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, March 24, 2018

Fort Plain Museum’s American Revolution Conference, 7-10 June 2018

Fort Plain Museum’s American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference will take place this year from Thursday, 7 June, to Sunday, 10 June.

The event schedule includes author presentations, a bus tour of historic sites in central New York, genealogy consulting, and a fundraising dinner featuring first-person interpretations of two early Presidents.

Thursday, 7 June 2018 

Bus tour of historic sites featuring the events of 1778: the Battle of Cobleskill, the Cherry Valley Massacre, Springfield, Andrustown, Adam Helmer’s Run, Fort Herkimer, and Fort Plain/Rensselaer. Lunch stop in Cooperstown.
Friday, 8 June 2018

Genealogy Day: Visit Mohawk Country historic sites (sites, schedules, and admission fees to be posted separately). Sites will have presentations and/or historians on hand to discuss the families that fought on both sides during the American Revolution.
  • Russell Shorto,  “Revolution Song: America’s Founding Era in Six Remarkable Lives”
Saturday and Sunday, 9-10 June 2018

Author presentations:
  • Edward G. Lengel, “George Washington and the Burning of New York City, 1776”
  • Eric H. Schnitzer, “‘Hessians’ at the Battle of Bennington, 1777”
  • James L. Nelson, “Benedict Arnold’s Navy: The Story of the Rag Tag Fleet that Lost the Battle of Valcour Island and Won the American Revolution”
  • Don N. Hagist, “Redcoats Along the Mohawk: British Soldiers in Western New York, 1777-1783”
  • Bruce M. Venter, “Benedict Arnold’s Nemesis: Colonel John Brown’s Fateful Journey to the Mohawk Valley”
  • Jennifer DeBruin, “Traitors, Spies & Heroes: Loyalist Espionage in the American Revolution”
  • Glenn F. Williams, “Sir William Johnson, the Iroquois Confederacy, and Lord Dunmore’s War”
  • John Buchanan, “Two Warriors: George Washington and Sir William Howe
  • Wayne Lenig, “The Tryon County Committee of Safety”
There will also be a panel discussion featuring these authors on the topic “Patriot or Loyalist?” I’m not sure how these presentations will be divided between the two weekend days.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

“An Evening with Washington and Madison”
Fundraising Dinner at the Bridge Walk at the Perthshire, Amsterdam, N.Y.
George Washington and James Madison, as portrayed by Brian Hilton and Kyle Jenks, will discuss their journeys to upstate New York and other founding moments.

I enjoyed this conference two years ago. Though the venue has a lot of space, last year’s event nearly sold out. The last day to register is Thursday, 31 May.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Jacob Francis’s Story

In January I wrote three postings about Pvt. Jacob Francis and an anecdote he told about Gen. Israel Putnam when he applied for a U.S. pension.

Those postings have now prompted two more substantial and quite different articles at the Journal of the American Revolution website.

First and more important, Larry Kidder wrote up the information he had collected about Pvt. Francis into the fullest biography of the man yet published. Here’s a taste of his portrayal of the young man’s decision to join the Continental Army outside Boston in the fall of 1775:
Not knowing his family surname, Jacob used the name of his third “time” owner, Minne Gulick or Hulick, an Amwell farmer of Dutch ancestry. However he felt about the ideals of liberty and independence driving the Revolution, as a free black who had experienced indentured servitude most of his life, he probably enlisted at least partly because he was a young man accustomed to authority, who needed a job, and who may also have been seeking adventure. When approaching the recruiting officer, though, he found that free blacks were not encouraged to enlist and often not accepted.

From the time Washington took command at Cambridge, he wanted to exclude black men from the army. Washington interpreted the fact that there already were “boys, deserters, & negroes” in the Massachusetts regiments as proof that not enough qualified white men were enlisting. At the very time Jacob enlisted in October, Washington was discussing with his officers and Congress whether or not blacks should be enlisted and, while not unanimous, most leaders wanted to eliminate black enlistment entirely. By October 31, just days after Jacob’s enlistment, Washington’s general orders stated that blacks should not be enlisted and this order was reinforced in November.
That article fills out Pvt. Francis’s military experiences, particularly in his home state of New Jersey, and his life in the early republic. It’s a fine resource for people writing about African-American soldiers in the Revolution.

