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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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Breakfast with Charles Lee and Spado

On 31 May 1776, Samuel Johnston wrote a letter to his sister Hannah Iredell from Halifax, North Carolina, describing what people were talking about in that town.
Instead of politics, the general topic of conversation in this place is horses, a subject which, though apparently perfectly understood, and repeatedly talked over, seems never to be exhausted.

When I first came up Gen. [Charles] Lee and his dogs had entirely supplanted the horses; a number of little anecdotes are told of them—among others, the general will not suffer Spado to eat bacon for breakfast (a practice very general both with gentlemen and ladies in this part of the country) lest it should make him stupid—

this piece of satire, however, has not prejudiced him in their good opinion: he is considered as a very polite, well-bred, and sensible gentleman by every one I have heard speak of him, making allowances for a few oddities, which all great men are indulged in, and which were not so many as they had reason, from report, to expect.
The Continental Congress had put Charles Lee in charge of the Southern Department on 1 May. He wrote from Williamsburg, Virginia, that he planned to set out for Halifax on 12 May, and he was there from the 20th to the 24th. Then he moved further south, reaching Charleston in early June.

Lee took command in South Carolina, unifying the Continental and militia forces and strengthening the port’s defenses. On 28 June Gen. Henry Clinton’s redcoats tried to take Fort Sullivan and failed. Soon afterwards, the Congress declared independence from Britain. That was the high point of the American cause for several more years, and Lee shared credit with Gen. George Washington for driving the British army out of the thirteen new states.

Johnston’s letter preserves a moment when Americans were still enthusiastic about Gen. Lee, forgiving his oddities, such as those dogs, and calling him “a very polite, well-bred, and sensible gentleman.” That reputation wouldn’t survive his rivalry with Washington. In the next century it’s hard to find any American historian writing about Lee as positively as Americans in 1776.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Isaiah Thomas and a Woman of Pleasure

In 1786, the London bookseller Thomas Evans wrote to Isaiah Thomas, who had finally established himself as a printer in Worcester: “The Memoirs of a W. of P. which if you must have, [I] must beg you will apply to some of the Captains coming here, as it is an article I do not send my Customers if I can possibly avoid it.”

John Cleland’s erotic novel The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, also known as Fanny Hill, had been published in London in 1748-49 by “G. Fenton,” otherwise unknown. On 11 Dec 1752, Garrat Noel advertised that book for sale in the New-York Gazette; its title appeared at the end of a long list of books that started with “Bibles.” By that point, however, Cleland and the reputed printers had been prosecuted for obscenity, and the publication driven underground.

Which is not to say Fanny Hill had disappeared—there were several British editions over the next thirty years, but most were still credited to “G. Fenton” since the authorities could do nothing to him.

Did Thomas ever get his hands on the book? He definitely did, as the American Antiquarian Society’s Past Is Present blog showed a few years back.
…the marbled boards…covering AAS’s copy of Jonas Hanway’s Advice from Farmer Trueman to His Daughter Mary…are actually unbound, unused copies of John Cleland’s quite vicious Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (popularly known as Fanny Hill).

Marcus McCorison, AAS President Emeritus, bibliographer, and author of an essay on early American printing of Fanny Hill, has pointed to the “curious juxtaposition of pious works” bound with such risqué words. Perhaps an impertinent binder, with a supply of marbled Fanny Hill sheets at his side and a Hanway book to bind, covered this copy of Advice From Farmer Trueman. The binder may never have thought that the marbling would wear away, expose Cleland’s words, and reveal the binder to be quite the ironist.
That posting goes on to note that McCorison also found that “In 1814, AAS founder Isaiah Thomas bound many of his newspapers in pages from Fanny Hill.” So Thomas had copies.

McCorison argued that those papers came from an edition of the novel printed in northern New England around 1813, once again credited to “G. Fenton.” In 1817 the printer Anson Whipple of Walpole, New Hampshire, had 293 copies of Fanny Hill in stock. The following year, someone complained to the governor of New Hampshire about copies being sold there, and over the next few years authorities in Massachusetts and New York prosecuted half a dozen men for selling copies of the book.

And who had bankrolled Anson Whipple in his printing business, sent him stock to sell, and remained his senior partner until 1817? None other than his father-in-law, Isaiah Thomas. Some book historians therefore think Thomas was secretly involved in publishing Fanny Hill for American readers after all.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Celebration in North Stratford, Connecticut

On 5 June 1783 the Vermont Gazette of Bennington published an “Extract of a letter from Stratford, in Connecticut, dated May 27, 1783.” It read:
Yesterday the inhabitants of North Stratford convened for a rejoicing for the memorable declaration of peace and American independence.

