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

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

“To prosecute the Printer at Common Law”?

Yesterday I quoted the essay published in the 14 Nov 1771 Massachusetts Spy over the signature “Mucius Scævola.” It attacked Thomas Hutchinson, declaring him to be an illegitimate governor.

(On what grounds? Mostly because Hutchinson was being paid by the London government with revenue from Parliament’s tea tax. But also because he had issued a Thanksgiving proclamation. Such a bad man.)

The Boston Evening-Post reported some people thought this essay “(from its nature, and tendency) is the most daring production ever published in America.”

On the afternoon after it appeared, Gov. Hutchinson summoned the Massachusetts Council to their usual meeting-place in the Town House and laid the issue of the Spy before them. The Councilors debated the crisis until sundown without coming to any conclusion. The next day, they started up again.

The first thing the Council could agree on was to summon the printer of that newspaper, Isaiah Thomas. According to the Boston Gazette, Thomas, “in answer to their summons, told the messenger he was busy in his office and should not attend.”

Someone on the Council then proposed committing Thomas to jail for contempt. But there was no majority for that action—“Whether through the abundant lenity of the honourable Board, or from their having no legal authority in the case, has not yet transpired to us,” the Gazette’s Edes and Gill stated.

About the Council meeting that newspaper concluded, “The final result was, their unanimous advice, to the Governor to order the King’s Attorney to prosecute the Printer at Common Law.” According to Hutchinson, “the attorney general [Jonathan Sewall] thought it so plain a case that no grand jury could, upon their oaths, refuse to find a bill.”

But Hutchinson must have suspected that approach would be doomed. Back in early 1768 his predecessor as governor, Francis Bernard, had tried to take legal action against another newspaper essay, this one penned by Dr. Joseph Warren and published in the Boston Gazette. After getting unsatisfactory responses from both houses of the legislature, Bernard had presented the offending material to a grand jury.

Hutchinson had presided over that hearing in his role as Massachusetts Chief Justice. He had told the jurymen “that they might depend on being damned if they did not find against the paper, as containing high treason.” Nevertheless, the grand jury had refused to return any charges. The governor had no reason to expect citizens in 1771 would do anything different.

Sure enough, the grand jury session in February didn’t go Hutchinson’s way. The foreman asked if the statements in question could be libel if they were true. The Boston Gazette compared the proceeding to the John Peter Zenger case in New York, already a free-press precedent. The jury returned no charges. The royal authorities dropped the case.

Gov. Hutchinson did get the Council to punish someone, however.

TOMORROW: Tracking down “Mucius Scævola.”

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Thomas Hutchinson as “a monster in government”

You might think that getting through November meant the end of the saga of Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s controversial 1771 Thanksgiving proclamation. But he wasn’t that lucky, and neither are we.

On 14 November the actual holiday was still a week away, but the controversy was at its height in newspapers and meetinghouses. Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy published this essay from one of its regular contributors:
If it be true, that the exceptionable clause in the late proclamation, was not proposed by Mr. Hutchinson, but by ONE of the council; yet there it stands, and is nevertheless exceptionable, and must reflect dishonor somewhere, even though it were inadvertently inserted.

It is not denied, even by Mr. Hutchinson’s friends, that the other part of the proclamation was drafted by him: We may consider him then as triumphing over us as SLAVES, or persons who have no priviledges; and though we well knew it would be a piece of mockery, to lead us to the throne of grace, with thanksgivings, for the preservation of privileges, which, by his means, in part, we have been deprived of; yet he thought fit, with the advice of six, out of twenty-eight of his council. (if by HIS CRAFT, could make it their act) to insert it.

We have need of the wisdom of serpents, who are concerned with such rulers; to be considered by them as fools, is irritating; for fools they must think us, if they can imagine that we can complain of loss of liberty in one breath, and with the next solemnly thank God for the preservation of it. What account can be given for such conduct, consistent with common honesty, mankind must judge.

It would give me pain to harbour one thought, that the six members, who it is said voted for the insertion of that impious paragraph, intended thereby to curry favour with the ministry; I cannot indulge such a thought, besides there is no danger that this people will ever receive a council appointed by the KING himself: And certainly it is unlikely, that if the representatives of this people should once adopt such a sentiment of them, that these men should ever again be re-chosen into the council. Mr. Hutchinson may think we are easy, because we have for so long waited for a redress of grievances; but our patience is nearly exhausted. It cannot be that we shall hear much longer, to have our money forced from us.—
(It’s interesting to read that argument about the Council while looking ahead to the popular response to the Massachusetts Government Act of 1774, which created just what this essay said the people of the province wouldn’t stand—“a council appointed by the KING himself.”)
An Englishman should never part with a penny but by his consent, or the consent of his agent, or representative, especially as the money thus forced from us, is to hire a man to TYRANNIZE over us, whom his Master calls our Governor. This seems to be Mr. Hutchinson’s situation; therefore I cannot but view him as a usurper, and absolutely deny his jurisdiction over this people; and am of opinion, that any act of assembly consented to by him, in his pretended capacity as Governor, is ipso facto, null and void, and consequently, not binding upon us. A ruler, independent on the people, is a monster in government; and such a one is Mr. Hutchinson; and such would George the third be, if he should be rendered independent on the people of Great-Britain

A Massachusetts Governor, the King by compact, with this people may nominate and appoint, but not pay. For this support, he must stipulate with the people, and until he does, he is no legal Governor; without this, if he undertakes to rule, he is a USURPER.

It is high time then, my countrymen, that this matter was enquired into, if we have no constitutional Governor, it is time we had one. If the pretended Governor, or Lieut. Governor, by being independent on us for their support, are rendered incapable of compleating acts of government, it is time, I say, that we had a lawful one to preside, or that the pretended Governors, were dismissed and PUNISHED as USURPERS, and that the council, according to the charter, should take upon themselves the government of this province.

This essay attacked Hutchinson personally as a “USURPER” and denied is authority as governor. It also explicitly stated that the king could be deposed on the same grounds, and that might have galvanized Hutchinson more than the attack on himself.

TOMORROW: The governor returns to his Council.

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Legendary Words of Penelope Barker

Several recent books and websites quote Penelope Barker (shown here, courtesy of the Edenton Historical Commission), reputed organizer of the “Edenton Tea Party,” as making this statement about the event:
Maybe it has only been men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.
I saw those words quoted on Twitter, and they sounded anachronistic to me. The phrase “tea party” wasn’t applied to Boston’s destruction of the tea until the 1820s. The emphasis on “costumes” likewise came later than the 1770s. British colonists still considered themselves to be among “The British” in 1774—they were fighting for what they saw as traditional British rights. Lastly, “like the men in Boston did” should be “as the men in Boston did,” though I can’t claim the alternative grammar wasn’t used in the eighteenth century.

So I asked about the source of the quotation and did some digital digging. Two of the sources I looked at—a master’s thesis from Liberty University and the Visit Edenton site—cited as a source this page about Penelope Barker from the National Women’s History Museum, as viewed in the spring of 2013.

