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, January 21, 2017

From Slaves to Soldiers at Rhode Island State House, 24 Jan.

On Tuesday, 24 January, the Rhode Island State House Library will host a book signing to celebrate the publication of From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution, by Robert A. Geake with Lorén M. Spears.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:
In December 1777, the Continental army was encamped at Valley Forge and faced weeks of cold and hunger, as well as the prospect of many troops leaving as their terms expired in the coming months. If the winter were especially cruel, large numbers of soldiers would face death or contemplate desertion. Plans were made to enlist more men, but as the states struggled to fill quotas for enlistment, Rhode Island general James Mitchell Varnum proposed the historic plan that a regiment of slaves might be recruited from his own state, the smallest in the union, but holding the largest population of slaves in New England.

The commander-in-chief’s approval of the plan would set in motion the forming of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. The “black regiment,” as it came to be known, was composed of indentured servants, Narragansett Indians, and former slaves. This was not without controversy. While some in the Rhode Island Assembly and in other states railed that enlisting slaves would give the enemy the impression that not enough white men could be raised to fight the British, owners of large estates gladly offered their slaves and servants, both black and white, in lieu of a son or family member enlisting.

The regiment fought with distinction at the battle of Rhode Island, and once joined with the 2nd Rhode Island before the siege of Yorktown in 1781, it became the first integrated battalion in the nation’s history.
Robert A. Geake is the author of several books about Rhode Island history and proprietor of the rifootprints webpage. Loren M. Spears, M.Ed., is executive director of the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum; a veteran educator; and two-term tribal councilwoman of the Narragansett Tribe.

The Rhode Island Department of State will display items from its archives related to the Rhode Island Regiment, including the “original Regimental Book from 1781-83.”

The event will take place from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bassett on “The American Sampler” in Medford, 22 Jan.

The Medford Historical Society and Museum is hosting an exhibit of needlework samplers from its collection with the title “Stitching and Learning.”

The society newsletter says:
Young women and children from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries learned to sew and embroider a variety of stitches and become dexterous with the needle as they created a needlework or darning “sampler.” Good needlework was considered essential and an absolute necessity if you were wealthy or poor. Women made or supervised the making of all clothing and household goods and the decoration of these articles. It was a mark of honor to be admired for these skills.
On Sunday, 22 January, Lynne Bassett will speak at the museum on “The American Sampler: Needlework in New England, 1700-1850.” Bassett was curator of textiles and fine arts at Old Sturbridge Village for five years and is now a freelance museum curator.

Bassett is the editor of Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth and coauthor of Northern Comfort: New England’s Early Quilts, 1780-1850. She has spoken at Colonial Williamsburg, the Museum of Fine Arts, Winterthur, Historic Deerfield, and the Peabody Essex Museum, among other sites, and has been elected a fellow or member of the American Antiquarian Society, Massachusetts Historical Society, and International Quilt Study Center.

Lynne Bassett’s talk will take place at the society at 10 Governors Avenue in Medford starting at 2:00 P.M. The exhibit can be viewed on Sundays, 12 noon to 4:00 P.M., or by appointment, through 26 February.

(Shown above is a sampler made by Deborah Robins in 1750—not part of the exhibit, but an example of what young women in Boston were making in the mid-eighteenth century.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

“I hope he will pass muster”

As John Quincy Adams planned his return to Massachusetts from Europe in 1785, with the hope of attending Harvard College, his father John wrote to one of the professors there, Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846).

Waterhouse had lived with the Adams family while studying medicine in Holland in the early 1780s. It was thus natural for John Adams to ask Waterhouse to look out his son, even though he was one of the college’s first professors of physic rather than of law.

As a father, Adams had some worries about John Quincy’s preparation for college. All in all, his letter reads like what a modern anxious “helicopter parent” might write to a college admissions officer, insisting that his son was a better student than he might seem and deserved some special understanding:
This Letter will be delivered you, by your old Acquaintance, John Quincy Adams, whom I beg Leave to recommend to your Attention and favour. He is anxious to Study Sometime, at your University before he begins the Study of the Law which appears at present to be the Profession of his Choice.

He must undergo an Examination, in which I Suspect he will not appear exactly what he is. in Truth there are few who take their Degrees at Colledge, who have so much Knowledge, but his Studies having been pursued by himself, on his travells without any Steady Tutor, he will be found aukward in Speaking Latin, in Prosody, in Parsing, and even perhaps in that accuracy of Pronunciation in reading orations or Poems in that Language, which is often chiefly attended to in Such Examinations.