At one o’clock they assembled at the meeting house, where the Rev. Mr. [James] Beebee made an excellent prayer, before and after which singing was performed with great accuracy. Mr. LEWIS BEEBEE, a student in Yale College, delivered a very elegant Oration on the first discovery and settlement of this country, the occasion of the unnatural war and the various strategems made use of by the enemy to subjugate these states, after which a suitable anthem was performed.

The ladies were then invited to partake of a refreshment provided for them, and about 200 gentlemen and ladies took their seats. The militia performed many manoeuvres, and went through the prepared firing by platoons and street firings with great exactness, after which a stage was set in the midst of the concourse of people, and the following toasts were drank, viz.

1st. The United States in Congress assembled.

2d. General Washington, the Officers and soldiers under his command.

3d. Our faithful and illustrious allies.

4th. The friendly powers of Europe.

5th. The Governor and Company of the State of Connecticut.

6th. May the peace prove glorious to America and last forever.

7th. May tyranny and despotism sink, and rise no more.

8th, May war prove an admonition to Great Britain, and the present peace teach its inhabitants their true interests.

9th. The Navy of the United States of America.

10th, May our trade and navigation extend to both the Indies, and the balance in our favour.

11th, May the union of these American States be perpetual and uninterrupted.

12th, May the American Flag be a scourge to tyrants.

13th. May the virtuous daughters of America bestow their favors only on those who have courage to defend them.

14th. May Vermont be received into the federal union, & the Green Mountain Boys flourish.

After each toast a cannon was discharged. The greatest decency and decorum, was observed throughout the whole.
The item was signed “AARON HAWLEY, Toast-master.” (At least I think that’s the final word. The page from this newspaper that made it onto microfilm isn’t complete.)

Another description of the day, differing in wording, small details, and the order of two toasts, appears between quotation marks in Samuel Orcutt’s A History of the Old Town of Stratford and the City of Bridgeport (1886). Orcutt stated no source, but he might have quoted a Connecticut newspaper I haven’t located.

The toasts provide a snapshot of what that New England village—North Stratford became the town of Trumbull in 1797—hoped for as the Revolutionary War officially ended. The fourteenth toast for Vermont, and the letter sent there describing the event, reflect Connecticut’s close ties to that territory. Later historians have connected this late-May celebration with Memorial Day, but the emphasis is different.

(The photograph above shows the Joseph Plumb house in Trumbull, built around 1780.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

“Curnul putnum Com & ordered us down”

Here’s the rest of Pvt. James Stevens’s account of his Andover company’s fight along the Chelsea shore on this date in 1775.

When we left Stevens on the night of 27 May 1775, the Royal Navy schooner Diana had run aground near the ferry landing on the north side of Boston harbor.
Sunday ye 28 this morning a bout day thay [i.e., British sailors] come with thare barjes to bord the sconer

Curnul [Israel] putnum Com & ordered us down to the whoife & we fired so that thay retreted back to the sloup

our men run down & fired [i.e., set fire to] the sconer & it burnt very fast

the slup begun to to of [“to tow off”]

in about three qurters of a our after it was sot on fire the magersene Blod up [give it a minute…it’ll come…“magazine blowed up”!] & blod out some plunder

thay fired from Nodles oiland on us sun about an our hy

we are retreted back to our packs & gout our Brekfust

the slups drad of to Boston

there was of our men wounded fore & non cild [“none killed”!]

after the fier was gon down the men went & got out the plunder out of the rack [“wreck”]

in the afternune there come down about fore hundred men to relieve us & there was of us about a hundred & twenty men of us

tords night thay got tems & cared a lode of to Cambridge

we staid all night

Munday ye 29 this morning we went down to the sconer & got out som more of the plunder we staed about while the afternune & then set of for Cambridg we got up to Cambridg about dusk being very much feteged
News of this small but clear victory arrived in Philadelphia just as the Continental Congress was considering the New England colonies’ invitation to take control of their army. The reports of Putnam’s aggressive leadership during the fight prompted the Congress to make him a major general, moving him above more senior colleagues such as John Thomas and Joseph Spencer. That caused kerfuffles for Gen. George Washington to sort out when he arrived in Cambridge in July.

As it turned out, the fight off Chelsea was the last Continental victory Putnam got to see. He remained with the army until he suffered a stroke in 1779, but he was never again present for a win.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pvt. James Stevens Goes into the Chelsea Fight

On 27 May 1775, the New England army went into their first sustained fight against the British military since the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

That skirmish has been overshadowed by larger and more consequential battles in the previous and next months. It was initially called the fight at Chelsea or the fight over Noddle’s Island, and decades later a local historian tried to elevate it to the Battle of Chelsea Creek.