However, that page was revised by Debra Michals in 2015, and it now doesn’t include the quotation in question. (The Wayback Machine was no help in finding earlier versions of the same page. Incidentally, there is no physical National Women’s History Museum; the website is part of an effort to build one in Washington, D.C.)

As far as I can tell, the words attributed to Penelope Barker first appeared in the book Heroines of the American Revolution: America’s Founding Mothers, written by Diane Silcox-Jarrett, published by the Green Angel Press of Chapel Hill in 1998. (Several webpages render the name of the press as “Green Angle Press”; that error is a clue to recognizing which pages quote previous accounts rather than going back to the book itself.) Heroines of the American Revolution is the only title that shows up on an Amazon search for “Green Angel Press,” but Worldcat also lists a 1997 book on kinesiology.

Heroines of the American Revolution is an illustrated book for children. It was reprinted by Scholastic in 2000 for the school market. On her website Silcox-Jarrett describes herself as an author of “creative nonfiction books for young readers.” What might “creative nonfiction” mean in this context? In 1998 School Library Journal’s reviewer wrote about Heroines of the American Revolution:
Unfortunately, undocumented dialogue and feelings appear in almost every chapter. . . . An attractive offering—as long as children are aware that, despite its Dewey classification, this is not truly nonfiction.
And it’s not just children who have been caught unaware. Lured by the promise of a rare political statement from an eighteenth-century American woman, perhaps fooled by the book’s North Carolina pedigree, some writers have accepted that Penelope Barker speech from Heroines of the American Revolution as authentic. But it’s “not truly nonfiction.”

The October 1774 event that’s come to be called the Edenton Tea Party was real. Penelope Barker signed her name to that gathering’s public statement as part of a continent-wide resistance to Parliament’s Coercive Acts. She may well have been the main organizer of the event, as tradition says. But we don’t know what she individually had to say about it.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

“Patriotick Ladies, at Edenton in North Carolina”

Starting in late 1774, the British publishers Robert Sayer and John Bennett issued a series of five satirical prints about the political turmoil in North America.

The mezzotint engravings are unsigned, but in 1908 R. T. H. Halsey identified the artist as Philip Dawe (1745?-1809?). He might have trained under William Hogarth, but by the 1770s Dawe was on his own, engraving prints based on several artists’ paintings.

The five cartoons are:
The last was no doubt inspired by the London Morning Chronicle’s January report that fifty-one women from Edenton had signed a statement declaring that they would adhere to the North Carolina Provincial Congress’s exhortation not to buy imported goods.

The women’s statement didn’t actually mention tea, but the provincial congress did. Dawe therefore emphasized tea, with women dumping their tea in a bag for disposal, a baby playing with a tea set on the floor, and a dog urinating on a tea caddy. Dawe portrayed several of the female figures as laughably masculine, drinking from a punchbowl and wielding a gavel.

That print shows one woman signing a sheet that says:
We the Ladys of Edenton do hereby solemnly Engage not to Conform to that Pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea, or that we the aforesaid Ladys Promote the use of any Manufacture from England, until such time that all Acts which tend to Enslave this our Native Country shall be Repealed.
That statement has since been ascribed to the women of Edenton themselves. But those words don’t appear in the statement printed by the Morning Chronicle. It therefore seems likely that Dawe created that sentence as part of his caricature of the Americans.

TOMORROW: An even more dubious quotation linked to the “Edenton Tea Party.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A London Lad on the “Edenton ladies”

James Iredell (1751-1799, shown here) moved from England to America in 1767 in search of better prospects. Through family connections he got an office in the Customs service at the small port of Edenton, North Carolina. He also studied the law under Samuel Johnston, married his mentor’s sister in 1774, and established himself as a rising young gentleman.

Iredell supported the American resistance to Parliament’s new laws, writing a pamphlet on the subject titled To the Inhabitants of Great Britain in 1774. North Carolina being a small-population colony with only two newspapers, this made him a prominent local Patriot.

On 31 Jan 1775, Iredell’s seventeen-year-old brother Arthur sent him a letter from London, mostly about why he hadn’t written earlier and about his own studies in law books. But Arthur Iredell had also noticed rare news from Edenton in the Morning Chronicle. At least I assume he saw it there since I’ve found no evidence it was reprinted widely in the British press. Arthur wrote:
I see by the newspapers the Edenton ladies have signalized themselves by their protest against tea-drinking. The name of Johnston I see among others; are any of my sister[-in-law]’s relations patriotic heroines? Is there a female Congress at Edenton too? I hope not, for we Englishmen are afraid of the male Congress, but if the ladies, who have ever, since the Amazonian Era, been esteemed the most formidable enemies, if they, I say, should attack us, the most fatal consequence is to be dreaded. So dexterous in the handling of a dart, each wound they give is mortal; whilst we, so unhappily formed by nature, the more we strive to conquer them, the more are conquered!

The Edenton ladies, conscious, I suppose, of this superiority on their side, by former experience, are willing, I imagine, to crush us into atoms, by their omnipotency; the only security on our side, to prevent the impending ruin, that I can perceive, is the probability that there are but few places in America which possess so much female artillery as Edenton. Pray let me know all the particulars when you favor me with a letter.
Arthur Iredell thus responded to the Edenton women’s political activity with a standard eighteenth-century male trope: that women, despite having no political and limited economic rights, wielded such powerful sex appeal that men couldn’t possibly stand up to them.

Arthur eventually became a minister in England, marrying in 1792. James became a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their rich uncle in Jamaica disinherited James for opposing the Crown, so Arthur received his slave-labor plantation. In 1804 he visited the island to check out that property and died.

TOMORROW: A second response from London.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Pledge from the Women of Edenton

On 25 Oct 1774, fifty-one women in Edenton, North Carolina, signed their names to a statement pledging to support the resolves of the colony’s provincial congress “not to drink any more tea, nor wear any more British cloth, &c.”

The women’s statement was:
As we cannot be indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country, and as it has been thought necessary, for the public good, to enter into several particular resolves by a meeting of Members deputed from the whole Province, it is a duty which we owe, not only to our near and dear connections who have concurred in them, but to ourselves who are essentially interested in their welfare, to do every thing as far as lies in our power to testify our sincere adherence to the same; and we do therefore accordingly subscribe this paper, as a witness of our fixed intention and solemn determination to do so.
According to local tradition, the women met at the house of Elizabeth King, though her name doesn’t appear among the signatories; perhaps her house was a tavern.

The principal organizer of the event, again according to local tradition, was Penelope Barker (1728-1796), the wealthy wife of North Carolina’s agent in London. Her signature appears on the statement, not first but perhaps at or near the top of a column on the original sheet.