In addition, I assembled my postings about Jacob Francis’s anecdote into an article. While writing that, I found a third version of Francis’s story that a veteran of the siege of Boston named Simeon Locke reportedly told as an old man in Maine:
“‘I was a soldier in the army of the Revolution, and was detailed, with others, to build the breastworks on Dorchester Heights. A day or two after the works were begun, General Washington rode into the enclosure. I was a sentinel. Near me was a wheelbarrow and shovel; not far off was an idle soldier.

“‘“Why do you not work with the others?” asked Washington, addressing the soldier.

“‘“I am a corporal, sir,” he replied.

“‘The general immediately dismounted, and marched to the barrow, shovelled it full of sand, wheeled it to the breastworks, dumped his load, and returned the empty barrow to its place. Without uttering a word, he mounted his horse and rode away.’”
I still hope someone will find the first published version of that story from 1839, the source of the earliest examples I’ve unearthed. That could reveal more about how it got passed along, and how funny tales old soldiers told each other became moral lessons for the new republic.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Upcoming Talks in Bedford, Weston, and Burlington

As we continue to look forward to spring weather and the approach of Patriots Day, I’m giving multiple Road to Concord talks over the next few weeks.

Sunday, 25 March, 2:00 to 4:00 P.M.
“What the Bedford Minutemen Went to Guard in Concord”
Bedford Historical Society
Great Room, Old Town Hall, 16 South Road

On 18 Apr 1775, militiamen in Lexington spotted British officers passing through town on horseback. Locals quickly sent riders to Bedford, with the result that Bedford’s minute and militia companies were among the first to arrive at the North Bridge in Concord from neighboring towns. But why were all those communities on high alert in the spring of 1775?

This free event will start with refreshments, and I’ll speak at about 2:30. There will be book sales and signing after the talk.

Thursday, 29 March, 11:15 A.M. to 12:45 P.M.
“The Boston Revolution and the End of Tory Row”
Regis College Lifelong Learning, “Lunch, Listen & Learn” series
Fine Arts Center, Atrium, Regis College

On September 1, 1774, the Cambridge estates along the road to Watertown comprised a prosperous community, linked by bonds of family, religion, and politics. The following morning, thousands of rural militiamen crowded into town, demanding that royal officials resign. By the end of the month most of those families had moved out of their mansions, never to return. And inside Boston, Gov. Thomas Gage realized that he was witnessing a revolution.

This event is for members of Lifelong Learning at Regis College. I don’t think the public is allowed, but the organization might welcome new members.

Thursday, 5 April, 7:00 to 8:30 P.M.
“The Road to Concord: How Middlesex County Went to War”
Burlington Historical Society
Human Services Building, 61 Center Street, Burlington

Burlington was incorporated in 1799; before then, the area was part of Woburn. Like their neighbors, the farmers of that village were caught up in the “Powder Alarm” of 1774 and the Lexington Alarm of 1775. On the morning of 19 April, John Hancock and Samuel Adams found refuge in what’s now Burlington before moving on to Billerica. So what was all that fighting about?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Enoch Brooks’s Curious Bible

On 1 May 1785, Enoch and Hannah Brooks of Princeton, Massachusetts, had a son. The couple already had children Elisha (born in 1772), John (1774), Ezra (1776), Samuel (1779), and Hannah (1781).

Enoch Brooks had been the town’s assessor for four years before becoming its treasurer from 1780 until 1816, with only a couple of years off. He had also been a minuteman in 1775 and at some point a militia officer.

The Brookses named their new baby Enoch, after his father. (Another son, Stephen, would come in 1787.)

As little Enoch approached his fourth birthday, someone bought him a very special present: a copy of A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, or, Select Passages in the Old and New Testaments, Represented with Emblematical Figures, for the Amusement of Youth.