Here’s the start of a battle report from Pvt. James Stevens of Andover, whose company fought from the mainland:
Saterday ye [27] this morning I was Cald on feteg

we went & workd in the forenune we Come hom to diner & there was a perty agoing of sumer [“a party going off somewhere”] but where I cant tel

we got redy to go & there Com a expres that the regerlers was a landing some said at miskit [“Mystic” or Medford] but we marcht to miskit & then we herd that thay was at Chelsy

we marcht very fast we got dow[n] within a quarter of a mile of the fery & then halted & our ofisers went to louk out to place the canon

thay went round by the water while thay come in sight of the sconer when as son as the regerlers [actually Royal Navy marines] saw our men thay fired on them

then the firing Begun on boath sides & fired very worm

there come a man & ordered us over a nol rit into the mouths of the [British] canon

we got on to the top of the nol & the grap shot & canon bauls com so thik that we retreted back to the rode & then marcht down to the fery

the regerlers shouted very much

our men got the canon & plast them & gave them tow or three guns sids and the firing set in so[me] masure & there was a terrabel cry a monst the regerlers

thay fired wonc & a wile all night

about ten aclok the sconer run on to the wais & stuk fast

there come a slup for hur relief

thay left the sconur
Of course, Royal Navy commanders was not happy about leaving H.M.S. Diana aground near the Winnimisset ferry landing. Stevens’s commanders rightly expected that the British would be back the next morning for their ship.

TOMORROW: The fighting continues.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Looking through Jefferson’s Eyes

Another provocative recent article about the eighteenth century is Maurizio Valsania’s “French Hovels, Slave Cabins, and the Limits of Jefferson’s Eyes” on the Oxford University Press blog.

Valsania, a professor of American history at the University of Torino, writes of Thomas Jefferson:
Jefferson’s powerful eyes constantly dissected and analyzed: especially for scientific reasons, Jefferson spied on people’s lives. He always wanted to see, and to see firsthand. During his famous tour of southern France and northern Italy in the spring of 1787, he saw examples of misery and wretchedness—especially where lower classes were concerned. He had entered the shacks of French peasants incognito. To peep into people’s dwellings was for Jefferson the best method to assess their identity and evaluate their circumstances. “You must ferret the people out of their hovels as I have done,” Jefferson wrote to his friend Lafayette, “look into their kettles, eat their bread, loll on their beds under pretence of resting yourself, but in fact to find if they are soft.”

Most likely, this Jeffersonian method of spying did more than just provide reliable sociological data: it enhanced his empathy. Reading this letter to Lafayette, the reader gets the impression that Jefferson drew himself closer to these hapless human beings, pitying them and caring for their conditions, seeing them for who they actually were. But in other ways, Jefferson’s eyes were blind: did he ever actually see his slaves’ cabins? Did he ever ferret slaves out of their shackles to observe and meditate about their condition?

Most of Jefferson’s slaves were confined in cramped living quarters, leading lives undoubtedly worse than those led by French peasants. But there is no clear trace of empathy on the part of Jefferson for his slaves. His correspondence, his memorandum books, and especially his farm book show us how Jefferson consistently saw his slaves—at least the huge majority of them. Black bodies are usually crouched to perform vile doings; they are dirty, their faces often bear a hideous grin, and their countenance is disfigured by hard labor. By and large, Jefferson covered black bodies in “negro cloth,” rough osnaburgs, coarse duffels, or bristly mixtures of hemp and cotton.

In respect to African-American slaves, Jefferson’s eyes were myopic at best. Perhaps this was a personal fault, or perhaps this eighteenth-century man was simply hindered by the peculiar institution in which he was reared. But some slaves at Monticello led deliberate lives and exerted a lot of effort to appear different. In the slave cabins on Mulberry Row, especially those occupied by the large Hemings family, we catch a glimpse of what kind of differentiated selves Jefferson’s luckier “servants” were trying to preserve.
Valsano then quotes Jefferson’s youngest great-grandchild describing one Hemings family she had visited as a little child, recalling their “white counterpane and ruffled pillow cases,” their “little table with it’s [sic] clean white cloth, and a shelf over it, on which stood an old fashioned band box with wall paper covering, representing dogs running.”

I checked those reminiscences, set down in 1889, to see if that descendant might be seeking to mitigate how Jefferson and his immediate family treated their slaves. But they show no sign of that; that great-granddaughter was simply preserving a vibrant memory she had seen with her young, unclouded eyes.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Downfall of James Otis

Earlier this month the Smithsonian magazine website shared Erick Trickey’s article on James Otis, Jr.—“Why the Colonies’ Most Galvanizing Patriot Never Became a Founding Father.”

In the 1760s, only Patrick Henry and John Dickinson rivaled Otis as a leading voice for resistance to Crown policies—as advocate for the Boston merchants in the writs of assistance case; as a pamphleteer; and as a politician at the head of Boston’s town meeting, the Massachusetts General Court, and the Stamp Act Congress of 1765.