That document has been lost. We know about it only because two days later someone sent a copy to London with a preface that said:
many ladies of this Province have determined to give a memorable proof of their patriotism, and have accordingly entered into the following honourable and spirited association. I send it to you, to shew your fair countrywomen, how zealously and faithfully American ladies follow the laudable example of their husbands, and what opposition your Ministers may expect to receive from a people thus firmly united against them
That letter, the women’s pledge, and the fifty-one signatures were printed in the 16 Jan 1775 Morning Chronicle newspaper of London.

So far as I can tell, the Edenton women’s statement wasn’t printed in any American newspapers in late 1774 or early 1775. Runs of the North-Carolina Gazette of Newbern and the Cape-Fear Mercury of Wilmington may be spotty, but no one has found the text in the surviving issues. Nor in a newspaper from any other colony, reprinting either from North Caroline or from London.

The text survives only because of that London newspaper and a reprint of the text (without source citation) in Peter Force’s American Archives. That statement and a couple of other documents from 1775 provide the evidence for an event that’s come to be called the “Edenton Tea Party.”

TOMORROW: A London teenager responds.

Monday, December 04, 2017

How Long Have Facts Been Stubborn Things?

On 4 December 1770, John Adams wound up his speech in defense of the soldiers tried for murder after the Boston Massacre by saying:
I will enlarge no more on the evidence, but submit it to you.—Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defence; if it was not so severe as to endanger their lives, yet if they were assaulted at all, struck and abused by blows of any sort, by snow-balls, oyster-shells, cinders, clubs, or sticks of any kind; this was a provocation, for which the law reduces the offence of killing, down to manslaughter, in consideration of those passions in our nature, which cannot be eradicated. To your candour and justice I submit the prisoners and their cause.
The words “Facts are stubborn things” are among the most useful and memorable things John Adams ever said.

But Adams didn’t coin that phrase. He was repeating an adage that the jurymen had probably already heard.

Quote Investigator found a close variant on the phrase in a 1713 book titled titled Treason Unmask’d:
But Matters of Fact are stubborn Things, and no Fact can be more certain, than that his See Was full of him, while between December 6, and January 10, he had committed several Treasons, and was put into Custody for them.
And an exact version in The Political State of Great Britain, November 1717:
But Facts are Stubborn Things And therefore, when he comes to the Proof of his Charge, I have a Right to demand of him, to keep to those Four Particulars which I have just now mentioned.
Other examples from the eighteenth century include E. Budgell’s Liberty and Progress from 1732, Bernard Mandeville’s An Enquiry into the Origin of Honor, and the Usefulness of Christianity in War from the same year, a 1747 essay on Field Husbandry, and Tobias Smollett’s translation of Gil Blas, published in 1748.

Founders Online shows the adage was used in America as well. On 17 May 1764, Gov. John Penn reminded the Pennsylvania Assembly:
As Facts are stubborn Things, and Truth does not stand in Need of any Colouring or Disguise, nothing more is necessary, in order to set the Controversy between us in its true Light, than to take a short and summary Review of the Transactions which gave Rise to it.
Benjamin Franklin, responding on behalf of the Pennsylvania assembly on 30 May, repeated the phrase:
But now you chuse to pass all over with a “silent Disregard,” reflecting probably on the Maxim you had before advanced, that “Facts are stubborn Things,” and despairing, it seems, by any “Colouring” to “disguise the Truth.”
John Adams himself used the adage again in a letter to Elbridge Gerry on 6 Dec 1777:
The rapid Translation of Property from Hand to Hand, the robbing of Peter to pay Paul distresses me, beyond Measure. The Man who lent another an 100 £ in gold four years ago, and is paid now in Paper, cannot purchase with it, a Quarter Part, in Pork, Beef, or Land, of what he could when he lent the Gold. This is Fact and Facts are Stubborn Things, in opposition to Speculation.
And Samuel Hoffman wrote to Alexander Hamilton on 28 Oct 1799:
It is a common observation that “Facts are stubborn things”—& I conclude it was on this ground that Lieut. Col. Smith advised me rather to resign quietly my Commission than risk the Event of a Court Martial…
(The facts in that case being that Hoffman had hidden a ten-dollar bill from a fellow lieutenant but insisted it was just a joke. He was dismissed.)

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Boston in 1774 with Notes from Later

Cortney Skinner alerted me to this item in the New York Public Library’s digital images collection.

It’s a leaf from Isaiah Thomas’s Royal American Magazine in early 1774 that featured Paul Revere’s engraving of the eastern shore of Boston with Royal Navy ships in the harbor.

This page from the American Antiquarian Society reports that the magazine included a key for this frontispiece inside on page 40. That key identified the labeled landmarks along the water’s edge and the ships. (Though the latter were simply “1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and 8 Ships of War. 9 and 10. armed Schooners.”)

However, this copy of the print was removed from the magazine, and sometime in the early 1800s someone created his or her own key in the margins.

Here’s the handwritten key along the left side; if the key from 1774 said something different, I put that information in brackets:
A- is Long Whf.
B- is Hancock’s Whf.
C- is North Battery
D- is Fort-hill Battery [South Battery]
E- is Fort-Hill
F- is Fosters Whf. [Wheelwright’s Wharf]
G- is the Province house [Beach Hill]
H- is Tilteston’s Whf. [Hubbard’s Wharf]
I- is Hallowell’s Ship Y’d [Hollaway’s Ship-Yard]
K- is [blank] [Walker’s Ship-Yard]
L- is Gee’s Ship Yard [Tyler’s Ship-Yard]
M- is [blank] [Island Wharfs]
N- is [blank] [ditto]
Originally there was no key for the meetinghouse and church spires dominating the top of the image, but the annotator put a lot of effort into labeling them. And I put a fair amount of effort into reading those labels, including some in pencil that required raising the contrast on those parts of the scan.

The results are:
Hollis St. Ch.

Summer St. Ch. [Though was a term for Trinity Church, that building had no steeple; this spire was the New South Meetinghouse on Summer Street.]

First Ch. Federal St.
now Dr. Channings [Rev. William Ellery Channing preached to this congregation from 1803 to 1842; this building was replaced in 1809.]

Old So. Ch. Washington
St. Dr. Eckley’s [Rev. Joseph Eckley’s tenure at Old South ended in 1811.]

Old King’s Chapel

Province house
Beacon light
Old Brick ch. now [?]
Joy’s buildings Cornhill
Town house at head
of State St.

West Ch. (Howard’s) [Rev. Simeon Howard died in 1804, and a new church was erected on the site in 1806.]
Faneuil Hall
Brattle St. ch.

New Brick ch. Hanover
St. Dr. Lathrop’s [Rev. John Lathrop died in 1816.]

Ch. in No. Square site
now built over with
dwelling houses. In 1775
it was distroyed. [This was the Old North Meetinghouse.]

Christ Ch. Salem St. [Now best known as Old North Church.]

Dr. Elliot’s Hanover
St. [Rev. Andrew Eliot died in 1778, Rev. John Eliot in 1813.]
Those labels offer some clues about when the notes were written. The annotator put Old South on “Washington St.,” and that stretch of the street wasn’t officially renamed Washington until 1824. For the Federal Street Church still to be “now Dr. Channings” means that the labels predate 1842. So let’s say around 1830.