On the first page someone wrote in large, clear letters:
Enoch Brooks’
March, 13th. 1789.
As shown on the interior page above, this book retold stories from the Bible in rebus form. Isaiah Thomas had issued it from his Worcester press in 1788, copying a volume published in London five years before. (The British edition had in turn been modeled on German picture Bibles, which went back to the late 1600s.)

To create his edition, Thomas had to collect or commission 500 small woodcuts—more than had appeared in any other American book up to that time. But he could reuse those illustrations in other publications. Thomas found children’s books blending entertainment and instruction to be a lucrative field in the new American republic. Ultimately he published more than a hundred titles, most copied like this one from British originals.

Only four copies of Thomas’s Curious Hieroglyphick Bible are known to have survived the little hands of their early owners. Enoch Brooks’s copy is now at the Library of Congress, digitized for all.

As for young Enoch Brooks himself, he grew up in Princeton, married Polly Gregory in 1816, and had children of his own. Like his father, he held town office. He died in 1859. His wife lived until the age of ninety-nine, dying in 1890. Their gravestones stand side by side in Princeton’s Meetinghouse Cemetery.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Book “Taken in ye Field of Battle”

Last month the blog of the Clements Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, noted an unusual way of identifying books in its collection: as “battle estrays,” or books known to have been picked up in battle. No other library is known to use this term.

One example shown is the third volume of Jonathan Swift’s Miscellanies as published in London in 1742. It is inscribed:
22d-43d-54th-&-63d Regiments took possession of New York
—5 Brigade—
Taken in ye Field of Battle,
the 16th of September 1776—
The library blog said:
First Library director Randolph Adams noted in The Colophon that the British occupied the lower part of Manhatten Island on the 14th and 15th of September, then started up the island on the 16th. The battle [of Harlem Heights] on the 16th, in which this book was picked up, took place about what is now 126th St.
Not mentioned in the blog post, but noted in the book’s cataloguing record, is the bookplate. It shows the volume had been owned by the Rev. Dr. Myles Cooper, the president of King’s College. That institution later became Columbia University. It’s now located near the site of the fighting on 16 Sept 1776, but back then it was housed in one large building near modern New York City Hall.

If a volume from Cooper’s personal library was on “ye Field of Battle,” it had probably been looted from the college hall or his house. Cooper himself had fled America in May 1775. The college shut down, its building becoming a military hospital, so a lot of people might have had access. An American soldier or civilian might have taken the book and then dropped it on the retreat north, where a British soldier picked it up.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Orations at Old South, 21 Mar.

On Wednesday, 21 March, the Old South Meeting House will host “Speak Out!”, its fourth annual remembrance of the Boston Massacre orations.

From 1771 to 1783, Boston had a yearly town meeting to commemorate the fatal violence on King Street. The tradition was started by Dr. Thomas Young speaking at the Manufactory on 5 Mar 1770, and the town’s politicians decided the event was successful enough to make it an official occasion, not just a speech by a radical who wasn’t even from around here.

That year the town had assistant schoolmaster James Lovell speak in April. From then on, the orations were always on 5 March or, if that date fell on a Sunday, 6 March. The invited orator was usually a rising young politician. In order:
In 1783 Boston decided that remembering the Massacre was less vital now that Massachusetts was independent, and the town shifted its annual patriotic oration to the Fourth of July.

The Old South event focuses on the orations leading up to the war. The description says:
Join us to hear selected excerpts of these speeches, performed by an inter-generational group in the grand hall where the orations took place 240 years ago! Learn about the orations and their significance with special guests Bostonian Society Executive Director Nathaniel Sheidley, historian Robert Allison, and Dr. Joseph Warren biographer Dr. Samuel Forman. Audience members will also have the option to read from a selection of excerpts; prizes will be awarded to the most rousing orators in youth and adult categories!
This free event is co-sponsored by the History Department at Suffolk University, the Bostonian Society, and the Boston Public Schools’ Department of History and Social Studies.

All are welcome, but Old South asks people to please register in advance. The speeches start at 6:00 P.M. If the weather is bad, the event might be postponed for a week until 28 March.

ADDENDUM: This event has now been rescheduled for 28 March.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Various reports have been current”

I came across this report from America in The North-British Intelligencer: or Constitutional Miscellany, published on 8 May 1776. It gives a sense of the difficulty that the British people, and the British government, faced gathering information about what had happened in New England two months before.

