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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Friday, April 14, 2017

Samuel Adams: “Curer of Bacon”?

In his “Sagittarius” letters of 1774, the Scottish printer John Mein referred to:
the very honest Samuel Adams, Clerk, Psalm-singer, Purlonier, and Curer of Bacon.
Mein was clearly being derogatory, but what exactly did he mean?

To start with, Adams was clerk of the Massachusetts General Court.

As I wrote in this article at the Journal of the American Revolution, Adams was known for psalm-singing, and indeed for recruiting Sons of Liberty at psalm-singing lessons. Loyalists like Mein really harped on that.

“Purlonier” was the printer’s typographically challenged way of spelling “purloiner.” That undoubtedly referred to Adams’s controversial tenure as one of Boston’s tax-collectors from 1756 to 1764. He didn’t supply the town with all the money the law said it was owed. Mein insinuated that Adams kept those funds for himself. But he probably never collected them in the first place, cementing his popularity.

Which brings us to “Curer of Bacon.” What does that mean? A family biography treats that as an allusion to the malthouse business that Adams inherited from his father and couldn’t keep up. But what exactly is the connection between a malthouse and bacon?

I think I found the answer in John Middleton’s View of the Agriculture of Middlesex, published in London in 1807, in a section on hogs:
A very large market is held on Finchley-common for the sale of this useful animal, where great numbers are purchased purchased fat, by the hog-butchers of London, as well as vast quantities of lean stores, brought from Shropshire, and other distant counties, to be fed by the malt-distillers. Here it may be necessary for the Board to use their endeavours to correct an error too much believed by the vulgar, that the malt-distillers’ pork is not good; the hogs, it is asserted, being kept in a state of intoxication; whereas the contrary is the fact; it being notorious, that the best pork for sea voyages is that from the malt-distillers (who always finish them with hard meat); and it is equally certain, that the best bacon in the kingdom is made from those hogs; and he would be a bad workman, who left spirit enough in his wash to make his hogs drunk.
Mein’s London readers therefore might have connected the phrase “Curer of Bacon” with a man in the malt business.

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