It’s a bit confusing that the annotator included the names of some ministers who were dead by that date. I suspect the notes were an attempt to identify who presided over those meetinghouses during the Revolutionary War, at the approximate time of the picture. In the case of Howard, Lathrop, and the older Eliot, they were indeed preaching under those spires in 1774, but Eckley wasn’t installed at Old South until 1780.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

A Remick on the Wall

Last night I attended a function at the Club of Odd Volumes on Beacon Hill. Between the many bookshelves, the clubhouse has a very impressive collection of eighteenth-century prints on its walls.

I spotted the early view of Boston Common, a portrait of Gov. Francis Bernard, a couple of the political engravings issued in London in the last months before the Revolution, a fine map of the siege, and so on.

On one wall hung what looked from a distance like three copies of Christian Remick’s view of Royal Navy ships in Boston harbor in 1768. If the club has three, I thought, surely it wouldn’t miss just one.

But when I got closer, I realized that the top image wasn’t a print by Remick. It was the copperplate—the actual etched copper—that the club commissioned Sidney L. Smith to make from Remick’s original around 1904. The club printed 51 copies of the image, I read later. Underneath the copperplate was presumably one of those prints, hand-colored.

And the third picture was one of Remick’s original watercolors. I’d misremembered—he didn’t have that image engraved in pre-Revolutionary Boston, as Paul Revere prepared the related picture of royal troops disembarking on Long Wharf. Rather, Remick painted multiple copies of the ships in the harbor for upper-class patrons.

The Massachusetts Historical Society (which owns the copy shown above) explains:
Remick produced six known versions of this work, several dedicated to specific people. Though it bears no dedication, the provenance of this watercolor has been recorded by its previous owners and it is thus known that it was first owned by the royal governor in 1768, Thomas Hutchinson [actually not even acting governor until the following year]. The Massachusetts Historical Society owns a second, smaller version of this, and the Essex Institute [now the Peabody Essex Museum] also owns two versions. Another, dedicated to John Hancock, is owned by the Club of Odd Volumes, and one belongs to the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
And sure enough, the copy on the club’s wall has Hancock’s name incorporated into the label.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Paul Revere House Seasonal Celebration, 2-3 Dec.

This weekend the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End is hosting an event titled “Traditions of the Season.”

The house invites visitors to:
Learn about 17th-century Thanksgiving observances, hear 18th-century music, taste colonial flavors, and buy goods made by local craftspeople for New Year’s gifts just like Paul Revere did! . . .

Enjoy complimentary refreshments of mulled cider and delicious treats based on early American recipes served on the first floor of the Pierce/Hichborn House.
The houses open at 9:30 A.M. on 2-3 December. Starting at 12 noon, “Artisans working in traditional techniques to produce useful reproductions offer their wares for sale” in the new Visitor Center, and R. P. Hale (shown here) performs music on the harpsichord and hammered dulcimer.

Admission for this special weekend is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and college students, and $1 for children aged five to seventeen.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The “Farmer” Starts to Speak 250 Years Ago

On 30 Nov 1767, two and a half centuries ago today, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser began to publish the series of essays signed “A Farmer.”

Those essays were quickly picked up by other printers, first in Philadelphia and then in other American ports. In 1768 they were collected under the title Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. They became the most influential political writing to appear in America until the Revolutionary War.

The “Farmer” was John Dickinson (1732-1808, shown here), already a prominent lawyer, politician, and estate owner in Delaware and Pennsylvania (which were then administratively linked). He had served as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, but the Letters made him a leading American Whig.

Dickinson’s first letter was dated 5 November. Three weeks was an unusually long gap between the composition of an eighteenth-century newspaper essay and its publication, and it’s conceivable that Dickinson took that time to write further.

More likely, however, he carefully chose the date of 5 November because it was auspicious in British history. That was the anniversary of the foiling of Guy Fawkes’s attack on Parliament in 1605 and also the anniversary of William III’s landing in England to depose James II in 1688.

The first grievance that the “Farmer” brought up wasn’t the Townshend Act but London’s insistence that the New York assembly supply basic necessities to the king’s troops in that province. That was a relatively small matter, affecting only one colony—the colony that benefited most directly from the business and protection of those troops. But Dickinson wrote that no such demands were permitted by the British constitution: “This I call an innovation; and a most dangerous innovation.”

By focusing on that issue first, Dickinson told his readers that there was more at stake than “external taxes” on imports from Britain. Colonists couldn’t assume the London government would stop with tariffs. And by taking up New York’s grievance, he signaled that no colony should have to resist alone; that first essay closed by chiding the Pennsylvania legislature for not protesting on New York’s behalf.

In Massachusetts, Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette started reprinting the “Farmer’s Letters” on 14 December. Ironically, the only other local newspaper that published all of them was John Mein’s Boston Chronicle, which would soon become the voice of the royal government. But by spring 1768 all of Boston’s newspapers—even Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter—were filled with praise for Dickinson’s essays.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Thanksgiving Proclamation at Old South

The controversy over Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation in 1771 caused particular trouble in Boston’s largest meetinghouse, the Old South.

That church had not had a placid year. In 1769 its minister, the Rev. Samuel Blair, had suddenly resigned and moved out of the colony. The congregation spent more than a year recruiting a new permanent minister, finally deciding in January 1771 to hire two men:
But then Blair got back in touch, and church committees spent several more months settling with him. That meant the new team of Hunt and Bacon wasn’t installed until 25 September.

A month later, Gov. Hutchinson issued his holiday proclamation. Boston’s Whigs started to organize congregations into pressing their ministers not to read it, aiming their efforts for 10 November because by custom ministers in Boston shared such announcements two Sundays before the Thanksgiving.

But on 3 November, with Hunt home in Northampton, Bacon read that proclamation at Old South.

Ten days later, Samuel Adams wrote to Arthur Lee:
[Bacon] being a Stranger in the province, & having been settled but about Six Weeks, performd the servile task a week before the usual Time when the people were not aware of it, they were however much disgusted at it.
The 11 November Boston Gazette went further:
It is said the Worshipping Assembly at the Old South Church, whose Pastor had so prematurely as well as unexpectedly in the Absence of his senior Colleague, read the Governor’s Proclamation with the exceptionable Clause, stopped after divine Service was ended Yesterday, and express’d their great Dissatisfaction at that Part of the Rev. Mr. Bacon’s conduct.
The “senior Colleague,” Hunt, was actually younger and had fewer years as a minister than Bacon, though he had graduated college a year earlier.

The 25 November Gazette ran a longer commentary on the controversy at Old South. The Thanksgiving holiday had already passed, but printers Edes and Gill said that the letter had been left at their office the previous week when they didn’t have space in the newspaper.

