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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Saturday, April 29, 2017

“Paddocks Coach was shut out of Boston”

We left Sarah Deming and her family on the morning of 21 Apr 1775 at the house of the Rev. William Gordon in Roxbury, relieved that the British army had not attacked that site as feared.

Nevertheless, Deming and her female companions decided they had to get farther away from the siege lines. Her description of those efforts includes some more familiar names:
Miss Sarah Mason & I took our stand in turns, & sometimes together, at or without the door to try if we could get any conveyance to Dedham, which was six miles farther from Boston. At last we lit on a one horse Cart, & the driver was willing to take us all in, & carry us to [Dr. Nathaniel] Ames’s.

We toss’d in our bundles, & one of us had clim’d into the Cart, when Capt. [Lemuel] Child of the Peacock [tavern] came by, & told us that [Adino] Paddocks Coach was shut out of Boston, & he would engage it for us, to carry us as far as we would—that it was at but a quarter of a mile distant from us, & we should be more comfortable in that than in a cart—Out of which our things were then taken, & we began to see & acknowledge a kind providence.
“Paddocks Coach” wasn’t coachmaker Adino Paddock’s personal vehicle, I believe. Rather, in his yard near the Common he hosted a “genteel Berlin Coach, commodious for six Persons,” which Isaac Wendell offered to drive “in Town or out, on moderate terms” in a 9 Jan 1772 Boston News-Letter advertisment. That vehicle was now stuck outside the British lines, and the coachman was taking the best fares he could find.

Deming continued:
Mr. Gorden was abroad we knew not where—but he was coming for us. He knew we wish’d for nothing so much, in our deplorable circumstances as to be gone from his hospitable house. He had been to see, & comfort as well as he could, Mrs. [Josiah?] Waters & her children—He had found Paddocks Coach drawn by only two horses, & had agreed with his man to take us all in, together with Mrs. Gorden whom he was to call for at Mrs. Havens, & carry us to Providence for 12 Dollars. This agreement was made before Capt. Child came up to the Coach-man. But the business was done just as he appeared only Mr. Gorden had aded Mrs. Waters & her family to our company.
The minister gave Deming and her company midday dinner at his house before they set off for safety. At one point on the journey, Deming wrote, they
were now 12 in number; drawn by two horses; viz 9 within the Coach, consisting of Mrs. Gorden, Miss Mason, Mrs. Waters within two months of lying in (She is since delivered of a daughter) her three children, & fat maid, Sally & myself—without [i.e., outside] a man on the box with ye driver, & Lucinda behind
Lucinda, we recall, was Deming’s enslaved maid.

Friday, April 28, 2017

On the Home Front in Rollinsford, N.H., 29-30 Apr.

This weekend, 29-30 April, the Colonel Paul Wentworth House in Rollinsford, New Hampshire, will host a two-day living history event titled “1777 Home-Front: Life at Home During the American Revolution.”

The event description says:
The year is 1777, two years into the war, and residents of the town meet at the Wentworth House to join together in preparing supplies and clothing to send to the troops, while the Colonel’s family tend to the every day chores and activities of running and maintaining the house and grounds.

Reenactors and historians will bring the house and moment in history to life as members of the Wentworth household and their neighbors during the Revolution, depicting every day life at home during the war, preparing formal meals from the hearth to table, discussing the events of the time, and preparing needed supplies for the war effort. While each day sees visits by local vendors, merchants, army recruiters, and men of the town preparing for the impending call to arms.
The site is open each day from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Admission is free for children and members of the Association for Rollinsford Culture and History, $5 for everyone else.

The Paul Wentworth House was built in Rollinsford around 1701; dismantled and removed to Dover, Massachusetts, in 1936; and then returned to Rollinsford and rebuilt in 2002.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

“I am not sure I needed this peice of forecast”

Earlier this week we followed Sarah Deming and her household out of Boston on 20 Apr 1775. British soldiers were questioning people about whether they were carrying any arms but not stopping them. The provincial forces outside town were just getting organized.

The Demings headed down the Boston Neck to Roxbury, where one of the town ministers was the Rev. William Gordon (shown here). Sarah Deming’s letter proceeds:
When we came near opposite Mr. Gordon’s house, he saw, knew, & sprung out to us. Where are ye going my friends?

I don’t know Sir, was my answer, I believe. Mr. D.g said at ye same time, to put this frighted woman (I remember he said that) into some house, I think Mr. Weld’s.

