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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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

After Trumbull—Not After Copley After All

Back in January, I saw this painting on Twitter, identified as a portrait of Gen. George Washington by John Singleton Copley.

I replied that Copley never painted Washington.

The person who posted the image reported that the Art U.K. site actually identified the portrait as after Copley, meaning another artist had copied Copley’s original.

I replied that there’s no Copley painting of Washington to copy from.

But that’s indeed what the official information about the painting says. It’s hanging in Washington Old Hall, a manor in Britain now owned by the National Trust. The Washington family had roots there. And obtaining this painting seems to have been a tribute to the first President of the U.S. of A.

Presumably, the painting was acquired at a time when every second painting from Revolutionary-era America was hopefully identified as a Copley. But now we know better.

That canvas is clearly based on John Trumbull’s painting of Washington before the Battle of Trenton. Here’s a version of that image from the Metropolitan Museum of New York. (Trumbull may have painted other copies as well.)

Art U.K. has an online forum called Art Detective, which invites the public to crowdsource questions about artwork in the national collections. I posted a comment to that site with a link to the Met’s Trumbull, and a moderator invited Washington Old Hall to join in the exchange.

And that’s where the story stands, five weeks later. The discussion doesn’t appear in the public forum. The attribution still points to Copley “(after).” The Art Detective approach is intriguing, but in this case its potential hasn’t panned out.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Dunbar on Ona Judge in Portsmouth, 5 March

On Sunday, 5 March, Erica Armstrong Dunbar will speak in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about her new book Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge.

I wrote about the first President using resources of the federal government to chase Judge (also called Oney Judge) here. There’s much more to her story. Shana L. Haines’s review of this book at the Junto states:
Judge’s story has long been an interesting footnote, paragraph, or article. Unlike many references to Judge, Dunbar’s comprehensive treatment presents Judge as a fully fleshed out human being grappling with the dehumanization of slavery and the complexities of freedom. For both scholars of Early American slavery and the general public, Judge is being reintroduced as an important figure in our understanding of Early American slavery and resistance. Through Dunbar’s empathetic and well-researched biography, the woman whose safety and freedom in eighteenth-century America depended upon remaining hidden, is finally given prominence in her own story rather than as aside to the Washingtons. . . .

Dunbar uses runaway slave notices, Washington’s own diaries and letters, and archival information about slave laws, politics, and abolitionist practices to weave a tense and suspenseful tale of Judge’s game of cat and mouse. Within this fugitive slave narrative is also embedded the emotional toll of separation from family and the physical and economic realities of day-to-day living for black women in the early republic. As America was wrestling with how to implement its Constitutional principles, Judge was forging marriage, motherhood, and community through resilience and courage.
Judge settled in Portsmouth, making her story local as well as national. The Portsmouth Historical Society is hosting Prof. Dunbar’s talk as part of a two-hour program:
  • 2:00 P.M.: Gwendolyn Quezaire-Presutti portrays Ona Judge in a living-history performance.
  • 2:30: Author presentation.
  • 3:15: Q. & A.
This event will take place at the Temple Israel Social Hall at 200 State Street from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winiarski on the New Lights in Boston, 1 March

On Wednesday, 1 March, the New England Historic Genealogical Society will host a talk by Prof. Douglas L. Winiarski of the University of Richmond based on his new book, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England.

The publisher’s description says:
The 1740s and 1750s were the dark night of the New England soul, as men and women groped toward a restructured religious order. Conflict transformed inclusive parishes into exclusive networks of combative spiritual seekers. Then as now, evangelicalism emboldened ordinary people to question traditional authorities. Their challenge shattered whole communities.

This sweeping history of popular religion in eighteenth-century New England examines the experiences of ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Drawing on an unprecedented quantity of letters, diaries, and testimonies, Douglas Winiarski recovers the pervasive and vigorous lay piety of the early eighteenth century.

George Whitefield’s preaching tour of 1740 called into question the fundamental assumptions of this thriving religious culture. Incited by Whitefield and fascinated by miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit—visions, bodily fits, and sudden conversions—countless New Englanders broke ranks with family, neighbors, and ministers who dismissed their religious experiences as delusive enthusiasm. These new converts, the progenitors of today’s evangelical movement, bitterly assaulted the Congregational establishment.
This conflict was known at the time as the argument between “New Light” and “Old Light” ministers.

In 1842, the Rev. Joseph Tracy dubbed it “the Great Awakening.” That phrase first appeared in Moravian Christian literature of the early 1700s before it became part of the New Lights’ vocabulary. The Rev. John Wesley used it in an extract of his diary he published in 1740. Two years later, Whitefield included the phrase in a letter as a term for a local revival. In 1741, the Rev. John Webb (1687-1750) of Boston’s New North Meeting titled a sermon Christ’s Suit to the Sinner, while He Stands and Knocks at the Door: A Sermon Preach’d in a Time of Great Awakening, at the Tuesday-Evening Lecture in Brattle-Street, Boston.

Prof. Winiarski’s talk is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. at the society’s headquarters on Newbury Street. It is free, and attendees can register here.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

In Our Time, If You’ve Got the Time

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite podcasts is the B.B.C. Radio 4 discussion show In Our Time. In each episode, novelist and television host Melvyn Bragg discusses a particular topic with three experts drawn from Britain’s universities.

For the podcast, the forty-five minutes of discussion recorded live is augmented with the few extra minutes of “what did we miss?” chat.

Here are some episodes over the past year that have improved my understanding of the British Empire of the 1700s:
As I recall, the Emma discussion eventually came down to the academics reading out their favorite bits. And who can blame them?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Vincent Carretta on John Peters

One of the many notable achievements of Vincent Carretta’s Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage is its picture of the man Wheatley married, John Peters.

As Carretta writes in a recent blog post at the Oxford University Press website:
Until very recently, all we’ve had to go on were two very brief nineteenth-century accounts of John Peters (1746?–1801). The first depicts him as a failed grocer with an aspiration to gentility, who married Phillis in April 1778, and who abandoned her as she lay dying in desperate poverty 6 years later. He was also said to have been something of a handsome ne’er-do-well con man, who fraudulently posed as a lawyer or physician. We’re left with the image of a Dickensian villain in a tale of the decline and death of a duped sentimental heroine. But how reliable are those accounts?
Carretta found much more about Peters in local records that previous authors didn’t dig out because the early picture seemed so clear and unappealing. Carretta writes about John Peters and Phillis Wheatley:
Their marriage was initially prosperous and promising, according to tax and court records. Phillis and John Peters lived in a relatively upscale section of Boston. Peters and his white business partner sold rye, wheat, tea, nails, sugar, and other goods in the counties of western Massachusetts during the spring and summer of 1779. At a time when creditors often had to take debtors to court to collect what was owed them, Peters won one lawsuit against a debtor. But he simultaneously lost a much larger lawsuit by one of his own creditors in 1780. . . .

Phillis and John were definitely back in Boston by June 1784, when John Peters, “Labourer,” won another lawsuit against the debtor he had first sued in 1776. Winning, however, gained him nothing because his debtor had fled to England.
The post-war economy hurt lots of people that year. For John and Phillis Peters, the color line made that the situation more dire. John was jailed in September. Phillis died in December.