That article tried to lift the blame off Bacon, saying:
Mr. Bacon desired the brethren of the church and congregation to stop after divine service was ended, in order (as is usual before our anniversary thanksgiving) to vote a collection for charitable and pious uses; after which a motion was made, the import of which was to consider whether our public thanks should be agreeable to the tenor of the exceptionable clause in the Proclamation; not a word was said in the meeting about Mr. Bacon’s conduct.

It is generally supposed (and I have reason to think justly) that Mr. Bacon being a stranger, and not having been informed of the usual time of reading the proclamation, conceived a propriety in its being read as soon as might conveniently be done after it came to hand. Nor do I know of any reason that can be given why it is not as proper to be read three Sabbaths before the day appointed for publick thanksgiving, as two; especially as custom is various in this respect.

It seems to be represented as a great piece of imprudence in Mr. Bacon to presume to read the proclamation in the absence of his Senior colleague. As to the terms Junior and Senior, I think them hardly worth mentioning, and I hope our kind Pastors will never be disposed to contend for the chief rooms, or who shall be the greatest. . . .
The essay was signed “S.C.” Those were the initials of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper of the Brattle Street Meetinghouse, one of Boston’s most respected and politically active ministers. Did Cooper write this letter to exonerate Bacon? Did someone else borrow his initials to do so? There’s no way to know, but it’s notable that in his detailed letter on the Thanksgiving controversy Cooper claimed that the Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton was the only Boston minister to read the proclamation, shielding Bacon.

Bacon didn’t have a long tenure at Old South. The church dismissed him in February 1775 after the congregation had come to dislike his theology and preaching style. He moved to Stockbridge, took up the law, and entered politics, eventually serving one term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As for Hunt, he died back home in Northampton in December 1775. Which meant that after the siege ended, Old South had to look for a permanent minister again. That process took until 1779.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Proclamation “read in our churches last Sunday”?

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper no doubt had an inside view of the Boston Whigs’ efforts to organize political resistance to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and his 1771 Thanksgiving proclamation.

Indeed, Cooper was probably one of the Boston ministers who came out early to promise he wouldn’t read the proclamation to his congregation. In his 14 November letter to London, he described the controversy:
The Governor’s Proclamation for an Annual Thanksg., was to have been read in our churches last Sunday, in w’ch among other things, we are call’d upon to give thanks to Heav’n for the Continuance of our Privileges. This was deem'd by the People an open Insult upon them, and a prophane Mockery of Heav’n. The general cry was, we have lost our Most essential Rights, and shall be commanded to give Thanks for what does not exist.

Our congregations applied to the several Ministers in Town praying it might not be read as usual, and declaring if we offer’d to do it, they w’d rise up and leave the Ch[urc]h. And tho no little Pains was taken by the Governor’s Friends to get over this Difficulty and to explain away the sense of the clause by saying all were agreed we had some Privileges left, and that no more was meant by the Public Act than such Privileges as we in Fact enjoy’d, all w’d not avail.

Had the Ministers inclined it was not in their Pow’r to read it, a circumstance w’ch never before [took] Place among us. It was read only in Dr [Ebenezer] Pemberton’s Church, of which the Governor is a Member. He did it with confusion, and Numbers turn’d their Backs upon him and left the Chh in great indignation.
The 11 November Boston Gazette’s version of that event was:
We hear the Proclamation which has given so much Offence to the good People of this Province, was read in no other Congregational Church in this Town than the American Manufactor’d Doctors, which gave so much Uneasiness to his Hearers, that many of them took their Hatts and walk’d out while he was reading it.
Pemberton’s honorary doctorate in divinity had come from Princeton College rather than one of the prestigious universities in Britain.

The rural meetinghouses were a bigger challenge for the Boston Whigs, however. Cooper wrote:
It was I believe thro want of attention, and an opportunity of consulting one another, read by a Majority of Ministers in the Country Parishes. One Association of the Clergy happening however to meet at the Time, agreed to reject it: and it has been read by few Ministers, if any who have not declar’d either their Sorrow for so doing, or that they read it as a public Act, without adopting the Sentiments: and that it is their intention on the appointed day, w’ch is next Thursday, to give Thanks for the Privileges we enjoy, and implore of the Almighty God the restoration of w’ch we have lost.
The 18 November Boston Post-Boy reported, “the Ministers in general in the several Towns in the Country have read to their respective Congregations the Proclamantion for a Thanksgiving, as usual.”

Whig printers tried to highlight exceptional cases. The 12 November Essex Gazette of Salem stated:
One of the Reverend Ministers in this Town in reading the Proclamation for a Thanksgiving, last Sunday, omitted the Clauses which recommend the offering up Thanks for a Continuance of our civil and religious Privileges, and an enlarged Commerce.
The 22 November Massachusetts Spy quoted a clergyman from an unspecified place outside Boston as saying:
I am well informed that there is a proclamation issued forth by authority, appointing the next Thursday to be a day of public Thanksgiving. I would therefore earnestly request that the inhabitants of this place would assemble on said day, to render the utmost tribute of praise to our Divine Benefactor, for the mercies which we REALLY enjoy, through the unmerited bounty of his providence. Not forgeting, at the same time to bewail the loss of those Previledges of which we are deprived by our fellow men, through his permission; upon which it will manifestly appear that our rejoicing ought to be with trembling.
That last line was a reference to Psalms 2:11.

The Rev. Joseph Sumner of Shrewsbury added the words “some of” before “our rights and privileges.” The copy of the proclamation photographed for the Early American Imprints microfiche includes that insertion (as shown above), so it might be the Shrewsbury copy, or someone else may have made the same change.

Boston also had three congregations in the Church of England, and their ministers usually supported the royal government. But they didn’t read the governor’s words. As Samuel Adams wrote, “it has not been customary ever to read” Thanksgiving proclamations in Anglican churches. That was a Puritan holiday, and Anglicans reserved their celebrating for Christmas.

TOMORROW: The controversy at Old South.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Governor’s Thanksgiving Proclamation as a “solemn mockery”

By law, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation for 1771 was supposed to be read out by the ministers of all the meetinghouses in Massachusetts.

That’s why the colony commissioned Richard Draper to print the proclamation in broadside. Those sheets were distributed across the province. The four weeks between the proclamation and the holiday left time for the announcement to reach the far corners of British settlement.

Those weeks also gave the Whigs time to organize resistance. As I noted last week, the first sign of opposition was Boston’s most radical newspapers not printing the governor’s proclamation. But the real battleground would be in the province’s pulpits.

On 7 November, Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy carried the Whigs’ message to congregations inside Boston and out:
We are informed that the ensuing Thanksgiving affords matter of more serious thought, and general conversation than any thing of the king that has yet happened in New-England. Is it not amazing indeed, that the Governor should recommend it to the ministers and their congregations to return thanks to Almighty God, that he has been pleased to continue to them their civil and religious privileges?

It is said some of the clergy have already come to a resolution to leave out that extraordinary clause, as they cannot in conscience carry on such a solemn mockery before their people; and many gentlemen of character have declared, that in case their ministers should read it as it stands in the proclamation, they will immediately depart the meeting.