It seems to be necessary therefore that I make this Apology for him to you, and request you to communicate it in confidence to the Gentlemen who are to examine him, and Such others as you think prudent. If you were to examine him in English and French Poetry, I know not where you would find any body his Superiour. in Roman and English History few Persons of his Age, it is rare to find a youth possessed of So much Knowledge. He has translated Virgils Æneid, Suetonious, the whole of Sallust, and Tacituss Agricola, his Germany and Several Books of his Annals, a great Part of Horace Some of Ovid and Some of Cæsars Commentaries in Writing, besides a number of Tullys orations. These he may Shew you; and altho you will find the Translations in many Places inaccurate in point of Style, as must be expected at his Age, you will See abundant Proof, that it is impossible to make those translations without Understanding his Authors and their Language very well.

In Greek his Progress has not been equal. Yet he has Studied Morcells in Aristotles Poeticks, in Plutarch’s Lives, and Lucians Dialogues, the Choice of Hercules in Xenophon, and lately he has gone through Several Books in Homers Iliad.

in Mathematicks I hope he will pass muster. in the Course of the last year, instead of playing Cards like the fashionable World I have Spent my Evenings with him. We went with some Accuracy through the Geometry in the Præceptor the Eight Books of Simpsons Euclid, in Latin and compared it Problem by Problem and Theorem by Theorem with Le Pere Dechalles in french, We went through plain Trigonometry and plain Sailing, Fennings Algebra, and the Decimal Fractions, arithmetical and Geometrical Proportions, and the Conic Sections in Wards Mathematicks.

I then attempted a Sublime Flight and endeavoured to give him some Idea of the Differential Method of Calculation of the Marquis de L’Hospital, and the Method of Fluxions and infinite Series of Sir Isaac Newton But alass it is thirty years Since I thought of Mathematicks, and I found I had lost the little I once knew, especially of these higher Branches of Geometry, So that he is as yet but a smatterer like his Father. however he has a foundation laid which will enable him with a years Attendance on the Mathematical Professor, to make the necessary Proficiency for a Degree.

He is Studious enough and emulous enough, and when he comes to mix with his new Friends and young Companions he will make his Way well enough. I hope he will be upon his Guard against those Airs of Superiority among the Schollars, which his larger Acquaintance with the World, and his manifest Superiority in the Knowledge of Some Things, may but too naturally inspire into a young Mind, and I beg of you Sir, to be his friendly Monitor, in this Respect and in all others.
It’s always remarkable to me how much John and Abigail Adams worried about John Quincy being a good scholar. With our hindsight, we know that he was one of the most studious, diligent, and at times humorless statesmen the U.S. of A. has ever produced.

COMING UP: John Quincy Adams reaches Cambridge.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

“The Child whom you used to lead out into the common”

In April 1785, seventeen-year-old John Quincy Adams had finished his first job, as secretary and translator for American minister Francis Dana in the court of Catherine the Great.

Young J. Q. Adams returned to France, where his family was living during another diplomatic mission. He prepared to sail home to Boston and enter Harvard College.

On 27 April, John Adams wrote a letter for his son to hand to their cousin Samuel:
The Child whom you used to lead out into the common to see with detestation the British Troops and with Pleasure the Boston Militia will have the Honour to deliver you this Letter. He has since seen the Troops of most Nations in Europe, without any Ambition I hope of becoming a military Man. He thinks of the Bar and Peace and civil Life, and I hope will follow and enjoy them with less Interruption than his Father could.

If you have in Boston a virtuous Clubb, such as We used to delight and improve ourselves in, they will inspire him with Such sentiments as a young American ought to entertain, and give him less occasion for lighter Company. I think it no small Proof of his Discretion, that he chooses to go to New England rather than old [i.e., to a British university]. You and I know that it will probably be more for his Honour and his Happiness in the result but young Gentlemen of Eighteen dont always See through the same Medium with old ones of fifty.

So I am going to London [as U.S. minister to the Court of St. James]. I suppose you will threaten me with being envyed again. I have more cause to be pitied, and al[though I will] not say with Dr Cutler that “I hate [to be] pitied” I dont know why I should dread Envy.—I shall be sufficiently vexed I expect. But as Congress are about to act with Dignity I dont much fear that I shall be able to do something worth going for. If I dont I shall come home, and envy nobody, nor be envied. if they send as good a Man to Spain as they have in [John] Jay for their foreign department and will have in [Thomas] Jefferson at Versailles I shall be able to correspond in perfect Confidence with all those public Characters that I shall have most need of Assistance from and shall fear nothing.
The editors of the Adams Papers report that in his letters John Adams twice quoted “old Dr. Cutler” saying that he hated to be pitied. They posit that was an allusion to the Rev. Dr. Timothy Cutler (1684-1765), longtime minister at Christ Church (Old North) in Boston. I haven’t found any other source for the remark, nor confirmation, but Cutler was a well-known figure in New England, recognized for being haughty, so it seems like a good guess.