However, as the economy stabilized, widower Peters began to rise in society once more. In 1791 the town tax records identified him as “Lawyer Physician Gent pintlesmith.” A prosecution for barratry shut down Peters’s practice of taking people to court, but when he died in 1801 the newspaper still referred to him as “Dr John Peters.”

As for “pintlesmith,” Carretta defines that as a skilled craftsman making “the pins or bolts on which other parts, such as rudders or hinges, turn.” However, Francis Grose’s 1785 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue says it was a slang term for a surgeon. More particularly, other references make clear, it meant a surgeon specializing in the effects of venereal diseases on the male member. So that tax identification might have been a way of acknowledging that Peters practiced medicine while giving him low status.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

“Retreat and Resistance” in Salem, 26 Feb.

On Sunday, 26 February, Salem will have a “fun and informal reenactment” of the confrontation between Patriots and redcoats across the town’s North River on that date in 1775.

Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie had orders to lead his men from the 64th Regiment of Foot across the river and search Robert Foster’s smithy. But locals, led by David Mason, had raised the drawbridge over the river, blocking the redcoats.

A crowd gathered around the soldiers. Militia units mustered in nearby towns. There was some tussling, some swinging of hatchets, some poking with bayonets. A soldier pricked Joseph Whicher’s chest—enough that Salem historians have claimed the first blood of the Revolutionary War was spilled that day.

Eventually the town’s civilian leaders and Lt. Col. Leslie found a compromise, brokered by Anglican [nearby meetinghouse] minister Thomas Barnard. Mason lowered the drawbridge. Leslie marched his men across it, far enough that he could say he had fulfilled his orders, and then they turned around and went back to the ship awaiting them in Marblehead.

During the stalemate at the bridge, Mason’s confederates had moved all the cannon he had collected for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress out of Foster’s workshop and into a nearby woods. Those cannon were being mounted on carriages for battlefield use. Within a week, they were moved on to Concord, where a larger British force came looking for them in April.

The commemoration on Sunday starts with two gatherings:
  • 10:30 A.M.: The First Church of Salem Unitarian-Universalist welcomes everyone for a service that will end with a warning that the redcoats are coming, just as happened in 1775. That will be about 11:30, when folks can also arrive at the church yard to join the congregants in heading to the bridge.
  • 11:00 A.M.: Folks representing the British army will meet at Hamilton Hall with fifes, recorders, and slide whistles. They will walk up to a mile (weather depending) to recreate the soldiers’ approach from Marblehead.
  • 11:45 A.M.: At the corner of Federal and North Streets (Murphy’s Funeral Home), Lt. Col. Leslie and militia captain John Felt will dispute whether the bridge must come down and what the soldiers must do. People are invited to observe and shout surly comments.
  • 12:00 noon: At the end of the reenactment, everyone will be invited into the First Church for an hour of warmth and refreshment.
The 26 Feb 1775 confrontation was part of the larger competition for artillery pieces described in The Road to Concord. On Friday, 7 April, I’ll speak at the Salem Athenaeum about that town’s many crucial connections to the Massachusetts arms race. General admission will be $15, for members $10, and for students with ID free.

Folks in the region are organizing other talks and events in the coming weeks about Leslie’s Retreat and the surrounding conflict. I’ll share more news of those as they come near.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Chevalier and the Chavelière

Yesterday I described the busy, accomplished life of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a champion swordsman and celebrated musician in pre-Revolutionary France.

In the late 1780s he spent a couple of years in London. And there he encountered an old acquaintance, the Chevalier d’Eon. Reportedly D’Eon had seen Saint-Georges fence as a teenager in Paris.

D’Eon had had an eventful military and diplomatic career before going into exile in Britain in 1760s. Starting in 1777, D’Eon had lived in France full-time as a woman. In 1785 the chevalier returned to London, where people still remembered him as a skilled swordsman.

On 9 Apr 1787, Saint-Georges and D’Eon performed a fencing exhibition in front of George, the Prince of Wales, and his entourage. Charles Jean Robineau painted the scene, and by 1789 it was turned into a print for the popular market. The print’s caption referred to D’Eon as “Mademoiselle La chevalière.”

I’d seen this image in connection with D’Eon, who certainly stands out in dress and bonnet. But Saint-Georges was also a celebrity and, as a man of African ancestry, a curiosity. His dark tan skin is not evident in the print, at least not in some hand-colored examples, but it’s clear in the painting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Celebrated Saint-Georges

A concert in Seattle got me intrigued about the life of Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

He was born on Guadeloupe in 1745, son of a wealthy planter and his black slave. At around age seven, he traveled to France to go to school. His parents joined him in Paris a couple of years later, his father receiving a noble title.

At age thirteen, Joseph went to a school of military arts. By his late teens, he was known as one of the finest swordsmen in France. The king granted him the title of chevalier.

That would be impressive enough, but in his twenties Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges became one of Paris’s most celebrated musicians, concertmaster of the Concert des Amateurs. He wrote an opera with Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, later author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He also crossed paths with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, though no music seems to have come of that.

Then the American War started to affect Saint-Georges’s life. Because his orchestra’s patrons had put all their money into supplying the French army in America, the Concert des Amateurs had to shut down in 1781. He bounced back with a new patron in Philippe D’Orléans, duc de Chartres, and his lodge of Freemasons. With their support, Saint-Georges commissioned the Paris symphonies from Joseph Haydn.

In 1785, Philippe succeeded to his father’s title as duc d’Orléans. A cousin of King Louis XVI, the duke favored a constitutional monarchy along British lines, particularly if he could be in charge as regent. He sent Saint-Georges to London to strengthen contacts with the Prince of Wales, early anti-slavery activists, and other potential allies.

The portrait above comes from Saint-Georges’s time in London. It was painted by Boston-born Loyalist Mather Brown at the request of the Prince of Wales.

Saint-Georges was in the audience at the opening of the Estates General of France in 1789. That limited attempt at political change soon brought on the larger French Revolution. At first Saint-Georges continued work as a musician and courtier, but in 1792 he accepted a commission as colonel of a cavalry legion of free men of color from Haiti.

For the next several years, Saint-Georges was part of the army of Revolutionary France, caught up in its politics. That meant he spent some of his time at the front, some in Paris, some in jail. There’s evidence he went to Haiti in 1796 as part of the central government’s unsuccessful campaign to suppress Toussaint Louverture. Finally he returned to music, frustrated by government service and suffering from illness. Saint-Georges died in Paris in 1799.

TOMORROW: Another picture of Saint-Georges.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Reading about Rick Beyer’s Rivals unto Death

Rivals Unto Death: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr is a retelling of the political rivalry that led to the most famous fatal duel in U.S. history. It comes from Rick Beyer, an author and filmmaker from Lexington.

Rick’s behind the “First Shot” film, the “In Their Own Words” pageant, the annual Lexington tea burning, and more to come. I invited him to answer a few questions about his new book.

What was the genesis of Rivals Unto Death? How did you come to write it?

I have Lin Manuel Miranda to thank for that! With the musical Hamilton getting hotter and hotter, the editor who shepherded my first book into print invited me to write about the rivalry. The idea was to squeeze the whole story into a compact and accessible volume. I’ve long been fascinated by this tale, and I jumped at the chance. The publisher had a hurry-up deadline, but I had an ace up my sleeve. A dozen years ago I researched the duel for a History Channel documentary I was supposed to produce. At the last minute Richard Dreyfuss decided he wanted to produce that show, and for some strange reason they went with him instead of me! That research stood me in good stead for this project.