It is full time to put off that false and dangerous compliance, which can only encourage our enemies to make farther experiments of what we will bear.

We can assure the public, that a number of the members of one of the Worshiping Assemblies in this town, waited upon their Reverend Pastor yesterday,…and that their minister expressed his hearty concurrence with them in sentiment, and declared that he should omit reading the Proclamation.

A second reverend clergyman has declared, that it is against his conscience to offer up such an insult to the Deity, and shall therefore read no part of the proclamation.

We have authority to say that a number of the Rev. Pastors of the CHURCHES in this town, are determined, not to offer up on the day of our Thanksgiving, the solemn mockery recommended to them by Mr. Hutchinson in his proclamation, “for continuing to us our civil and religious privileges” which he well knows are RAVISHED from us.

It is hoped the Clergy in the country will follow the laudable example. The favours of providence are innumerable, and it is among the first of them that we unanimously agree, to resist TYRANNY. Let us be unfeignedly thankfull for them all, and in sincerity express it on that day.
The Boston Whigs of course had the most influence in Boston and nearby, and the merchants in Massachusetts’s smaller ports shared many interests with the Bostonians. But most of the province still consisted of country farming towns, and they had never been as militant about London’s new measures.

TOMORROW: How well did that campaign work?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Shorto on Revolution Song in Boston, 30 Nov.

Back in 2009, Ray Raphael contributed a “guest blogger” posting here about his book Founders, which traces the history of the Revolution through seven individuals.

Ray wrote: “One of the characters is a given: George Washington. There is absolutely no way we can tell the larger story of the war and the nation’s founding without him. We know this. But who else?” That question prompted a couple of days of discussion of candidates.

Now journalist and historian Russell Shorto has taken up a similar challenge with his book Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom. It retells the Revolution through six figures:
Coghlan brings some scandalous glamour to the project since she and Aaron Burr were reportedly an item early in the war and she later became a courtesan in London. In Revolutionary Ladies, Philip Young presented evidence that Coghlan died years before her Memoir was published, suggesting that at least some of its tales were fraudulent. Shorto argues instead that Coghlan faked her death and fled to Paris. So that’s interesting right there.

Shorto will present Revolution Song at the Massachusetts Historical Society on Thursday, 30 November. The event will start with a reception at 5:30 P.M., and Shorto will speak and sign books starting at 6:00. Registration costs $10.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Why the 1771 Thanksgiving Proclamation Was “Offensive”

So why were Boston’s Whigs so upset about Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation for 1771? What was their problem with the phrase about thanking God for having ”continue[d] to them their civil and religious Privileges”?

For years those politicians had complained about new laws from London violating their established liberties. In 1771, though the Stamp Act and most of the Townshend duties had been repealed and the army regiments removed from town, the tariff on tea and the Customs Commissioners remained. And they no doubt could name other causes for concern.

Silently accepting Hutchinson’s statement that “their civil and religious Privileges” remained intact would lead, in the Whig way of thinking, to losing their claim to those rights and eventually to political slavery.

On 14 November, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper (shown above) laid out the thinking behind his party’s response in a letter to former governor Thomas Pownall in London:
It has been said that the Governor’s intention in adopting this obnoxious Clause, w’ch tho formerly a customary clause, has been omitted ever since the Stamp Act was to convey an Idea to your side of the water, an Idea that the People were become Sensible that they were really free and happy. If this was his intention He was unlucky in the meanes, and I believe wishes from His Heart He had never made the experiment. I mention these circumstances so particularly in Confidence and because nothing has of late occur’d among us from which you may so well Judg of the Sentiments of the People.

I had almost forgot to mention another Clause in the Proclamation w’ch respect the Increase of our Trade, which under our present Embarrassments, and the enormous Extention of the Pow’r of Admiralty Courts, was almost as offensive as the other.
Many of those Whigs also resented Hutchinson for, in their eyes, having used a Thanksgiving proclamation—a religious message—for a political purpose. One particularly devout politician, Samuel Adams, contributed a long piece for the 11 November Boston Gazette signed “Candidus” which said:
The sin which the people of Israel were prevail’d upon by Jeroboam the son of Nebat to commit, respected their religious worship on a Thanksgiving day: He had ordained a solemn festival to be kept at Bethel; in which, it seems, he had a particular view to serve a political purpose: And the people knew it, although he had artfully endeavored to colour it with a plausible appearance.
Subtle allegory, no?

COMING UP: The Whigs choose their battleground.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Publishing the 1771 Thanksgiving Proclamation

I’ve been considering Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation in 1771, one of the many bones of contention in Revolutionary Boston. Hutchinson’s own account may have been accurate in the basics but it wasn’t in all details, so I’m doubling back into other sources, starting with the newspapers.

On 17 October the Boston News-Letter, the paper closest to the royal government, reported that Hutchinson would name 21 November as the holiday. The Monday papers, most in opposition to the governor or neutral, repeated that news. People wanted early notice to plan for the holiday.

Gov. Hutchinson didn’t issue his official proclamation until 23 October. He might well have been working on its text. Some people later said “ONE of the council” had proposed reinstating language from before 1761 about the province’s “civil and religious Rights and Liberties.” Harbottle Dorr wrote in his newspaper collection that this Councilor was “supposed to be Colo. [William] Brattle.”

In 1765 Brattle (shown above) had marched with Ebenezer Mackintosh against the Stamp Act. He was one of Gov. Francis Bernard’s biggest thorns on the Council. In the 1770s he moved closer to the royal prerogative party, eventually sealing his fate as a Loyalist by setting off the “Powder Alarm” of 1774. But in 1771 Brattle might have sincerely still felt he was a Whig and that his colleagues should be pleased by the new governor acknowledging traditional liberties in traditional phrasing. Hutchinson probably liked the idea of reestablishing normalcy.

The governor’s final text went to Richard Draper, the printer with the contract from the province and Council to issue such official announcements as broadsides. Draper also published the News-Letter, and the proclamation appeared in that newspaper on 24 October. The Boston Evening-Post, Boston Post-Boy, and Essex Gazette of Salem ran the text on their front pages the following week.

Notably, Gov. Hutchinson’s proclamation didn’t appear in Edes and Gill’s 28 October Boston Gazette or in either 24 October or 31 October issues of Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy. Those were the most radical newspapers in Boston. Their printers appear to have made a choice not to give any space to the governor’s proclamation.

Those newspapers ran another item of Council business instead—Hutchinson’s complaint about the Gazette publishing an essay by “Junius Americanus” (the Virginia-born London lobbyist Arthur Lee) that called province secretary Andrew Oliver a “perjured traitor.” The Spy also published another in a series of essays signed “Mucius Scaevola,” this one complaining about the governor, the Customs Commissioners, and Secretary of State Hillsborough all at once.

TOMORROW: The Whig objections to Gov. Hutchinson’s language.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

“Our Civil and Religious Rights and Liberties”

In the last, posthumously published volume of his History of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson claimed that “the continuance of civil and religious liberties had constantly, perhaps without exception, been mentioned” in royal governors’ Thanksgiving proclamations.