Come in, come in here, sd he, all things are in common now. I have sent Mrs. Gordon to Dedham, am moving my goods as fast as I can, but we have beds ’eno for us to night. Step out children, call’d he to the other chaise. Come Mrs D.g I’ll lift you out myself—come in from the rain. I rejoice to see you safe out. The Lord preserve the dear multitude that are left behind. Come in, God will appear for us. . . .

Mr. Gorden, whom I had never been but once in company with, (a little while at Col. [Joseph] Jacksons), behaved to me as to a friend of long acquaintance—spoke comfortably to me, but the agny of my soul, passes description—I sat down, because I could not stand
Deming valued Gordon’s support all the more because her husband (and “Jemmy Church”) had turned around and driven their carriages back into Boston to attend to property or other people.

Eventually Gordon got to the bad news.
In the evening, Mr. Gorden told me, that he expected Genl [Thomas] Gage would send out some parties of his Troops to drive off our men who by this time were assembled in great numbers in Roxbury. That it was probable they might plunder & burn as they came along. That he had been threatened with death (which I knew) for his sermon on Thanksgiving day—they would of course therefore, come to his house in search of him, & destroy all they could find.

That he tho’t it his duty to provid for the safety of us all, as well as he could, & intended on the first alarm, to take a small Trunk of mine that Mr. D. had told him was valuable, & some other matters of vallue belonging to himself, & some others of us, into his chaise, & as cariages were not to be got, he had provided a careful man to take us women under his convoy accross the fields, & some by roads wth which he was acquainted, & conduct us to Dedham; where we might all meet & consult farther for our common safety.

Two men were to sit up in his house, & two others were to be on horse back thro’ the night, to watch the enemy’s motion, & bring intelligence. He said we would commit ourselves & our cause to God, & take our rest the fore part of the night, for we might depend upon it, the Genl would not send out till the moon was up. I am not sure I needed this peice of forecast to keep us waking thro’ the whole of the night.

I saw the moon arise, & pursue her course. As soon as day light appear’d the drums began to beat; for there had been upward of fiffty men lying upon their arms [illegible] the meeting-house & school-house all the night.
That was the same alarm in Roxbury that Samuel Haws described in his diary.

As it turned out, the British army never launched a full attack on Roxbury, but Deming and her companions still thought they were too close to the war zone.

COMING UP: Catching a stage coach.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Talk about David Mason in Salem, 28 Apr.

On Friday, 28 April, I’m headed back to Salem to talk about “Leslie’s Retreat” and The Road to Concord to the Explorers Lifelong Learning Institute of Salem State University. (I’m taking the place of another speaker, so I’m not listed on the website for that day.)

This event will be part of the Explorers’ “Friday Coffee” series, but I prefer tea, so I’ll share a story about tea that led up to “Leslie’s Retreat.”

According to Susan Mason Smith, interviewed in 1842 when she was “in her 80th year,” her father David Mason in 1774
was on a Com[mitt]ee (in Salem) to prevent the introduction of Tea in this Town.—

2 large chests, smuggled into Salem by a coloured man,—were seized—& put in Col Mason’s chamber closet for safe keeping over night—

This Tea was taken away the next day by the school boys who had much amusement in burning it on the Common
Smith apparently said “public square”; her interviewer wondered if that meant the common.

The story continued:
Mrs Mason was in feeble health, & it was thought necessary, that she should use Tea for her recovery for her relief. Her husband proposed to obtain special leave that she might use such a remedy; but she said “No, she would rather suffer inconvenience then it should be said she was enjoying a privilege her husband was appointee to take from her friends & neighbors.[”]
That autumn, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s Committee of Safety asked Mason “to make private preparation for the Revolution” by “collecting military Stores for the use of the Country.”

Come the following February, the stores David Mason had collected—namely a large number of cannon—were being mounted on carriages in the north of Salem. And Lt.-Col. Alexander Leslie and his redcoat soldiers had orders to search for them.

My “Friday Coffee” talk is scheduled to start at 10:00 A.M. at 10 Federal Street in Salem. I’m a bit worried about arriving on time from Middlesex County, but the session can run until noon, so we’ll get through everything eventually.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

“Here are the cannon—Our cannon are coming”

Among the documents the Massachusetts Historical Society has made available in digital form is Sarah (Winslow) Deming’s letter detailing day by day her experience at the start of the Revolutionary War.