What were the biggest surprises for you as you researched and wrote the book?

To start with, Burr saved Hamilton from capture during the Revolution, and may well have saved his life later on when he extricated Hamilton from what was shaping up as a duel with future President James Monroe. You won’t find that in most history books—or the musical! And there are many more fascinating and little known connections. The two men switched back and forth from allies to adversaries multiple times…so tracing their relationship makes for a fascinating journey.

I was also surprised by the degree to which I revised my opinion of Aaron Burr. He’s not quite the cardboard cutout villain history has portrayed. He was a war hero, a feminist, an abolitionist, a supporter of immigrant rights (far more so than immigrant Alexander Hamilton), a patron of the arts, a loving husband and father, and a brilliant innovator in political campaigning. All and all a fascinating character.

The bulk of Rivals Unto Death is about the tangled legal, commercial, and political world of New York in the early republic. How did you get a handle on that topic?

Important as it was, NYC was tiny by modern standards. When Burr and Hamilton started practicing law there in 1783, there only about two dozen lawyers in the entire city. Today you can find that many in a Wall Street Starbucks! A great source on the crowded cockpit that was early 19th-century New York is the Pulitzer Prize-winning history Gotham by ‎Mike Wallace‎ and Edwin G. Burrows.

One of the things that history tends to paper over is the passion and partisanship of the time. The founders weren’t marble statues; they were flesh and blood men who were often at each other’s throats. So many events and controversies of the late 18th and early 19th centuries seem remarkably familiar today. Street protests ending in violence, hysterical predictions about presidential candidates, accusations of vote fraud, anger over immigration and deficits—it was all there in the time of Hamilton and Burr, and it forms the context for their rivalry. A great source of insights on that score is the website founders.archives.gov, a searchable archive with more than 175,000 pieces of correspondence and other writings from the first five presidents and Alexander Hamilton. Thank you, National Archives!

How did you structure your narrative for readers?

This is a murder mystery in which there is no doubt about who pulled the trigger, but the why is endlessly fascinating. The book opens one week before the duel, at New York’s Fraunces Tavern, where Hamilton and Burr sat side by side at a convivial July 4th dinner. No one else there knew that they already set in motion their duel, and they gave no hint of it that night. How could they share an enjoyable evening when they were dead set on shooting it out? What in the world was going on? That’s what I wanted to explore, and the book goes back to the time of the revolution in a search for clues.

I structured the book as a countdown to the duel. The chapters literally count down from ten to one, and at the beginning of each chapter I note how much time is left until the duel. Burr and Hamilton are on a slow-motion collision course, and as the years tick down, the causes of their ultimate confrontation become clear.

You write that the roots of the rivalry between Hamilton and Burr lay in the two men’s relationships to George Washington. Tell us more about those relationships and how they steered the men.

Hamilton and Burr were each offered a chance to serve on Washington’s staff during the Revolution, Burr when he was twenty, Hamilton when he was twenty-two. Burr lasted ten days and left with a bitter taste in his mouth, harboring a lifelong enmity toward Washington. Hamilton stayed four years, becoming Washington’s most important aide and his lifelong protégé. Over the years, this fundamental divide over Washington shaped their politics and soured their relationship.

Burr challenged Hamilton to their duel after reading a reference to “a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton had expressed.” Do you have any suspicions about what that opinion was?

Gore Vidal posited that Hamilton accused Burr of having an incestuous relationship with his daughter, but I think that is just a novelist’s invention. Hamilton had written privately to people about his fear that Burr might be secretly scheming to create a new country out of New England and New York, largely for the sake of his own personal aggrandizement. I suspect his “more despicable opinion” involved some variation on that theme. As an immigrant who had adopted America as his own nation, Hamilton was unalterably opposed to breaking apart the nation he had worked so hard to create. “I view the suggestion of such a project with horror,” he once wrote. It seems like just the kind of thing he would expound on at a political dinner not knowing it would eventually bring about about his own demise.

Thanks, Rick! If you have your own questions about Hamilton and Burr, you can ask Rick at these upcoming appearances:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Noel on Exercise for Scholars, 22 Feb.

On Wednesday, 22 February, Rebecca Noel will speak on the topic “Beware the Chair: The Medieval Roots of School Exercise…and Your Standing Desk” at the historical society in Plymouth, New Hampshire.

So what should we be worried about?
This talk explores the sometimes alarming, sometimes hilarious history of the idea that the scholarly life makes people sick. It’s a problem that came to afflict more people as education expanded during the Enlightenment and became nearly universal in the 1800s. Whether the culprit was lack of movement, seated posture, blood rushing to the head, tuberculosis, or digestive woes, physicians have fretted over the health of scholars since at least Plato’s day. Tracing this idea from Europe to the United States, from scholars to children, and from boys’ to girls’ education, the presentation shows how durable the fear has remained—and how relevant it is to the more sedentary world in which we now live.
Noel is Associate Professor of History at Plymouth State University. She is working on a book titled Save Our Scholars: The Mandate for Health in Early American Education. Rebecca and I overlapped at college, but she was already studying American history and I wasn’t, so I didn’t meet her until several years ago at a Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife. This posting was inspired by the paper she presented then.

The program in Plymouth starts at 7:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public, and there will be refreshments to work off.

And now here are some remarks from Josiah Quincy (1772-1864) about his days at an academy in Andover starting at age six, in the middle of the Revolutionary War:
The truth was, I was an incorrigible lover of sports of every kind. My heart was in ball and marbles. I needed and loved perpetual activity of the body, and with these dispositions I was compelled to sit with four other boys on the same hard bench, daily, four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon, and study lessons which I could not understand. Severe as was my fate, the elasticity of my mind cast off all recollection of it as soon as school hours were over, and I do not recollect, or believe, that I ever made any complaint to my mother or any one else. . . .

One recollection of my boyhood is characteristic of the spirit of the times. The boys had established it as a principle that every hoop and sled should have thirteen marks as evidence of the political character of the owner,—if which were wanting, the articles became fair prize, and were condemned and forfeited without judge, jury or decree of admiralty.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

“Exhibition at the Dwelling-House of Mr. PAUL REVERE”

Yesterday I passed on the news of activities next week at the Paul Revere House, which is now a historic museum.

But well before that building became a museum in the early 1900s, Paul Revere himself made it into a spectacle. That was on 5 March 1771, the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Less than a year after his family moved into that house, Revere used its windows to help his political movement.

In an unusually typset front page, Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette described how the town observed that day. The Congregational meetinghouses (but not, by implication, the Anglican churches) tolled their bells for an hour starting at noon. And then:
In the Evening there was a very striking Exhibition at the Dwelling-House of Mr. PAUL REVERE, fronting the Old-North Square.—At one of the Chamber-Windows was the appearance of the Ghost of the unfortunate young [Christopher] Seider, with one of his Fingers in the Wound, endeavouring to stop the Blood issuing therefrom: Near him his Friends weeping: And at a small distance a monumental Obelisk, with his Bust in Front:—On the Front of the Pedestal, were the Names of those killed on the 5th of March: Underneath the following Lines,
Seider’s pale Ghost fresh-bleeding stands,
And Vengeance for his Death demands.
In the next Window were represented the Soldiers drawn up, firing at the People assembled before them—the Dead on the Ground—and the Wounded falling, with the Blood running in Streams from their Wounds: Over which was wrote FOUL PLAY.