Therefore, in using that language in his 1771 proclamation, Hutchinson said he was merely following tradition. So any objections to his phrasing had to be an artificial controversy.

But what does the historical record say? Gov. William Shirley’s Thanksgiving proclamation for 1754 [all these proclamation links lead to P.D.F. files] and Lt. Gov. Spencer Phips’s for 1756 do indeed include some variant of the phrase about civil and religious liberties.

Gov. Thomas Pownall (shown here), a favorite of the local Whigs, used such language consistently during his short administration:
  • Declaring a Thanksgiving on 27 Oct 1757, “to continue to the People of this Province their civil and religious Rights and Privileges.”
  • 23 Nov 1758, “to support Us in our Civil and Religious Rights and Liberties.”
  • 29 Nov 1759, “to continue to us the Enjoyment of our civil and religious Rights and Liberties.”
At first Gov. Francis Bernard adhered to that tradition:
  • 27 Sept 1760, for war victories “whereby the future Security of our Civil and Religious Liberties is put into our own Hands.”
  • 27 Nov 1760, mentioning “general liberties, as well religious as civil.”
But in 1761, coinciding with the ascension of George III, the writs of assistance case, and the emergence of political opposition under James Otis, Jr., Bernard stopped including language about Massachusetts’s liberties.

No such phrase appeared in the governor’s Thanksgiving proclamations for 3 Dec 1761; 7 Oct 1762, celebrating war victories; 9 Dec 1762; 11 Aug 1763, for peace; 8 Dec 1763; 29 Nov 1764; 5 Dec 1765; 24 July 1766, for the repeal of the Stamp Act; 27 Nov 1766; 3 Dec 1767; and 1 Dec 1768. In August 1769, Bernard left the province.

The responsibility of declaring Thanksgivings thus fell to Lt. Gov. Hutchinson. For the holidays on 16 Nov 1769 and 6 Dec 1770, he stuck to Bernard’s model, not mentioning “liberties.”

Thus, contrary to what Hutchinson the historian wrote, in 1771 Hutchinson the governor didn’t simply use language that “had constantly, perhaps without exception,” appeared in Thanksgiving proclamations. He returned to a tradition that had last prevailed over a decade before—a decade in which a lot had changed in Massachusetts politics.

(Incidentally, Gov. John Wentworth of New Hampshire had included phrases like “the Continuance of our Civil and Ecclesiastical Privileges” in his Thanksgiving proclamations since 1767. But the political conflict wasn’t so deep there.)

TOMORROW: The Whig reaction.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“They could not join in giving thanks”

Yesterday I shared the 1771 Thanksgiving proclamation issued by Gov. Thomas Hutchinson (shown here). It quickly became a source of controversy.

Why? In his role as historian, Hutchinson presented his side of the story this way:
It had been a long, uninterrupted practice for the governor, as soon as harvest was over, to issue every year a proclamation for a publick thanksgiving, and, among the enumerated publick mercies, the continuance of civil and religious liberties had constantly, perhaps without exception, been mentioned. The proclamation, by advice of council, was issued this year in the usual form.

After the people of the province had been prepared for such an attempt by the publick newspapers, a number of persons, in the character of a committee, attended upon the ministers of Boston, to desire that they would not read the proclamation to their congregations. One had read it; the rest, one excepted [the Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton], complied with the desire of the committee. There was not sufficient time to prepare the ministers of the country towns. Some, however, declined reading it; and some declared in the pulpit, that if the continuance of all our liberties was intended, they could not join in giving thanks.

It having been the constant practice to read such proclamations in all the churches through the province, a more artful method of exciting the general attention of the people, which would otherwise, for want of subject, have ceased, could not have been projected.
Hutchinson thus presented the objections to the phrase “the continuance of civil and religious liberties” as an artificial controversy, ginned up by the Whig political faction to attack him.

And it’s true that 1771 had been a quiet year. With no troops stationed in Boston and most of the Townshend duties repealed, Samuel Adams was having trouble finding ways to demonstrate the imperial government’s overreach that resonated with the people.

But Hutchinson overstated his case as well.

TOMORROW: Examining the Thanksgiving record.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“A Day of Publick Thanksgiving” in 1771

By tradition, the royal governor of Massachusetts proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in the province every autumn, usually in late November or early December.

(Governors sometimes also proclaimed Thanksgivings in response to military challenges or triumphs, but those special days didn’t replace the late-autumn holiday.)

On 23 Oct 1771, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson followed that ritual, announcing that 21 November would be a Thanksgiving. This was the first year he could issue that proclamation as governor rather than as lieutenant governor acting in the absence of a governor.

Hutchinson’s proclamation stated:
FORASMUCH as the frequent Religious Observance of Days of Publick Thanksgiving tends to excite and preserve in our Minds a due Sense of our Obligations to GOD, our daily Benefactor, the Mercies of whose common Providence are altogether unmerited by us.:

I HAVE therefore thought fit to appoint, and I do, with the Advice of His Majesty’s Council, appoint Thursday the Twenty-first day of November next, to be observed as a Day of Publick Thanksgiving throughout the Province, recommending to Ministers and People to assemble on that Day in the several Churches or Places for Religious Worship, and to offer up their humble and hearty Thanks to Almighty GOD, for all the Instances of his Goodness and Loving-kindness to us in the Course of the Year past; more especially for that He has been pleased to continue the Life and Health of our Sovereign Lord the KING—to increase His Illustrious Family by the Birth of a Prince—to succeed His Endeavours for preserving the Blessing of Peace to His Dominions, when threatned with the Judgment of War—to afford a good Measure of Health to the People of this Province----to continue to them their civil and religious Privileges—to enlarge and increase their Commerce----and to favour them with a remarkably plentiful Harvest.

AND I further recommend to the several Religious Assemblies aforesaid, to accompany their Thanksgivings with devout and fervent Prayers to the Giver of every good and perfect Gift, that we may be enabled to shew forth his Praise not only with our Lips, but in our Lives, by giving ourselves to his Service, and by walking before Him in Holiness and Righteousness all our Days.

AND all servile Labour is forbidden on the said Day.
That proclamation sparked a province-wide controversy with committees of protest, newspaper essays, ministers refusing to read the proclamation from their pulpits as written or being criticized by their congregations if they did.

Can you tell what was so controversial about Gov. Hutchinson’s wording?

TOMORROW: The offending phrase.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Visit to Marlborough, 28 Nov.

On Tuesday, 28 November, I’ll speak about The Road to Concord to the Marlborough Historical Society.

The town of Marlborough pops up multiple times in the story that book tells, starting with how it reportedly sent both infantry and mounted militia companies to the “Powder Alarm” on 2 Sept 1774.