Wednesday arrived a mail from Boston, in New England, brought to Falmouth by the Lord Hyde packet boat, Capt. Jefferys, She sailed from thence March 25, and brought dispatches from General [William] Howe for Government, and several letters, since which various reports have been current;

on one hand it was given out, that the provincial army had erected a battery at Phipp’s Farm [in Cambridge], from whence they began to play upon the town with cannon and bombs, a fortnight before the forces left the place; that on this Gen. Howe found it necessary to attempt to dislodge them; but the wind blowing hard, he found it impracticable to land where he intended; he therefore the next day sent, a flag of truce to General [George] Washington, offering to evacuate the town immediately, leaving behind him his artillery, stores, &c. which request was granted, and the next day he embarked his troops, amounting to about 7000, with 1500 inhabitants, and made the best of his way to Halifax.—

On the other hand it was said, that General Howe, with the troops under his command, after having blown up the works, and taken under his protection the friends of Government, evacuated that place, without being molested by the provincials, and embarked on board the ships in the harbour, and that the vessel which brought this advice set sail before it was known to what part of America the General intended to direct his course; The provincials marched into Boston.

But on farther enquiry this day, a Gentleman of veracity informs us, that General Howe evacuated Boston on the 24th of March, by orders from home, after destroying the works and fortifications. Several men of war are left to block up the harbour, and to prevent any transports falling into their hands. He further says, that a large body of provincials, a little before they embarked, took possession of Noddle Island, and that the General had sent a detachment of 2000 men, who attacked and drove some off, killed a great number, and took the rest prisoners. It was not certainly known where the General intended to go to; but many thought to Virginia, which being a flat country, the men could act to more advantage than farther north, which was in general very hilly.
Each of these reports was partly accurate—but some much more than others.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Blanket the British Army Left Behind

Today is Evacuation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the British military left Boston.

Back in 2013, Patrick Browne wrote on his blog Historical Digression about something the British left behind, an artifact now at the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society:
A number of British regiments were camped upon Boston Common. When they departed, they left all manner of gear strewn across that open space. We can imagine curious Bostonians picking through the debris when the British were gone. Frugal Yankees, they must have scavenged a good number of useful items.

One such Bostonian was William Hickling [1742-1790], a merchant, roughly 30 years old. He was a patriot who had been out and about on the fateful night of the Boston Massacre back in 1770, though, according to the deposition of Richard Palmes, Hickling went home before the real trouble began. Hickling had been, according to family tradition, rather more active during the Boston Tea Party in 1773 as evidenced by the tea leaves that were found in his shoes the following morning.
According to his will, quoted here, Hickling was officially a distiller, but he sold other things besides rum. His father was also a distiller named William Hickling (1704-1774), and he had a son and a nephew of the same name, so there’s opportunity for a lot of confusion.

The name of William Hickling doesn’t appear on most lists of men involved in the Tea Party, even the expansive roster in Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves. The family tradition that he helped to destroy the tea was nonetheless in print by 1900.

Other sources do show William Hickling as a participant in Boston’s pre-Revolutionary politics. But which William Hickling attended the Sons of Liberty dinner in Dorchester in 1769? Which was renting rooms to Pvt. James Hartigan and his new wife Elizabeth in 1770? Which was a member of the North End Caucus in 1772? I’ll play the odds and say that Palmes encountered the younger William Hickling (and his brother John) on 5 Mar 1770, and that the younger William was also the caucus member, but I won’t hazard a guess about the other questions.

The William Hickling born in 1742 was almost certainly the man who joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1764 and served as paymaster of Col. John Brooks’s Continental Army regiment in 1777 and 1778.