In the third Window was the Figure of a Woman, representing AMERICA, sitting on the Stump of a Tree, with a Staff in her Hand, and the Cap of Liberty on the Top thereof,—one Foot on the Head of a Grenadier lying prostrate grasping a Serpent.—Her Finger pointing to the Tragedy.

The whole was so well executed, that the Spectators, which amounted to many Thousands, were struck with solemn Silence, and their Countenances covered with a melancholy Gloom. At Nine o’Clock the Bells tolled a doleful Peal, until Ten; when the Exhibition was withdrawn, and the People retired to their respective Habitations.
I’ve seen no report of a similar exhibition in Boston. It’s notable that it took place at Revere’s house in the North End rather than somewhere close to the center of town.

Perhaps Revere’s sideline of making and selling historical engravings was behind this event. The picture of the Massacre in his window could certainly have been based on the famous design he copied from Henry Pelham, and he could have had prints for sale. I suspect there were likewise models, perhaps British, of the other two scenes the newspaper described. Either that, or artist Christian Remick made them for Revere.

All that news from 1771 is a reminder that we’re coming up on the anniversary of the Massacre again. This year the reenactment will take place on the evening of Saturday, 4 March, outside the Old State House Museum. All that day there will be very striking activities.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Revisiting the Paul Revere House Next Week

This February school vacation is a fine time for families to take in the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End now that it’s expanded its exhibit space and made the silversmith’s house more accessible.

The site is offering some special events next week, free with admission.

Wednesday, 22 February, 10:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.
Drop-In Family Activities: Exploring Home
What makes a house a home? Come explore some materials, techniques, and designs used in three centuries of construction in Boston. Facilitated by a staff member, families will have a chance to see historic building materials up close and learn about the architecture found in and around the Paul Revere House.

Thursday, 23 February, at 10:00 & 11:00 A.M., 1:00 & 2:00 P.M.
Hands-On Tours of the Paul Revere House
Designed to bring our oldest historic house to life by offering opportunities to engage with reproduction objects in each room and to consider 17th- and 18th-century life from a kids’-eye-view, the approximately 30-minute tour is aimed at families.

Friday, 24 February, 1:30 to 3:30 PM
Drop-In Family Activities: Exploring Home
See above.

TOMORROW: The first time Paul Revere’s house was a public spectacle.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Getting the Job Done

Signers of the Declaration of Independence not born in the thirteen colonies (out of 56):

Signers of the Articles of Confederation not born in the thirteen colonies (out of 48):

Framers of the Constitution not born in the thirteen colonies (out of 55):

Members of the first federal Congress not born in the thirteen colonies (out of 95):
  • Aedanus Burke
  • Pierce Butler
  • Thomas Fitzsimons
  • James Jackson
  • Samuel Johnston
  • John Laurance
  • Robert Morris
  • William Paterson
  • Thomas Tudor Tucker

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Seeing Early Plays at the Boston Public Library

Earlier this month, Jay Moschella of the Boston Public Library tweeted news of the library’s ongoing project to digitize its sterling collection of early British drama. So I took a look.

More than 350 playbooks have been digitized and can now be read through archive.org. To find those items, follow this link to the B.P.L. catalogue. Then click on “More Search Options” in the center of the page and when the window opens choose “Boston Public Library - Online” at the upper left. Click “Set Search Options” below. Or, if you just want to browse, you can go straight here.

Among the late-eighteenth-century items is a 1771 edition of Nahum Tate’s version of The History of King Lear, first performed in 1681. Tate removed the Fool and finished big with the marriage of Cordelia and Edgar. That became the standard form of the play for the next century or so.

Here’s William Henry’s Ireland’s late-1795 booklet announcing his discovery of various William Shakespeare manuscripts—all of which he had forged. Ireland ran into trouble the next year when he produced an entire play called Vortigern, which was quickly recognized as awful. Ireland’s own literary ambitions weren’t easily quelled, however, so here’s the script of Henry II, proudly credited to “the author of Vortigern.”

There are also many lesser-known plays like this 1778 edition of Thomas Middleton’s A Tragi-Coomodie, called The Witch. And David Garrick’s manuscript of The Jubilee, a play he wrote for a celebration of Shakespeare in 1769. One might think the best way to celebrate Shakespeare would be to perform Shakespeare, but that’s not how Garrick managed that event.

As you can tell, much of the B.P.L.’s early drama collection relates to William Shakespeare. The library owns copies of each of the first four folio editions of his collected works and no fewer than thirteen editions of Hamlet published before 1709. That collection was the basis of a big exhibit last fall.

All of which brings up the question: How did this collection come to Boston, of all places? After all, the same people who founded the city also tried to drive London’s theaters out of business as sinful. Boston’s selectmen discouraged any public theater, even puppet shows, until after the Revolution. Surely those early settlers weren’t secretly keeping a stash of forbidden playbooks!

The answer to that mystery is that these publications were collected by Thomas Pennant Barton, a nineteenth-century diplomat who married a granddaughter of Stamp Act Congress delegate Robert R. Livingston. Barton got obsessed with Shakespeare and his contemporaries. He bought practically anything associated with Elizabethan and Jacobean theater, as long as it was in good condition (which means these items are easy to read online).

Four years after Barton’s death in 1869, his widow sold the collection to the Boston Public Library for $34,000. That was less than half of its appraised value. I’m still not sure why she chose to be so generous, and why she chose Boston over New York. (She still lived in New York.) But the result is a fabulous local resource now becoming available for anyone to study worldwide.

(The portrait above is David Garrick by Thomas Gainsborough.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Through the Roof at the Fraunces Tavern Museum, 23 Feb.

On Thursday, 23 February, I’ll make my New York debut with a talk about The Road to Concord at the Fraunces Tavern Museum in lower Manhattan.

I’ll speak about the race for artillery in Massachusetts in the late summer and fall of 1774, which spread to the other New England colonies in December and finally brought on war in April 1775.

Doors will open at 6:00 P.M., and the presentation will start at 6:30. Admission is $5 for museum members, $10 for others.

The Fraunces Tavern has its own link to the struggle over artillery—an event in New York in August 1775. Until then, the royal authorities and radical Patriots had coexisted on the island, with the city government anxious to tamp down any hostilities.

On 25 June, for example, both Continental general George Washington and royal governor William Tryon received excited public welcomes. They came onto Manhattan Island from different sides, and their audiences represented the different political sides.

But in August, Gov. Tryon and the city’s remaining redcoats went aboard H.M.S. Asia, a sixty-four gun warship in the harbor. That left the city in the hands of the Patriots. The merchant John Lamb had been a Whig leader before the war. In mid-1775 he secured a military commission from the New York Provincial Congress—and military weapons from a British army storehouse.

I’ll quote from Isaac Q. Leake’s biography of Lamb:
…a resolve having been passed by the Continental Congress, to provide cannon for the armament of the forts ordered to be constructed in the Highlands, the Provincial Congress deemed this sufficient warrant to direct the removal of the cannon from the battery in the city [at the southern tip of Manhattan].