The following February, British officers Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere came to Marlborough dressed in civilian clothing. They had a short but memorable visit, as DeBerniere reported to Gen. Thomas Gage:
At two o’clock it ceased snowing a little, and we resolved to set off for Marlborough, which was about sixteen miles off; we found the roads very bad, every step up to our ankles; we passed through Sudbury, a very large village, near a mile long, the causeway lies across a great swamp, or overflowing of the river Sudbury, and commanded by a high ground on the opposite side;

nobody took the least notice of us until we arrived within three miles of Marlborough, (it was snowing hard all the while) when a horseman overtook us and asked us from whence we came, we said from Weston, he asked if we lived there, we said no; he then asked us where we resided, and as we found there was no evading his questions, we told him we lived at Boston; he then asked us where we were going, we told him to Marlborough, to see a friend, (as we intended to go to Mr. [Henry] Barns’s, a gentleman to whom we were recommended, and a friend to government;)

he then asked us if we were in the army, we said not, but were a good deal alarmed at his asking us that question; he asked several rather impertinent questions, and then rode on for Marlborough, as we suppose, to give them intelligence there of our coming,—for on our entering the town, the people came out of their houses (tho’ it snowed and blew very hard) to look at us, in particular a baker asked Capt. Brown where are you going master, he answered on to see Mr. Barnes.—

We proceeded to Mr. Barnes’s, and on our beginning to make an apology for taking the liberty to make use of his house and discovering to him that we were officers in disguise, he told us we need not be at the pains of telling him, that he knew our situation, that we were very well known (he was afraid) by the town’s people.—

We begged he would recommend some tavern where we should be safe, he told us we could be safe no where but in his house; that the town was very violent, and that we had been expected at Col. [Abraham] Williams’s [tavern] the night before, where there had gone a party of liberty people to meet us,—(we suspected, and indeed had every reason to believe, that the horseman [Timothy Bigelow] that met us and took such particular notice of me the morning we left Worcester, was the man who told them we should be at Marlborough the night before, but our taking the Framingham road when he had passed us, deceived him:)—Whilst we were talking the people were gathering in little groups in every part of the town.—

Mr. Barnes asked us who had spoke to us on our coming into the town, we told him a baker; he seemed a little startled at that, told us he was a very mischievous fellow, and that there was a deserter at his house; Capt. Brown asked the man’s name, he said it was [John] Swain, that he had been a drummer; Brown knew him too well, as he was a man of his own company, and had not been gone above a month—so we found we were discovered.—We asked Mr. Barnes if they did get us into their hands, what they would do with us; he did not seem to like to answer; we asked him again, he then said we knew the people very well, that we might expect the worst of treatment from them.—

Immediately after this, Mr. Barnes was called out; he returned a little after and told us the doctor of the town had come to tell him he was come to sup with him—(now this fellow had not been within Mr. Barnes’s doors for two years before, and came now for no other business than to see and betray us)—Barnes told him he had company and could not have the pleasure of attending him that night; upon this the fellow stared about the house and asked one of Mr. Barnes’s children who her father had got with him, the child innocently answered that she had asked her pappa, but he told her it was not her business; he then went, I suppose, to tell the rest of his crew.—

When we found we were in that situation, we resolved to lie down for two or three hours, and set off at twelve o’clock at night; so we got some supper on the table and were just beginning to eat, when Barnes (who had been making enquiry of his servants) found they intended to attack us, and then he told us plainly he was very uneasy for us, that we could be no longer in safety in that town: upon which we resolved to set off immediately, and asked Mr. Barnes if there was no road round the town, so that we might not be seen; he took us out of his house by the stables, and directed us a bye road which was to lead us a quarter of a mile from the town,

it snowed and blew as much as ever I see it in my life; however, we walked pretty fast, fearing we should be pursued; at first we felt much fatigued, having not been more than twenty minutes at Mr. Barnes’s to refresh ourselves, and the roads (if possible) were worse than when we came; but in a little time after it wore off, and we got without being perceived, as far as the hills that command the causeway at Sudbury, and went into a little wood where we eat a bit of bread that we took from Mr. Barnes’s, and eat a little snow to wash it down.—

After that we proceeded about one hundred yards, when a man came out of a house and said those words to Capt. Brown, “What do you think will become of you now,”…
Henry Barnes appears above in a portrait by Prince Demah, once one of his slaves. A few years before this encounter, Whigs in Marlborough had tarred and feathered Barnes’s horse to punish him for buying goods from Britain in defiance of the non-importation agreement. I’m sure he remembered that as he led the officers “out of his house by the stables.”

I expect a warmer welcome in Marlborough on 28 November. My talk is scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M. in the Little Theater of Marlborough High School, 431 Bolton Street. I’ll bring copies of my book for purchase and signing.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Bearded Portrait Painter in 1753

British and American gentlemen of the middle and late eighteenth century didn’t wear beards.

Revolutionary War reenacting groups have to decide whether their adult male members must shave off their beards, mustaches, or [most distinguished of all] sideburns for events to make the most accurate visual impression.

Sometimes people try to argue that merely because we don’t see beards in portraits doesn’t mean men never wore them. Beards may have been rare but still common enough not to provoke remarks.

Back in 2012 I wrote a couple of postings about the Boston shoemaker William Scott which refute that argument. For religious reasons he grew his beard long. And his appearance was so unusual he scared children on the street.

Recently I ran across another discussion of a bearded man in the eighteenth-century British Empire at the Walpole 300 site. Jean Etienne Liotard was a portrait painter who spent years in the eastern Mediterranean region. The Lewis Walpole Library explains:
European travelers to the Levant commonly adopted local costumes, including caftans and turbans, but upon returning to Europe, they shaved their beards and shed their oriental dress. (Gullström et al., 187.) Not so Liotard, who had taken a liking to the loose Turkish garments and continued to wear them throughout the rest of his life. In 1743, when the artist arrived in Vienna, he caused an immediate sensation with his oriental robes, large fur hat, and the long beard he had grown according to local custom while in Moldova at the court of prince Constantin Mavrocordato. He attracted the attention of Empress Maria-Theresa and soon received prestigious commissions at the imperial court.

In 1748, Liotard traveled on to Paris where he exhibited his beard and costume at the opera in order to stimulate interest in his person, and thus to enhance his business as a portraitist. In fact, some of Liotard’s critics claimed that his success depended entirely on his sartorial performance rather than on his talents as a painter. . . .

In 1753, Horace Walpole described Liotard’s arrival in England in a letter to Horace Mann, pointing out the artist’s exotic looks: “From having lived in Constantinople he wears a Turkish habit and a beard down to his girdle: this and his extravagant prices, which he has raised even beyond what he asked at Paris, will probably get him as much money as he covets for he is avaricious beyond imagination.” (Walpole, Correspondence, 20:362.)
The Lewis Walpole Library owns the miniature portrait shown above, which is inscribed “Liotard / by Himself / 1753.” Lady Maria Churchill gave it to Horace Walpole, her older half-brother. And I’m sure we can agree that that’s an impressive beard—especially since no other man in Britain was wearing anything like it.