But back to the spring of 1776 and Patrick Browne’s essay:
Foraging across Boston Common, Hickling probably picked up a number of things. One of them was the white woolen blanket of a British soldier. The “standard issue” blanket, bearing the royal symbol of the King’s Arrow and the initials “GR” for George Rex (or King George) eventually made its way to Duxbury, Massachusetts after William’s death when his widow moved in with her daughter [Sarah] and son-in-law, bringing a number of Hickling family objects with her. The son-in-law was Captain Gershom Bradford, a Duxbury master mariner. Fast forward to 1968, Gershom Bradford’s house, along with a vast number of family belongings, was donated to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society by the captain’s great-grandsons.
It sounds like the blanket didn’t come with a provenance, not like the tea story. But it certainly appears to be a standard-issue British army blanket.

Friday, March 16, 2018

“Enlisted for six months & served that time”

Capt. Moses Harvey’s November 1775 advertisement (which I quoted Wednesday) pointedly described five men who had deserted from his Continental Army company in the preceding summer.

What happened, I asked myself, to those men? And quickly I had to give up on Simeon Smith of Greenfield and Matthias Smith of (I think) Springfield because their names are just too common.

Nor could I find anything about John Daby of Sunderland, even under the spelling Darby or Derby. (There was a different John Daby from Harvard.)

Likewise, there are multiple men named John Guilson or Gilson in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors and U.S. pension records, but their details don’t mesh with the guy in Harvey’s company. White and Maltsby’s Genealogical Gleanings of Siggins, and Other Pennsylvania Families (1918) states that our John Gilson was born in 1750 in Groton, but was in Sunderland in 1769 to marry Patience Graves. According to descendants, they married on 20 June; their first daughter, Lydia, arrived on 30 December, explaining why they married.

The Gilsons were still in Sunderland in 1783, but by 1791 they had moved to Salisbury, Connecticut, where they had a daughter named Betsey. (There may well have been other children.) After some time in New York the family moved out to western Pennsylvania in 1803—different sources say they traveled “by ox-cart” or “in canoes and flat-boats.” John Gilson died in Warren, Pennsylvania, in 1811, and was later considered one of that town’s pioneers.

The best documented of Capt. Harvey’s five deserters is Gideon Graves, though once again I had to sort him out from a man of the same name. Gideon Graves of Palmer (1758-1834), when applying for a Revolutionary War pension, said he had served “two months at Roxbury & four months at Ticonderoga” before joining Col. John Crane’s artillery in March 1777. Somehow he produced two pension files.

The Gideon Graves from Sunderland was a younger brother of Patience (Graves) Gilson. He was a son of Reuben and Hannah Graves, born in 1753. John Montague Smith’s History of the Town of Sunderland (1899) quotes an unidentified local diary from “sometime in the ’70’s” saying: “Gideon Graves caught a buck alive.” Which is rather impressive, though hard to pin down.

Graves applied for a federal pension while living in Stillwater, Saratoga County, New York, in 1818. He stated
That in the year 1775 he enlisted for six months & served that time and was in the battles of Bunker Hill near Boston & in 1776 he served nine months in Capt. [Phineas] Smiths Company Colonel [Elisha] Porters Regiment of the Massachusetts line [a militia regiment assigned to the northern campaign]. That for the last term of his Service he was a Sergeant.
Furthermore, this Graves enlisted for a third time in Bennington in 1777, joining Col. Rufus Putnam’s regiment and serving until 1782. He also testified to having been wounded at Saratoga.

Thus, in his pension application Graves stretched his service in 1775 and said nothing about how he had gone home without permission. But he did reenlist and spent years as a soldier. For him, not wanting to serve under Ens. Eliphalet Hastings wasn’t just an excuse to justify leaving the army for good. The U.S government awarded Graves a pension. He died intestate in Saratoga County, New York, in 1824.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Problem with Ens. Eliphalet Hastings

Yesterday I quoted Capt. Moses Harvey’s newspaper advertisement from November 1775, minutely describing five soldiers who had deserted from his Continental Army company.

Harvey surmised that those men had left for these feeble reasons:
They have been apt to make excuses for their running away, and intimate they took a dislike to one Eliphalet Hastings, who was put in Ensign over them, and found much fault with the continental allowance.
Of course, it’s a soldier’s prerogative to grumble about food and pay. But what was the problem with the new ensign?