Captain Lamb was ordered to this service, and on the 23d August, with his company, assisted by a part of a corps of independents of the command of Col. [John] Lasher, and a body of the citizens, proceeded in the evening to execute the order of the Congress.

Some intimation must have been given to Captain [George] Vandeput, the commander of the Asia (a line of battle-ship stationed off the Battery), of the intended movement; for upon the arrival of the military, they found a barge and crew, lying on their oars, close under the Fort. A detachment of observation was accordingly stationed on the parapet, to watch the proceedings of the enemy, with orders to return the fire if attacked. As soon as the artillery was in motion, a false fire [signal rocket] was signaled from the boat; and immediately afterwards, a musket was discharged at the citizens, who returned it with a volley.

The barge retreated to the ship, with several killed and wounded, and when out of the range of fire from the Asia, three guns from the ship were discharged in quick succession. The drums on the Battery beat to arms, and were answered by a broadside from the Asia, of round and grape; and the fire was rapidly repeated for some time.

Meanwhile the cannon were moved off with great deliberation; and all that were mounted, twenty-one pieces, were safely carried away. Three men were wounded on the Battery; and some damage was done to the houses near the Fort, and at Whitehall.
One of those houses was the Sign of the Queen’s Head, an inn operated by Samuel Fraunces. The cannon ball that crashed through the roof of Fraunces’s tavern was preserved as late as 1894, but then disappeared before 1900. I don’t expect to see it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Lives of Harry Williams and Vital Jarrot

I started out to write one cute post about men in Tennessee spotting a strange creature in 1794. But that led me into the settlers’ wars against the Cherokee, and how the law treated slavery in pre-statehood Illinois, and today well into the ante-bellum republic.

I left Harry Williams, allegedly aged sixteen in 1814, indentured to John Beaird, Jr., for the next eighty years. That was how Beaird and others got around the Northwest and Indiana Territories’ laws against slavery.

John Beaird, Jr., died before the end of that year, and Joseph Beaird took over Harry’s indenture as the estate administrator. Then Joseph died in 1827, and Harry worked for other Beaird relatives for another ten years.

In 1828, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that such indenture contracts couldn’t be inherited, and I can’t help but wonder if the family delayed formally settling Joseph’s estate for so long in order to keep advantage of Harry’s labor.

In any event, in 1837 Beaird descendants sold Harry’s remaining decades of indentured servitude to Vital Jarrot (1805-1877), a rising young attorney related to the family by marriage. Jarrot was descended from some of Illinois’s early French settlers. He had studied at Georgetown University, and Gov. John Reynolds had made him adjutant of the state militia during the Blackhawk War of 1832.

Soon after that sale, Harry, now close to forty years old, ran away. He took the surname of Williams. The record doesn’t say where he worked. But some years later, Jarrot spotted Williams and, with another servant, tried to recapture him. At one point Williams “was prostrate on the ground with his foot fastened to the stirrup, by which a horse dragged him along on the ground.” Nevertheless, he persisted.

In 1843 Williams managed to sue Jarrot for trespass by force and arms. Jarrot’s legal team presented testimony from witnesses, including former governor Reynolds, about the chain of ownership. Following the judge’s instructions, the jury ruled not only that Jarrot was innocent of the charges but that Williams was bound to him for the rest of the indenture.

But then a higher court found several errors by that judge. Based on new evidence, that court decided that Williams had actually been sold back in 1815—to none other than Reynolds! That made the chain of ownership leading to Vital Jarrot unenforceable. Williams v. Jarrot became a landmark case in Illinois, not because of what it said about slavery but because of what it said about admissible evidence.

Also in 1843, Vital Jarrot was a witness in the Jarrot v. Jarrot lawsuit, in which a bondsman sued another Jarrot family member for back wages. Showing how small and entangled this world was, the other witness in that case was the man who had sold Harry Williams to Jarrot back in 1837. That suit took a couple of years to be decided, but in 1845 the Illinois Supreme Court ruled there was no exception to the state’s laws against owning slaves for descendants of French settlers.

Two years later, on 22 June 1847, Vital Jarrot gave up his claim on Harry Williams, formally emancipating him from slavery and indenture. The next year, Illinois adopted a new constitution that banned slavery outright (though five years later it enacted a law making it nearly impossible for free black people to settle in the state). I don’t have any information on what happened to Williams after he became free.

As for Vital Jarrot, he seems to be a classic mid-nineteenth-century American character, jumping from one enterprise to another. He grew up in Cahokia, son of the local grandee. In the late 1830s and early 1840s he was busy overseeing dikes, a coal mine, the state’s first railroad, and a newspaper to build what is now East St. Louis, Illinois. Jarrot served that town as mayor and state legislator. Then he got wiped out in a flood in 1844—just as those lawsuits were going against him and his family.

To rebuild his fortunes, Jarrot led a wagon train west to the California gold fields in 1849. That worked well enough that he was back in the Illinois legislature in the late 1850s, a contender for such posts as speaker of the house and lieutenant governor. By then Jarrot was a Republican, evidently leaving his slave-owning past behind. He still had time for other enterprises; in 1859 the Chicago Tribune reported that Jarrot had set out to Pike’s Peak and found a silver mine.

Jarrot’s experience traveling west was valuable in January 1865 when he applied to be the federal government’s Indian agent at Fort Laramie. He also called on his acquaintance with President Abraham Lincoln, going back to the Blackhawk War and Illinois politics. Lincoln endorsed him, writing, “I personally know this man—Vital Jarrot—to be one of the best of men; & as I believe, having peculiar qualifications for the place.” (Another of Jarrot’s contacts in that job hunt was Sen. Lyman Trumbull, previously the lawyer for the enslaved plaintiff in Jarrot v. Jarrot.)

So Jarrot headed to the Dakota Territory at age sixty. His father had traded with the Natives along the Mississippi in the years after the Revolution, so he was really returning to the earliest family business. Jarrot seems to have been eager to make peace between the U.S. of A. and the Sioux, pushing leaders of both sides to negotiate, though without quick success. In 1867 and 1868 he was in Washington, witnessing treaties. Then he returned to Illinois for another bout of business enterprises, including the East St. Louis Co-operative Rail Mill Company.

In 1875, Jarrot heard about the new gold rush in the Black Hills. He sold all his businesses and headed out again. He died in the Dakota Territory, “of exposure and toil,” on 5 June 1877.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Slavery in Early Illinois

Yesterday I mentioned how John Beaird, the instigator of war with the Cherokee in the Southwest Territory in 1793, eventually moved to Illinois with his family and slaves.

But Illinois was part of the old Northwest Territory. In 1787 the confederation Congress’s Northwest Ordinance outlawed slavery there. So how did Beaird’s move work out?

In practice, the government dragged its feet about ending slavery. Some French settlers already in that territory owned slaves, and the first U.S. governor, Revolutionary War general Arthur St. Clair, took no action against the practice. When Americans from slave states first moved into the western Northwest Territory, they were also generally allowed to keep their human property. That appears to be what John Beaird did in 1801.

Here’s what the Combined History of Randolph, Monroe and Perry Counties, Illinois (1883) says about John Beaird:
Then comes an inventory of the estate of John Beaird, dated March 13th, 1809. Beaird must have been farming extensively; the inventory mentions seventeen horses, worth from $45 to $100 each, two yoke of oxen, wagons, plows, six sets of harness, etc., a “mulatto negro” worth $350, and a black boy worth $250.
At the subsequent estate sale, “The negro boy ‘Berry’ was sold to John Beaird, Jr., for $450, the other brought only $225.”