From a genteel family with relatives on both sides of the political divide, Deming was inside Boston when the fighting began on April 1775. And she wanted to get out. The letter is quite fraught with emotion about that, which may conceal the fact that her departure was in fact quite swift and early.

This is from Deming’s description of 20 April:
about 3 o’clock P.M. the Chaises return’d (for they both went to Jamaca plain wth Mr. Waters’s wife, children & maids he having first engag’d them, one of ’em being his brother Thomsons, which he Mr. Thomson offer’d to Mr. D.g while it was out, & promis’d we should have on its return). We set off immediately, Mr. D.g & I in one, Sally & Lucinda, with Jemmy Church to drive in the other.
Was “Mr. Waters” Josiah Waters? A father and son of that name helped to design the fortification at Roxbury. I see connections between them and a distiller named James Thompson, but I haven’t confirmed a familial relationship. Deming later reports that Waters got out of Boston on 21 April, with his parents having gone to Woburn and his own family headed to Providence.

Was “Jemmy Church” the eldest son of Dr. Benjamin Church, named James Miller Church? He was born in 1759 and worked as an assistant apothecary and surgeon’s mate during the siege. (There’s no evidence he knew of his father’s spying at this time.)
We were stop’d & enquir’d of wether we had any arms etc. by the First & Second [British army] centinals, but they treated us civilly, & did not search us. The third & last centinals did not chalenge us.—so we got safe thro’ ye lines. . . .

Which road will you take said Mr. Deming? Give the horse the rane; was my answer. The horse took thro’ Roxbury Street, ye way he had but a little before pass’d. When we were by the Gray-hown, a lad who came out of Boston wth us, & who generally kept by our side, tho’ sometimes before us, run up to our chaise wth a most joyful countenance & cry’d, Sir, Sir; Ma’m, here are the cannon—Our cannon are coming—just here upon the road, heres a man told me so, who has seen ’em. The matter of his joy was terror to me, I only said, to Lewis go home to your father, & let our horse go, so we parted.
Lewis? Who’s Lewis? The name never appears before in the document, and never again. He doesn’t seem to be the “lad.” I suspect Lewis was a family servant, possibly enslaved. Lucinda, mentioned above, definitely was enslaved.

The “Gray-hown” was the former Greyhound tavern, owned by John Greaton, at the corner of modern Washington and Vernon Streets. It became a provincial checkpoint during the siege.

Of course, what really caught my eye was that unnamed lad’s excitement about “Our cannon.” That reflects the Patriots’ pleasure at having artillery to fight the British army. The same guns made Sarah Deming worry about the damage they could do to the people and houses in Boston.

It seems worth noting that while Deming described meeting “little parties, old, young, & middle aged, some with fife & drum,” as she proceeded through Roxbury, she never described actually seeing those cannon. I suspect it took longer to deploy them, fully equipped and mounted, than the Patriots had thought.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Talking about Stolen Cannon in Falmouth, 25 Apr.

On Tuesday, 25 April, I’ll speak to the Falmouth Historical Society about The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War.

My book explores how Massachusetts Patriots were furiously collecting cannon months before the war broke out in April of 1775, but of course keeping that effort as quiet as possible.

Today I’ll share a glimpse of one such cannon from the diary of Israel Litchfield, a sergeant in Scituate’s minute company. The town militiamen were drilling on 19 April when they heard a rumor of fighting between locals and redcoats in Concord. “Some Discredited it and Some Believed it,” Litchfield wrote, but gradually the new situation became clear.

The next day, the Scituate militia companies mustered. They took a few local Loyalists prisoner. But they didn’t march toward Boston because, as I discussed last year, there was a contingent of British soldiers a lot closer, in the neighboring town of Marshfield. Furthermore, seaside communities worried about the Royal Navy—shouldn’t the militia companies stay close to home to guard against a possible attack from the sea?

On 21 April, Litchfield and his company were ordered to bring in the big guns—well, one big gun—evidently to push the redcoats out of Marshfield. The sergeant wrote:
Colonel [John] Bailey I Say ordered our Companey the Rangers and Capt. Galen Clapps Company to march up to [Atherton] Wales’s [tavern in Hanover] to gaurd a Cannon down to marshfield. We were very Loath to go because there was Several tenders playing off and on upon our Coasts. However we were obliged to go

So we marched up to upriver meeting house and Joind Capt. Galen Claps Company. We marched up to wales’s and took the Cannon under our protection. We march’d from Wales’s to Dr. [Jeremiah] Halls in pembroke. There we heard a rumur that there was 500 Regulars Landing in Scituate.