TOMORROW: Helicopter parenting from the land of the balloon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Picking Up Pottery Pieces in Peabody

At the Early American Ceramics site, Justin W. Thomas just wrote about what he found at a site in Peabody, which in the eighteenth century was part of Danvers.

That site, Thomas knew, was once owned by a family of potters called Osborn. The business was established by a Quaker named Joseph Osborn in the late 1730s and grew over time; “there used to be multiple kilns located in this neighborhood, which were operated by multiple generations of Osborn family potters.”

In the early 1800s the family opened similar workshops in several other New England towns, expanding from Rhode Island to Maine and westward to New York. The Osborns sold the Peabody site to another pottery firm which stayed in business into the early 1900s.

That property is now mostly taken up by a senior citizen community center. Driving by, Thomas saw that a portion of it, never built on in recent decades, had been excavated to expand a parking lot. He got permission from the authorities to walk over the ground and pick up any artifacts on the surface that might be remnants of the early pottery works.

Thomas reported:
We discovered hundreds of artifacts. We found found kiln furniture, kiln bricks, wasters and sherds. I believe all of these objects are related to the Osborn Pottery instead of the businesses that operated afterwards. Collectively, I would say that these artifacts date from the circa 1740-1860 period.

I was amazed at some of the evidence that we were able to gather, which has never been tied to the Osborns before:

1) The abundance of thickly potted black-glazed wares: There were a number of thickly potted black-glazed utilitarian sherds with walls that were over one-inch thick, which appeared very-similar to black-glazed pottery that was produced in Buckley, England in the eighteenth-century. Were the Osborns trying to imitate the Buckley wares that were imported into places like Boston and Salem, Massachusetts in the 1700s? Are products in New England made by the Osborns mistaken for wares made in Buckley today?

2) Slip Decoration: It has been published in the past that the potters in Essex County, Massachusetts did not utilize a lot of slip-decoration in the eighteenth-century. However, I have found evidence that suggests otherwise. I think it is more a matter of tying slip-techniques to Essex County today that have been left unattributed or even attributed elsewhere in the past. I do not believe the Osborns have ever previously been linked to slip-decoration; although, we found accurate evidence of it yesterday.

3) Glazed Base: It has been published in the past that utilitarian red earthenware potters did not glaze bases in New England; however, I have recently proven that they did occasionally glaze bases in North Yarmouth, Maine. North Yarmouth was also a potter’s industry that was directly tied to Essex County. Yesterday, we found evidence of a black-glazed jug that was intentionally entirely glazed on the base by the Osborns. I have seen similar black-glazed bases in North Yarmouth.

4) A Fluid Glaze: We found evidence yesterday of a fluid glaze that was applied at the Osborn Pottery in Peabody. I have not seen this type of glaze previously associated with utilitarian potters in Essex County.

5) Glazes: We found an abundance of glazes yesterday that would not traditionally be tied to Essex County, Massachusetts today; although, Lura Woodside Watkins also confirms these type of Peabody (or South Danvers) glazes in Early England Potters and Their Wares. We found glazes that would normally be tied to Pennsylvania or elsewhere in New England (i.e., New Hampshire, Maine, etc.).
Thomas’s posting includes many photographs. The one above shows what he suspects might be the Osborns’ attempt to replicate thick black-glazed pottery from Britain.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sylvanus Johnson in the Woods

As described yesterday, in 1754, at the age of six or seven Sylvanus Johnson was taken prisoner by Native Americans, probably Wabanaki, from Fort No. 4 in New Hampshire. (The image here, a detail from the photograph by Ann M. Little here, shows a young reenactor at that recreated fort.)

Sylvanus was adopted into a Native American family and remained with them for four years. The British authorities then “redeemed” him for cash, and Israel Putnam conducted him back to his family.

Johnson lived along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire for the rest of his life. He married and had children starting in the early 1770s. But Johnson always said the Native culture he experienced as a child was superior.