The legal situation shifted a little in 1803 when Ohio became a free state. In September 1807 the Indiana Territory (including Illinois) passed a law forbidding slave owners from bringing in human property. But that didn’t mean immediate emancipation because:
  • Within thirty days of entering, owners could go to the county clerk and make out an agreement for their slaves to continue working as indentured servants. If slaves refused the deal offered, owners had another sixty days to send them back into slave territory.
  • Slaves under the age of fifteen could be indentured only until men turned 35 and women turned 32.
  • Children born to indentured people would be indentured themselves until age 30 for men and 28 for women.
In 1814, the year after Indiana became a free state, the Beaird family must have felt some pressure to put their ownership of people on a more secure legal footing. On 17 October, Joseph Beaird had two workers—James, aged about 18, and Charles, 27—sign indentures agreeing to work for him for the next 65 years. Beaird promised each man $50 at the end of that term. Of course, by then they would most likely all be dead.

On the same day, John Beaird, Jr., made out similar indentures for three boys and one girl:
  • Harry, aged about 16, for 80 years.
  • Annaky, about 16, for 80 years.
  • Welden, about 16, for 80 years.
  • Peter, about 21, for 75 years.
The indenture for Harry read:
St. Clair county, Illinois territory. ss. Be it remembered that on the 17th day of October of the year 1814, personally came before me the subscriber, clerk of the court of common pleas of the said county, John Beaird of said county, and Harry, a negro boy, aged near upon sixteen, and who of his own free will and accord, did in my presence, agree, determine, and promise, to serve the said John Beaird, for the full space of time, and term of eighty years from this date. And the said John Beaird, in consideration thereof, promises to pay him, said Harry, the sum of fifty dollars, at the expiration of his said service. In testimony whereof, they have hereunto set their hands and seals the day and year first herein above written. Interlineation made before signing.

Mark of X Harry. [seal.]
John Beaird. [seal.]
Signed and sealed in presence of John Hay, C. C. C. P.
Was Harry the same as the “negro boy ‘Berry’” that John Beaird, Jr., had bought from his father’s estate six years before? It’s possible. In a later court case Beaird’s heirs claimed that he had brought Harry in from Tennessee just one week before signing those indentures, making the arrangement fit within the 1807 law. But that could have been a lie for legal reasons. Likewise, were all three of those sixteen-year-olds really just a little too old for the shorter indenture period?

The future of slavery in Illinois was foggy in those years. Periodically politicians floated proposals to formally allow slavery or to completely end it sometime in the future, but they never found a compromise everyone would accept. The first state constitution of 1818 avoided the subject. An attempt five years later to make slavery explicitly legal failed.

By turning their slaves into indentured servants—indentured for what would be their expected lifetimes—the Beairds sidestepped that debate. But the legalities didn’t really fool anyone. In the 1820 census, Joseph A. Beaird was listed as owning eight slaves.

TOMORROW: What happened to Harry?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Monsters in the Southwest Territory

On 24 Sept 1794, William Butler of Northampton ran this item on the last page of his Hampshire Gazette newspaper:
CURIOUS ANIMAL

In February last, a detachment of mounted infantry, commanded by Captain John Beaird, penetrated fifteen miles into the Cumberland Mountain:

On Cove Creek, ensign M’Donald and another man, in advance of the party as spies, they discovered a creature about three steps from them it had only two legs, and stood almost upright, covered with scales, of a black, brown, and light yellow colour, in spots like rings, a white tuft or crown on the top of its head, about four feet high, a head as big as a two pound stone, and large eyes, of a fiery red. It stood about three minutes in a daring posture

(orders being given not to fire a gun except at Indians,) Mr. M’Donald advanced and struck at it with his sword, when it jumped up, at least, eight feet, and lit on the same spot of ground, sending forth a red kind of matter out of its mouth resembling blood, and then retreated into a Laurel thicket turning round often, as if it intended to fight. The tracks of it resembled that of a goose, but larger.

The Indians report, that a creature inhabits that part of the mountain, of the above description, which, by its breath, will kill a man, if he does not instantly immerse himself in water.
You can see that item starting at the bottom of the first column on this page spread (P.D.F.).

Other newspapers ran the same story, crediting it (as Butler had not) to the Knoxville Gazette. At the end of the year, the same report was reprinted in Greenleaf’s New-York, Connecticut and New-Jersey Almanack for 1795.

Militia captain John Beaird was a notorious figure in the Southwest Territory, which became Tennessee in 1796. In June 1793 President George Washington’s federal agents were visiting a friendly Cherokee chief named Hanging Maw and other leaders at the town of Coyatee, planning a treaty meeting. Beaird led a renegade militia company charging into the town, killing a dozen people and wounding others, including Hanging Maw. Beaird’s men then burned the goods that the agents had brought as gifts.

The federal government tried Beaird in a military court, but public opinion forced his acquittal. The secretary of the territory reported, “to my great pain, I find, to punish Beard by law, just now, is out of the question.” The next month, Beaird attacked another Native town and killed half a dozen more people. Clearly he intended to stir up a war, scotching any treaty that limited white settlement.

And it worked. Cherokees counterattacked at Cavett’s Station. That fall, John Sevier led a larger militia force against the Cherokees, both friendly and understandably unfriendly, and drove them further west. (Some authors say Sevier had urged Beaird on in his early attacks.)

That Cherokee-American War explains why in February 1794 Beaird’s men were pushing into the Cumberland area with orders “not to fire a gun except at Indians.” However, there’s still no explanation for the creature that Ens. McDonald and his companion saw. Recent books on cryptozoology have dubbed it the “Cumberland Dragon” or “Goosefoot.”

A period term for the creature appears in a 7 Nov 1798 letter from William Blount, governor of the Southwest Territory during Beaird’s raids, about a court case:
All the usual writs known in law are distinguished by some technical name or term, and this production of [Judge David] Campbell’s being unknown in law, it has been deemed proper to call it by a new name, to-wit, Cheeklaceella. I make no doubt you remember a description of an animal (a monster in nature) of this name being published in the Knoxville Gazette in the year 1793 [sic]. Campbell’s production is certainly as great a monster in law as anything under any description or name whatever could be in Nature. What a misfortune to a Country to have a fool for a Judge.
After Tennessee became a state, Sevier served multiple terms as its governor as well as representing it in the U.S. House. Blount was a U.S. Senator until being impeached in 1797; he remained popular at home, and his half-brother Willie succeeded Sevier as governor. Campbell was impeached as a state judge in 1798 and 1803, but acquitted both times. John Beaird served in the state legislature before moving his family and slaves to Kentucky and then to Illinois. Tennessee politics appear to have been lively.

Friday, February 10, 2017

“America is lost!” Wrote George III—or Did He?

One of the more striking documents in the hand of George III digitized by the new Georgian Papers Programme is an essay that begins:
America is lost! Must we fall beneath the blow? Or have we resources that may repair the mischiefs? What are those resources? Should they be sought in distant Regions held by precarious Tenure, or shall we seek them at home in the exertions of a new policy?
The Georgian Papers Programme web outpost in the United States offers images and a transcript of the document.