Eliphalet Hastings (1734-1824) was a veteran soldier. He had enlisted early in the French and Indian War, a decision that didn’t turn out well. In January 1760 the Massachusetts legislature voted to pay him £8 because
in the Year 1757 being a Soldier in the pay of this Province, he was taken Prisoner by the Indians near Fort William Henry by whom he was sold to the French and carried to Quebeck from whence he was sent to France where he remained till October 1758 when he was sent to England; and did not return home till May 1759
Hastings’s descendants understood that he had also participated Gen. James Wolfe’s Québec campaign and even “assisted in carrying General Wolfe to the rear, when mortally wounded.” But the timing for that would be awfully tight.

In April 1775, Hastings had marched as a minuteman, then rose to sergeant as Massachusetts formed its army. According to his pension application, he
was in the battle of Bunkers hill, commanded a company in Col Jonathan Brewers Regt in the Massachusetts line, had twenty-nine killed and eleven wounded besides myself out of seventy nine in that action, had my right arms and collar bone shot to pieces
Col. Brewer’s regiment was stationed mostly between the provincial breastwork and the rail fence. It got pretty shot up, with Brewer (d. 1784) and Lt. Col. William Buckminster (1736-1786) both wounded. But a Massachusetts report in 1775 said that in all the regiment suffered twelve dead and twenty-two wounded, far less than the figures Hastings recalled for one company decades later.

Col. Brewer had already gotten into hot water for aggressive recruiting tactics in Middlesex and Worcester Counties. He in turn complained about other colonels, on 4 July petitioning the Massachusetts legislature about how
a number of men that enlisted in different Companies in my Regiment have, through the low artifice and cunning of several recruiting officers of different Regiments, re-enlisted into other Companies, being over-persuaded by such arguments as, that Colonel Brewer would not be commissioned, and that if they did not immediately join some other Regiment, they would be turned out of the service; others were tempted with a promise to have a dollar each to drink the recruiting officer’s health; others by intoxication of strong liquor; by which means a considerable number have deserted my Regiment, as will be made to appear by the returns therefrom, as also the different Companies and Regiments they are re-enlisted into.
Around the same date, on 1 July, Eliphalet Hastings was appointed an ensign in the company of Capt. Moses Harvey. I can’t tell which company Hastings had been a sergeant in—perhaps Capt. Edward Blake’s—but it wasn’t Harvey’s.

Capt. Harvey was a late addition to Brewer’s regiment, not listed among his officers in early June. He had also come late to the Battle of Bunker Hill. A soldier from that company named Moses Clark recalled, “I was on the march towards Bunkers Hill on the day that battle was fought we arrived there just after the battle ended, while our men were carrying away the wounded.”

Col. Brewer appears to have assigned Ens. Hastings to Capt. Harvey’s company, rewarding a wounded veteran and filling out that company’s ranks so he could have more soldiers under him. But that created a problem.

Moses Harvey had been born in Sunderland, in the part of town that became Montague in 1754, and he had recruited men from that area. Of the five soldiers in his deserter ad, three had enlisted in Sunderland: John Daby; Gideon Graves, born in that town in 1753; and John Guilson, born in Groton in 1750 and married to Graves’s sister in 1769. Simeon Smith came from Greenfield and Matthias Smith from Springfield, other towns in the Connecticut River Valley. Capt. Harvey knew them so well he could describe them in acute detail.

In contrast, Eliphalet Hastings lived in Waltham, on the eastern side of Middlesex County. Harvey’s men didn’t know him. By tradition, New England soldiers enlisted under neighbors they knew and trusted. They expected to elect their own officers instead of having someone assigned over them. So over the summer of 1775 those five men decided to head back home to western Massachusetts.

Capt. Harvey was lenient enough not to advertise for their return right away; he didn’t even report them as deserted until 27 September. But as November came around, there was new pressure from Gen. George Washington to recruit soldiers for the coming year. Harvey might have thought his own hopes to remain in the army depended on showing that he could maintain discipline in his company. So on 8 November he finally put his neighbors’ names and descriptions into the newspaper. Did he really expect them to return, or did he just want to make their lives in and around Sunderland a little less comfortable?

TOMORROW: What became of those deserters?