We Sent posts to the Col. for Leave to march Back to Scituate, which after we had marcd. aboute a mile beyond Dr. Halls the major Came to us and ordered us to march back to Scituate. The Sun was aboute an hour high.

We marchd down to upriver meeting house where we heard that there was nothing in the rumur of mens Landing in Scituate but that the Regulars were embarkd on board a tender and gone off.
So everything ended almost peacefully in that part of the province. Sgt. Litchfield didn’t record what happened to the cannon his company had left behind on the road. Was it taken up to the siege lines around Boston or kept nearby to guard a local harbor?

I’ll have more answers about other cannon at Falmouth on Tuesday. My talk will begin at 7:00 P.M. at the historical society’s Cultural Center, 55 Palmer Avenue. I believe the admission cost is $5 for members and $8 for others. I’ll stay after the talk to answer questions, sign books, and chat about the Revolution.

[The photograph above shows Atherton Wales’s tavern in Hanover as the building appeared in the 1900s.]

Sunday, April 23, 2017

American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference, 8-11 June

On the weekend of 10-11 June, the Fort Plain Museum in upstate New York will host its third annual American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference at the Fulton-Montgomery Community College. I attended last year’s event and was impressed by the scores of people who attended and their avid historical interest.

Speakers during the weekend will be:
  • William M. Fowler, Jr., “An American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783”
  • Gavin K. Watt, “Neighbours Against Neighbours: Fort Schuyler and Oriskany”
  • Eric H. Schnitzer, “Tactics of the 1777 Battles of Saratoga
  • Christian M. McBurney, “Abductions in the American Revolution in Northern New York”
  • Matthew J. Hollis & David A. Ranzan, “Middling Officers in the Mohawk Valley”
  • Dean R. Snow, “Oneidas, Mohawks, and the Saratoga Campaign”
  • Wayne Lenig, “1780, the Year of the Burning: The War on the Mohawk Frontier”
  • Todd W. Braisted, “The Royalist Corps in the Burgoyne Campaign”
  • Robert A. Geake, “From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution”
  • Daniel M. Sivilich, “Musket Balls: Diagnostic Tools for Military Sites”
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing several of those speakers present their expertise. Dan Sivilich’s work on musket balls as archeological artifacts is particularly intriguing.

In connection to the conference, there are two bus tours of the region scheduled on 8-9 June. The tour on Thursday will visit the Fort Plain Museum, the 1747 Nellis Tavern, Fort Klock, Old Fort Johnson, the Stone Arabia Battlefield, the Stone Arabia Church, and the grave of Col. John Brown.

The Friday will feature sites associated with Walter D. Edmonds’s Drums Along the Mohawk: the Palatine Church, Fort Stanwix (Fort Schuyler), the Oriskany Battlefield, the General Herkimer Home, Fort Herkimer, Fort Herkimer Church, and Fort Dayton.

On the evening of Friday, 9 June, there will be a cocktail reception and a sneak peak of the documentary Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed. Filmmakers Tom Mercer and Anthony Vertucci will discuss this new film in progress.

There’s a tavern dinner on the evening of Saturday, 10 June, at the Van Alstyne Homestead with Bruce M. Venter portraying Gen. John Burgoyne explaining “How I Lost the War in America!” Tours of the Van Alstyne Homestead are free, but the period-authentic drinks will come from a cash bar.

The cost is $60 for the speakers’ portion (including Saturday lunch and coffee break), $40 for each bus tour, $50 for the tavern evening and dinner, or the entire package for $180. All proceeds will benefit the Fort Plain Museum. For more information or to register (or to suggest speakers for a 2018 conference), email info@fortplainmuseum.org or call (518) 774-5669.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Children’s Play at the Dublin Seminar in Deerfield, 24 June

On Saturday, 24 June, the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife will take place at Historic Deerfield. This year’s theme is “Small World: Toys, Dolls, and Games in New England.”

The day will feature nine talks on the culture of children’s play in New England and adjacent areas of New York and Canada in the 17th through 19th centuries. The event description says:
The conference opens with talks on the material culture of toys by fashion specialists, archaeologists, and historians who will discuss the making of high-style dolls, the distribution of toys in girls’ industrial schools, and toy-making during and after the Civil War.