That page also has an essay by Nathaniel F. Holly of William and Mary, which calls that opening “surely one of the best examples of early modern clickbait.” That continues:
For an essay that begins with an exclamation, the bulk of the “America is Lost” piece seems to either be a cowed post hoc rationalization of a colonial order gone awry or a reasoned assessment of a decidedly difficult situation. I vote for the latter. For King George III, it seems that questions of commerce were more pressing than questions of governance or political power. Rather than refer to the rebelling colonies by name, the King employed commodity labels—Sugar, Rice, and Northern (read North of Tobacco). As he concludes, “we shall reap more advantages from their trade as friends than ever we could derive from them as Colonies, for there is reason to suppose we actually gained more by them while in actual rebellion.”

If we read that line and the more famous opening line together, King George III seems to be making a reasonable assessment. And if we place this most famous of essays in conversation with some of his other writings, a new sort of Monarch emerges. One who is both deeply concerned with historical questions and who offers historians of the early modern Atlantic world a wealth of opportunities for their own inquiries and analysis.
However, across the Atlantic the home office’s page with images and transcript has an essay by Angel Luke O’Donnell of King’s College London, who notes:
The words of the essay substantively replicate a published essay by Arthur Young, a leading British agricultural theorist who shared George’s passion for improving farming techniques. [Specifically, the first essay of Young’s Annals of Agriculture, published in 1785. Young is shown above.] Therefore, before analysing the language of the piece, we must first determine why Young’s words appear in the handwriting of the King.

There are two likely explanations for this situation. In one case, Young may have shared with George an earlier draft that the King copied and possibly amended. The second explanation is that George copied Young’s published essay then adapted the words in order to help him make sense of them, a conventional eighteenth-century process for learning called commonplacing. Each scenario prompts a slightly different interpretation of how the words reflect George’s thoughts on the British Empire. If the first scenario proves to be the most likely explanation then it suggests George may have corresponded with Young about his ideas in ways that have been overlooked until now. If the second scenario proves more plausible, then George’s editorial changes may indicate how the King imagined the future of the British Empire.
O’Donnell favors the latter hypothesis. He also notes some interesting ways that the king’s version used softer language than Young’s published essay, most notably in dropping the suggestion that Britain had kept going to war across the Atlantic because “the beggars, fanaticks, felons, and madmen of the kingdom, had been encouraged in their speculation of settling the wilds of North America.”

O’Donnell’s essay appears to have prompted a new entry on the U.S. website by Justin B. Clement. However, like the king’s writings, these essays are unfortunately undated, so the give and take will soon become invisible.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The First Snowman

This picture was published at the end of a chapter in the first volume of A History of British Birds, published in 1797 by the English engraver Thomas Bewick (1753-1828). Bob Eckstein’s History of the Snowman says this was the first depiction of a snowman ever made.

Notes by Bewick’s daughter Jane supplied by the Bewick Society say the engraver depicted himself and his childhood friends in the early 1760s:
A view of Cherryburn – T.B. (mounted on the three-legged stool) & his companions making a snowman, which stood till it became a mass of ice to the great terror of sundry old women one of whom ran back to the house to tell what an “awsome sight she had seen”. . . .

the stout well dressed boy is Willy Johnson, who lived with his mother Barbara Johnson in the Hamlet below [Eltringham]. He died a fat good-tempered old man at Prudhoe where he farmed many years –

the ragged lad [at right] is Joe: Liddell son of Anthony Liddell mentioned in the memoir.
Mentioned as a Bible-citing poacher, that is.

The motto at the bottom is “Esto perpetua,” or “Let it last forever.” That’s an ironic comment on the snowman that would disappear at the next thaw. It was also the name of a club of British Whigs founded in 1785 to satirize the younger William Pitt’s party in Parliament, and one scholar has posited that Bewick drew the snowman to look like Pitt.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Memory and Mystery of Eli Whitney

At Slate, Ruth Graham recently published an article on “Why So Many People Think Eli Whitney, Cotton Gin Inventor, Was Black.”

As Graham says, Whitney (shown here) was white. His life is well documented. He was born in Westboro in 1765, graduated from Yale, and then went south as a tutor, ending up on the slave-labor plantation of Gen. Nathanael Greene’s widow, Catherine.

There he took up the challenge of Mrs. Greene and her overseer Phineas Miller (more gossip about them one day) to invent a way to pick seeds out of newly picked cotton.

Through Google searches, Graham found lots of people who recently believed that Whitney was black, some of them certain they had learned that in school. However, she found no textbooks or other educational materials stating that as fact. So where did the notion come from?

It strikes me that it’s probably a logical conclusion from these two statements, remembered separately:
  • Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin.
  • A black man was crucial to inventing the cotton gin.
Therefore, any student of Aristotle or Dodgson knows, Eli Whitney was a black man. And we can find both those statements in recent educational materials.

Interestingly, both statements are questionable. It’s not at all clear that Whitney deserves full credit for the cotton gin. He developed one machine, and received a patent for it, but there were others already in use. He and Miller lost lawsuit after lawsuit trying to enforce that patent. Whitney’s reputation was resurrected by a couple of articles published in 1832, seven years after his death, in The Southern Agriculturist and Register of Rural Affairs (by a writer credited only as “S.”) and The American Journal of Science (by Denison Olmsted).

As for the second statement, the tradition of an enslaved helper was circulating at least a century ago, as shown by Daniel Murray’s article “Who Invented the Cotton Gin?: Did a Negro Slave Supply the Idea and Eli Whitney Claim the Credit?” published in Voice of the Negro in 1905. Murray was an official at the Library of Congress and an expert on African-American literature. [After writing this post, I was surprised to find a review of a new biography of Murray in the New York Times Book Review.]

During the 1904 Presidential race, some bigot had claimed that blacks never created anything worthy, and a Maryland man had replied by stating, “To a Negro this country is indebted for the invention or discovery of the cotton gin…” Asked to comment, Murray had written:
That he [Whitney] got the idea from a Negro slave has been a matter of common gossip for many years. It has been the lot of many colored men to advance a patentable idea that some white man would take up and profitably exploit.
Murray’s “Who Invented the Cotton Gin?” article went back through the record of the invention, reading the pro-Whitney articles critically to point out how often he had relied on other people’s ideas. Murray clearly felt the belief that a black man had given Whitney crucial help was plausible. And it’s still obvious why Whitney, his supporters, and even his detractors in the slave-owning class would suppress the idea of such help. Nevertheless, Murray couldn’t offer any evidence to support the claim.

In 1913, another Washington-based scholar of African-American history, Henry E. Baker of the U.S. Patent Office, published a pamphlet called The Colored Inventor. He tried to assemble every pertinent example of such inventiveness, and he would have liked to include the cotton gin. But, while careful to avoid openly contradicting Murray, he wrote:
There has been a somewhat persistent rumor that a slave either invented the cotton-gin or gave to Eli Whitney, who obtained a patent for it, valuable suggestions to aid in the completions of that invention. I have not been able to find any substantial proof to sustain that rumor. Mr. Daniel Murray of the Library of Congress, contributed a very informing article on that subject to the Voice of the Negro, in 1905, but Mr. Murray did not reach conclusions favorable to the contention on behalf of the colored man.
Two prominent works of African-American history published in 1922—Carter G. Woodson’s The Negro in Our History and George Edmund Haynes’s The Trend of the Races—cited Baker’s conclusion.