In his History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont (1907), Lyman Simpson Hayes recorded traditions about “Uncle Vene” Johnson. The first is incredibly sad:
After paying the ransom, his white friends traveled a day’s journey and encamped for the night. So homesick was little Sylvanus for his forest home that he stole away in the darkness and followed the trail back to the wigwams of his masters. In doing so he had to cross a river, swimming over with his clothes tied on his head. His Indian friends would not speak to him or recognize him in any way. They had received the money demanded for his ransom and he was theirs no longer. During his whole life he so much preferred the modes of Indian life to the prevalent customs of civilization that he often expressed regret that he was ever ransomed.
Johnson lived into his eighties and was remembered in the region as quite a character.
The young men of North Walpole and Bellows Falls counted it a treat to be taken by Uncle Vene on a hunt. Often the old man would pretend to get lost almost in sight of home and keep the frightened and bewildered boys out all night in a shelter made in true Indian style. . . .

At one time he was crossing the river in his canoe, having indulged his appetite in the taverns at Bellows Falls. He was caught by the strong current and would have gone over the dam had not one of his neighbors put out in a boat and towed him to shore. The old gentleman was very indignant at being treated thus. When he was told that he would surely have gone over the dam he exclaimed, “Couldn’t I have put out a foot and braced?”
Adding more poignancy to that last story, two of Johnson’s sons drowned in the Connecticut River.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sylvanus Johnson “returned from captivity”

A few years ago, Ann M. Little shared this analysis of a passage, and an event, from A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. [Susanna] Johnson, Containing an Account of her Four Years of Suffering with the Indians and French:
First published in 1796, it told of her family’s experiences from 1754-58 as prisoners during the Seven Years War after they were captured in a raid on Fort Number Four in what’s now Charlestown, New Hampshire. Johnson relates this about the return of her son Sylvanus, whom she last saw at age six or seven. He was eleven before she saw him again:
In the October following [1758], I had the happiness to embrace my son Sylvanus; he had been above three years with the Indians, followed them in all their hunting excursions and learnt too many of their habits; to civilize him, and learn him his native language was a severe task, (136).
…In successive editions of her narrative, Susanna Johnson either gives us more details about Sylvanus’s condition, or she embroiders the story. From the 1814 third edition published after her death in 1810:
In October, 1758, I was informed that my son Sylvanus was at Northampton [Massachusetts], sick of a scald [a skin disease]. I hastened to the place, and found him in a deplorable situation; he was brought there by Major [Israel] Putnam, afterwards Gen. Putnam, with Mrs. [Jemima] How and her family, who had returned from captivity. The town of Northampton had taken the charge of him; his situation was miserable; when I found him, he had no recollection of me, but, after some conversation, he had some confused ideas of me, but no remembrance of his father. It was four years since I had seen him; he was then eleven years old. During his absence, he had entirely forgotten the English language, spoke a little broken French, but was perfect in Indian. He had been with the savages three years, and one year with the French. But his habits were somewhat Indian; he had been with them in their hunting excursions, and suffered numerous hardships; he could brandish a tomahawk or bend the bow; but these habits wore off by degrees, (130).
…The additions and changes in Susanna Johnson’s account also demonstrate the ways in which historical memory changes according to the times. Her account of her experiences in 1754-58 wasn’t published until nearly fifty years after the fact, but even then we see evidence of how the times continue to shape the story in the successive editions. By 1814, the “Indians” in the 1796 account became “the savages,” and she was much more fulsome about the injuries and changes that captivity had wrought on her young son in 1814, 1834, and perhaps successive editions too. In the later editions, what had been her “happiness to embrace [her] son Sylvanus” became a much more ambiguous account of their reunion, one that emphasized the child’s “deplorable” and “miserable” condition, as well as his trouble remembering his parents.

Henry Saunderson (among other nineteenth-century local historians) claims in his History of Charlestown, New Hampshire, that Sylvanus Johnson “so much preferred the modes of Indian life to the prevalent customs of civilization, that he often expressed regret at having been ransomed. He always maintained, and no arguments could convince him to the contrary, that the Indians were a far more moral race than the whites.” His boyhood captivity apparently had no long-term effects on his life and health, as he died at 84 in 1832, “leaving the reputation of an honest and upright man,” (458.)
Little was exploring the lives of captured children in connection with a biography she published last year, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. Like Sylvanus Johnson, Esther Wheelwright was seized at age seven and adopted into a Wabanaki family. Unlike him, Esther never returned to her family.

Instead, Esther Wheelwright became an Ursuline nun in French Canada and eventually a superior of her order. Her family in Boston tried to lure her back with bequests if she returned, and she never did. Her British heritage, while mostly forgotten, proved useful when Gen. James Wolfe captured Québec the year after Sylvanus Johnson returned to his mother.