It continues with an examination of English emblematical books for children, printed board games designed for young minds, and the evolution of children’s libraries in the larger eighteenth century. . . . The Seminar is designed for educators, historians, collectors, independent scholars, librarians, preservationists, and museum curators, as well as students and the general public.
I’ll be there giving a presentation on football (or what we Americans call soccer), its reputation in British culture, and how it took on a political meaning in redcoat-occupied Boston during the late 1760s.

Click here for a complete schedule of lectures and registration information for this year’s Dublin Seminar. Registration costs $70, or $40 for students. Past seminars have been two or three days in length, and this year the committee chose a shorter program to allow more people to attend.

Since the 1970s the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife has presented annual conferences, exhibitions, and publications exploring the life, work, and culture of ordinary New Englanders. The seminars are now sponsored and hosted by Historic Deerfield. The collections of papers from past years are excellent sources on many topics, from gravestones to clothing to supernatural beliefs.

Friday, April 21, 2017

We Actually Have Two New American Revolution Museums

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia isn’t the only new museum focusing on that important national transition. Last month I attended one of the opening days of the other one, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. And it’s well worth a visit.

Like the M.O.A.R., this museum is a new building for an established location and a new home for an old collection, in this case those of the Yorktown Victory Center. But the curators have been bringing in many new items:
Recent acquisitions, all selected to illustrate specific exhibit themes, include such iconic artifacts as a Declaration of Independence broadside dating to July 1776; a June 1776 Pennsylvania Gazette printing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which directly influenced the composition of the U.S. Declaration of Independence; an official portrait of King George III in his coronation robes; an eagle-pommel sword inscribed with the year 1776 and the name of its owner; one of the earliest known portraits done from life of an African who had been enslaved in the British colonies that became the United States; and a first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” the first book to be published by an African American.
Another acquisition is a portrait of Benjamin Thompson of Woburn, later Count Rumford.

Though this museum is at the site of a particular event—the Yorktown siege of 1781—it covers the entire Revolutionary conflict, starting with the imperial situation of the 1750s and running to the expansion of the U.S. of A. in the 1790s. The galleries have the themes of “The British Empire and America”; “The Changing Relationship—Britain and North America”; “Revolution,” meaning the war; “The New Nation”; and “The American People.”

The museum also uses a lot of interactive technology. I didn’t watch the introductory film, “Liberty Fever,” but I was impressed by many of the smaller video displays. One standout was the museum’s Liberty Tree, a metal sculpture draped with “20 electronic lanterns that display liberty messages from all over the world.” Visitors in person and online can type out short remarks (no more than 108 characters) about what liberty means to them, and those appear on the lanterns.

Beside the museum building there’s a feature I remember from Yorktown decades back, a recreation of the Continental Army camp during the siege of 1781. Alongside that is an eighteenth-century farm raising vegetables and herbs; it includes a tobacco barn, representing colonial Virginia’s main crop, but apparently no tobacco fields.

The American Revolution Museum is allied with the Jamestown Settlement, a recreation of the first lasting British settlement in North America—not to be confused with the actual site of that settlement, which is a different attraction. And of course they’re all within a moderate drive of Colonial Williamsburg. As I said, well worth a visit.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

“Charles Willson Peale is literally wearing my pants”

There’s a lot of New England content in Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution, and a lot of New England talent behind it.

The Philadelphia newspapers explain:
Seventeen of the museum’s 32 human resin figures -- and two of its horses -- were dressed by the Randolph, Mass., historian, reenactor, and tailor Henry Cooke, who worked for more than a year with a dozen artisans to create the clothes. Two pairs of trousers in the exhibit are from Cooke’s reenactor wardrobe.

Charles Willson Peale is literally wearing my pants,” Cooke said, referring to a scene depicting James Peale seeing for the first time his brother Charles after the Battle of New York City.

The figures dressed in near-replicas are next to real items -- encased in protective glass -- from that era.

There’s a coat that once belonged to Lt. Col. Benjamin Holden of the Massachusetts militia, along with a New Hampshire soldier’s hunting shirt. (Washington eventually adopted the linen shirt as part of the Continental Army’s uniform because it was considered a sign of good marksmanship.)
In addition, the figures themselves are modeled after real people involved in Revolutionary reenacting, and others posed for photographs or films used in the exhibits and promotional material. Therefore, some of those faces might look strangely familiar.

Another item from New England is the blue riband that Gen. George Washington bought to distinguish himself from other officers toward the start of the siege of Boston. As I discussed back here, museum curator and historian Phil Mead spotted that in a Harvard museum, and it’s now on loan in Philadelphia.