especially to answer kids’ most pressing historic house questions like: where did sixteen children sleep? How did they bathe and where did they go to the bathroom? Why didn’t playing cards have numbers? And who was this Paul Revere guy anyway? This program is limited to twenty people. Reservations are required and may be made by calling 617-523-2338. $4.50 for each adult and child age 5 and up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Book Launch Where You Can Pop Up on 16 Apr.

Last May I noted a Kickstarter campaign for a pop-up book about Boston’s Freedom Trail, created by paper engineer Denise D. Price.

The Freedom Trail Pop Up Book of Boston has now been produced and printed, and Price is inviting people to a launch party on Thursday, 16 April, at the Old North Church.

The book contains pop-up versions of ships, church spires, Charles Bulfinch’s expanded Fanueil Hall, the soldiers from the Boston Massacre engraving, and more—sixteen scenes in all.

This event begins at 5:30 P.M. Book sales will benefit the church.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Places to Go, People to Read

Greater Boston’s Patriots Day season has already started. For information about reenactments and commemorations in Middlesex County, check out the Battle Road site.

And don’t forget about next week’s Colonial Comics events, which got some ink from the Boston Globe yesterday.

Looking back, the “So Sudden an Alteration” conference last Thursday through Saturday benefited from excellent wi-fi at the Massachusetts Historical Society, so there was a lot of tweeting during the sessions. That produced a parallel discussion that brought in resources and voices from outside the room, as well as the usual strictly limited paraphrases of what people said and snarky comments about it.

Two members of the Junto have collected the tweets marked #RevReborn2 in separate formats. Joe Adelman used the experimental tool at Hawksey.info to create this archive of #RevReborn2 tweets. The site also produced graphs and an unintelligible map.

Michael Hattem fed tweets and photos into the established Storify site:
If you want to comment back on Twitter, use the #RevReborn2 label, and your remark may appear in a future update.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

“Poor Mrs Brown, who was Betsy Otis”

James Otis’s 1783 will didn’t exactly brim with love for his oldest child, Elizabeth, who toward the end of the siege of Boston had married a British army officer, Leonard Brown.

As I quoted yesterday, Otis wrote that he’d heard his daughter’s husband had left her, and that she was suffering from consumption, and then he bequeathed her five shillings. And that was supposed to be in a moment of sanity.

I haven’t found any indication that those rumors were true. Elizabeth Brown lived for decades. And while I can’t confirm the Browns lived together happily, they remained a couple.

In October 1785, after John Adams became the U.S. of A.’s minister to Britain, Elizabeth Brown contacted him, saying, “my Comp[limen]ts: attend Mrs: Adams and inform her I still retain a pleasing remembrance of the agreeable Week I pass’d with her at Plymouth.” She said that she was living “at Leonard Browns Esqr. Sleaford Lincolnshire”—probably her father-in-law’s house.

The biggest problem Elizabeth Brown faced then was not the lack of money from her father but lack of access to bequests from other relatives. Two months later Brown laid out her difficulty for Adams:
my Grandfather at the Decease of my much’d Hond: Father Bequeath’d me one Thousand pound Lawfull Money which his Executors M: J— and Mr: A— Otis were to pay me, and I expected to receive the interest. untill it was convenient to them, to pay the principal
“M: J— and Mr: A— Otis” were Brown’s uncles Joseph Otis and Samuel Allyne Otis. Her uncle by marriage, James Warren, was supposed to be her attorney in Massachusetts, receiving and passing on the money. But the Otises’ business had failed in the tough postwar American economy, so they didn’t have any cash to send. And Warren wasn’t representing Elizabeth Brown’s interests well.

In May 1786, Abigail Adams wrote from London to her sister Mary Cranch about the case:
Poor Mrs Brown, who was Betsy Otis, had all her Grandfather left her, in the Hands of Mr Allen otis and Genll Warren. She has written several Letters to mr Adams upon the subject requesting his advice what to do. Her Father left her nothing. It is very hard she Should lose what her Grandfather left her.
The case hung on. In 1789, Elizabeth’s mother, Ruth Otis, died, leaving her more wealth.

Finally, in February 1790 the Massachusetts legislature passed a law allowing “Leonard Brown and his Wife” to take possession of land belonging to Samuel Allyne Otis as he went through bankruptcy and to sell it to satisfy a debt to them. The attorneys in that settlement were Harrison Gray Otis, Otis’s son, and William Tudor, Adams’s former clerk and father of James Otis’s future biographer.

According to William Tudor, Jr., Elizabeth Brown made “a short visit in 1792” to Massachusetts, perhaps to wrap up those bequests. He also wrote that her husband, “coming into possession of a handsome property, resigned his commission” in the army and retired to a genteel life in the British countryside. That might have been in 1796, when the Monthly Magazine reported the death “At Sleaford, aged 82, Leonard Brown, esq. of Pinchbeck, for many years a magistrate for the district of Kesteven.”

As I wrote yesterday, St. Mary’s church in Pinchbeck (shown above) contains an inscription about the death of Capt. Brown in 1821. Tudor wrote that Elizabeth Brown was still alive at that time. According to Lincolnshire Pedigrees (which names her father as “Thomas Otis of Boston”), Elizabeth Brown died 18 Apr 1839 at age eighty-two.

That same genealogical book says that Elizabeth and Leonard Brown had a son, also named Leonard, born around 1777. He lived until 1848 and was survived by his widow, Anne. I found gossip about them in Letters of James Savage to His Family, privately printed in 1906. Savage was a genealogist, and in 1842 he went to Britain, determined to track down James Otis’s descendants. Writing from the other Boston, he told his wife what he’d heard about this Leonard Brown: “he was domineered over by his mother, after father’s death, and had only within a short time married his housekeeper or cook, and had no children.” And that was the end of that branch of the Otis family.