Nonetheless, the claim continued to float around. In the Negro Year Book, compiled by Monroe N. Work and published annually by the Tuskegee Institute after 1914, the section titled “Inventions” stated: “It has been claimed, but not verified, that a slave either invented the cotton gin or gave to Eli Whitney, who obtained a patent for it, valuable suggestions to aid in the completion of that invention.” That meant many American households continued to read about the idea as a serious possibility.

I found the story next in 1972, in Robert C. Hayden’s Eight Black American Inventors. And now it had a name attached:
On one of his trips to Georgia, Whitney saw a crude comb-like instrument that loosened the seeds from cotton. It had been made and was being used by a slave. The slave, whose name was Sam as the story goes, had learned how to make this labor-saving tool from his father. Eli Whitney improved upon and perfected the slave’s invention.
I don’t know where “Sam” came from. The “slave known only by the name Sam” appeared more definitely in the textbook America and Its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making, credited to James Kirby Martin. And the same story appears in this collection of school readings about the Revolution from 2003.

So some American students might learn and remember the story about a slave with the crucial idea for the cotton gin in one year, and then the name Eli Whitney as that machine’s inventor in another year—with the result that they conclude the inventor was a slave. As Graham noted, that understanding of the story has a painful irony attached to it: a slave inventing a machine to save labor which actually ended up expanding slavery. That irony makes the myth even more memorable than the actual foggy history.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Food History Events in Newport and Salem

Speaking of fine eating, as I did yesterday, a couple of historical sites in the region have events coming up focused on food.

On Saturday, 18 February, the Newport Historical Society will present “Colonial Food for Thought: A Newport Eats Living History Event.” Costumed interpreters will discuss the war years.
In 1777, Newport was occupied by British troops and a blockade prevented trade to the island. A population with a sophisticated palate, used to trade goods from all over the word, was now forced to eat local. What did people eat 240 years ago to survive the harsh winter and war-torn environment?
The presentation will cover “tea to pickling, oysters to chocolate, and soldiers’ rations to spices.”

This event runs from 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. at the Colony House on Washington Square. Admission is free.

On Thursday, 9 March, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site will host food historian Rosana Wan speaking about her cookbook, The Culinary Lives of John and Abigail Adams.
Throughout their 54-year marriage, John and Abigail Adams enjoyed hearty, diverse cuisine in their native Massachusetts, as well as in New York, Philadelphia, and Europe. Raised with traditional New England palates, they feasted on cod, roast turkey, mince pie, and plum pudding. These recipes, as well as dishes from published cookbooks settlers brought from the Old World, such as roast duck, Strawberry Fool, and Whipt Syllabub, are included in this historical cookbook.
The book offers 56 recipes adapted for today’s kitchens.

Wan is a park ranger, a sergeant in the Army National Guard, and the first recipient of the John C. Cavanagh Prize in History from Suffolk University.

This program will take place at the visitor center at 2 New Liberty Street in Salem. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M., and the program will begin at 7:00. It is free and open to the public.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Dinner with the Old Colony Club in 1769

The Old Colony Club started as a group of seven young gentlemen from Plymouth. They formed their club in January 1769, and on 22 December of that year had a dinner to commemorate the landing of the first British settlers in what was then the Plymouth Colony but was subsumed into Massachusetts.

The dinner took place at the inn of Thomas Southworth Howland, another descendant of the first settlers, starting at 2:30 P.M. According to club records, the food consisted of:

1. A large baked Indian whortleberry pudding.

2. A dish of sauquetash.

3. A dish of clams.

4. A dish of oysters and a dish of codfish.

5. A haunch of venison roasted by the first jack brought to the Colony.

6. A dish of sea-fowl.

7. A ditto of frost-fish and eels.

8. An apple pie.

9. A course of cranberry tarts, and cheese made in the Old Colony; dressed in the plainest manner (all appearances of luxury and extravagance being avoided, in imitation of our worthy ancestors whose memory we shall ever respect).
At 4:00 the club walked solemnly back to “Old Colony Hall,” the procession “headed by the steward carrying a folio volume of the laws of the Old Colony” of Plymouth. Other descendants gathered as a military company and “discharged a volley of small arms, succeeded by three cheers.”

Peleg Wadsworth brought out the boys from his “Private Grammar School opposite the Hall,” who sang “a song very applicable to the day.” Young Elkanah Watson might have been among those boys; his namesake father, his teacher Wadsworth, and the school’s other teacher, Alexander Scammell, were among the men who joined the club members for toasts that afternoon.

The public part of the ceremony ended at sunset with a cannon being fired and the club taking down their “elegant silk flag” inscribed “Old Colony 1620.”

Sunday, February 05, 2017

“Building Old Cambridge” in Harvard Square, 7 Feb.

On Tuesday, 7 February, the Cambridge Historical Society will present the authors of Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development, Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, speaking at the Harvard Coop.

This book is published by the Cambridge Historical Commission and the M.I.T. Press, which says:

Building Old Cambridge explores the oldest section of Cambridge, which was founded as the capital of Massachusetts Bay in 1630 and chosen as the site of Harvard College in 1636. When the new villages of Cambridgeport and East Cambridge appeared in the early 19th century, the original settlement around Harvard Square became known as Old Cambridge. While the university and its often-wealthy students influenced the development of Harvard Square, Old Cambridge became a national center of the printing industry and supported vital communities of African Americans and Irish immigrants.

Successive waves of newcomers – including the West Indian planters who built summer estates in the 1750s, the suburbanites who appeared in the 1850s, and the annually renewed flood of professors and students that have always enriched community life – have contributed to the layering of architectural styles that is evident in all corners of the neighborhood.
Maycock and Sullivan are stalwarts at the Cambridge Historical Commission, as Survey Director and Executive Director, respectively. No one knows more about the city’s architecture and development than they do. This book has been twenty years in the making and clocks in at 944 pages.

Last month the Cambridge Chronicle asked Maycock and Sullivan about their most surprising discovery:
Some of the communities we discovered that we hadn’t been aware of. One was a village called Lewisville. It was an African-American community off Garden Street that was founded by freed slaves in the late 18th, early 19th Century. They developed a little cemetery, the Lewis Tomb. We had no idea.

How did you discover Lewisville existed?

We were looking at a map of Cambridge in the 1870s and we noticed this note that said “Tomb” near Walker Street. We thought, ‘This is really strange. Who would have a tomb on their property?’ So we pulled that thread a little bit and did some title research and kept pulling the thread and come up with this whole story about this African-American settlement that dispersed before the Civil War, where many members went to Africa in the African immigration movement. But it really disappeared in the 1880s.

Is there anything left, any tombstones?

There’s nothing left. We’ve been in the backyard of the house. The area was redeveloped in the 1870s. Apparently, in the Chronicle, it was reported the remains were dug up and put in Cambridge Cemetery in unmarked graves and the land was subdivided and new houses were built. So none of the houses survived. 
One of the families forming the nucleus of that community were Tony and Cuba Vassall and their children, once enslaved on the John Vassall estate through the year that Gen. George Washington used that mansion as his headquarters.

This Building Old Cambridge event will start at 7:00 P.M. on the 3rd floor of the Coop’s Massachusetts Avenue building.