TOMORROW: Sylvanus Johnson in the woods.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Princeton in the Snow

I did some public history work last weekend: read in some books, participated in a meeting about this year’s Boston Massacre, drafted some Boston 1775 postings while sitting out the snow.

But I sure didn’t do what a bunch of dedicated reenactors and living historians did in central New Jersey. The Princeton Battlefield Society, Morven Museum & Garden, and Old Barracks Museum teamed with His Majesty’s 17th Regiment of Infantry, Charles Wilson Peale’s Company of Philadelphia Associators, historian Will Tatum, and other individuals to reenact the British army’s occupation of Princeton in 1776-77.

And then the snowstorm arrived. The same snow we got here in Massachusetts, but earlier. And my goodness, that was photogenic!

The image above appears in a Facebook gallery by Wilson Freeman of Drifting Focus Photography. I heartily recommend clicking through the whole gallery. If there are other online collections of photos from this event, please recommend them in the comments.

Here’s a report on the event from Kitty Calash. No fingers or toes were lost in the snow, it’s good to know. And the participants and local spectators seem to have enjoyed an unforgettable experience.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Distant View of Roxbury During the Siege

Here’s an image from the siege of Boston preserved in the collections of the Library of Congress.

It’s a drawing labeled “View of Roxbury from the advanced guard house at the lines.” Probably created by a British army officer, it shows what the regulars looking down Boston Neck saw.

The “Road to Roxbo.” stretches off into the distance. There’s a box next to the road labeled “b”: that’s “Our advanced guard.” Further on is what looks like a picket fence and behind it “a”: “Rebbels Centinels.”

Over the hill is “Roxbury,” centered on the spire of a meetinghouse. To the right of that is the “Rebbels encampmt.” And to the left, for those of us interested in artillery, is the warning: “here the Rebbels have 4 field pieces.”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How John Howland Fetched Water “with two pails and a hoop”

In April 1770, at age thirteen, John Howland sailed from Newport to Providence to become an apprentice to barber Benjamin Gladding.

Apprentices, especially those who had barely begun their training, were required to do household chores. Because of the neighborhood where Gladding lived, one of those chores was especially tiring, as Howland recalled:

the water in all the wells between where the Arcade now stands and the great bridge was brackish, and the water for tea and washing was brought from the east side of the river from a pump on the Fenner estate, north of the “granite block” and the old “Coffee House.” Some of the families had rain water cisterns for their chief supply; but these were few, and it fell to the lot of the boys, some of whom were negroes, for slavery was then in fashion, to go with two pails and a hoop, across the bridge for a supply.

This was the hardest service I had yet experienced. There were so many families to be supplied, that we frequently met four or five boys at the pump at the same time, and we proceeded in procession with our pails across the bridge. On the evening before washing day the process was so often repeated that the labor was exhausting. I was one of the smallest boys, and never very stout; and while I am writing this, I seem to feel the same stretch of the joints of the elbows and shoulders, and sympathy in the back, which I then experienced.

The next year, 1771, the water-logs were laid from Field’s fountain to Weybosset bridge, to the great joy of all the boys on Weybosset Point. A few years after, as more buildings began to be erected, a contract was made with Amos Atwell to sink a fountain near Rawson’s tanyard, and lay the pipes through a narrow valley, to a place where Aborn street now is. These pipes were after extended to the old long wharf.
The water pipes were of course a great technological step forward. But I was also struck by another bit of technology Howland mentioned in passing: “two pails and a hoop.” I was familiar with how people carried matching pails or buckets on a wooden yoke carved for their shoulders (and not useful for anything else), but how was a hoop involved?

I found the answer in A Small Boy in the Sixties, a memoir written by George Sturt, born in Surrey, England, in 1863, and published by the Cambridge University Press shortly after his death in 1927.
In passing, notice should be taken of the proper way of carrying water or milk in a pail. In fact it is rather easier to carry two pails than one, for the sake of balance; but in either case it is well to have something to keep the pail from knocking against your knee and splashing you. In my childhood people used a girl’s wooden hoop for this. . . . A hoop laid on two pails (between the handles of them) did not add appreciably to the weight, and, keeping them apart, made a space to walk in. Nothing could be more convenient.
An 1895 report from the Smithsonian Institution stated, “It is a common thing in the country to see the boys and women using a hogshead hoop as a spreader.” An article in the London Mechanics’ Register of 1825 describes a similar arrangement, adding a rope draped around the carrier’s shoulders. The photo above is said to have been taken in Cornwall.