Trickey writes:
All that defiance damaged Otis’ marriage. Ruth, a loyalist, disagreed with her husband’s politics. “He mentioned his wife—said she was a good wife, too good for him—but she was a Tory,” John Adams wrote in his diary. “She gave him certain lectures.” Meanwhile, as tensions rose in Boston, Otis worried that the colonies would soon reach a boiling point. “The times are dark and trying,” he told legislators in 1769. “We may soon be called on in turn to act or to suffer.”

His words proved all too true. That summer, he learned that the four British customs commissioners [actually only four of the five] in Boston had complained about him in letters to London. Enraged, he accused them of slander in a local newspaper. They were “superlative blockheads,” he wrote, threatening to “break [the] head” of commissioner John Robinson. The next night, Otis found Robinson at the British Coffee House near Boston’s Long Wharf and demanded “a gentleman’s satisfaction.” Robinson grabbed Otis by the nose, and the two men fought with canes and fists. The many loyalists in the coffee house pushed and pulled Otis and shouted for his death. British officers stood by and watched.

Otis was left bleeding. Months later, he still had a deep scar; “You could lay a finger in it,” John Adams recalled. The trauma unhinged his already fragile psyche. He started drinking heavily, expressing regret for opposing the British, and wandering Boston’s streets.
The fight between Otis and Robinson always makes me think of dueling, though New England men of their generation weren’t actually good at that practice. The nose grab, the beating with a cane—those were ways one gentleman showed contempt for another, implying he wasn’t on the same social level. In this case, each man tried to mete out the same treatment at the same time. Otis got the worst of the moment, but Robinson had to leave America.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Jean Fritz’s Revolution

The author Jean Fritz died earlier this month at the age of 101. Obituaries in the New York Times and Washington Post described how she was born and raised in China, a daughter of American missionaries, and started to research her country’s history from afar.

Fritz most widely read books are biographies of famous Americans, many of them from the Revolutionary period, for young readers. Those books took various forms, but most were short and well illustrated by some of the industry’s rising stars. The first batch was published into the Bicentennial but proved popular and solidly researched enough to remain in print for decades, even as standards for juvenile nonfiction became more demanding:
  • And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (1973)
  • Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (1974)
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (1975)
  • Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? (1975)
  • Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? (1976)
  • Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution (1976)
  • Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold (1981)
  • What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (1988)
  • The Great Little Madison (1989)
  • George Washington’s Mother (1992)
  • Why Not Lafayette? (1999)
  • Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider (2011)
Early in her career Fritz also wrote three historical novels for children touching on the eighteenth century:
  • The Cabin Faced West (1958) about frontier Pennsylvania in 1784, with a cameo appearance by Washington.
  • Early Thunder (1967), set in Salem just before the Revolutionary War begins.
  • George Washington’s Breakfast (1969), dramatizing the process of historical research.
In this interview by schoolchildren, Fritz told how one of those novels led to one of her biographies:
I had written Early Thunder, which was a fictional story that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, right before the Revolution. It was around the time of the bicentennial. And a TV station called me and they wanted to make it into a movie. But they changed their minds because there was no chase in the story! So I thought of the story of Benedict Arnold, and there was a chase in that story, so I decided to tell it.
Finally, Fritz’s only book for adults was Cast for a Revolution: Some American Friends and Enemies, 1728–1814 (1972), about Mercy Warren and her circle.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Architecture Seminar at Redwood Library, 10 June

The Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island, is hosting its annual seminar on Saturday, 10 June. This year’s gathering is on the theme of “Colonial Classics: The Redwood Library & American Architecture in the 18th Century.”

The scheduled speakers include:
  • Caroline Culp, Stanford University, “Peter Harrison and the Redwood Library”
  • Fabio Barry, Stanford University, “Jefferson’s Trans-Plantation at Monticello: Antiquity and Anxiety”
  • Mario Bevilacqua, University of Florence, “Piranesi in Eighteenth-Century America: Ancient Models for the New Nation”
  • Carl R. Lounsbury, College of William and Mary, “Metropolitan Prototypes and Provincial Filters: Public Building in Eighteenth-Century British America”
Peter Harrison designed the library itself to be impressive from the harbor. He also designed other notable buildings in Rhode Island and, if we accept the breathless credits of the Colonial Revival period, all around New England. But most likely Harrison was just one of many builders bringing Georgian design standards to America.

As the A4 Architecture Inc. blog explains, the diagram at top comes from Palladio’s Fourth Book of Architecture. The photo shows the part of the Redwood Library that Harrison designed. There are…similarities.

The seminar will begin at 1:30 P.M. Tickets are $60 per person. For reservations, or call 401-847-0292, ext. 117.

Monday, May 22, 2017

“It was easy to discover that he was a curious Character“

Yesterday I quoted Abigail Adams’s description of visiting Carisbrooke Castle in England in 1788.

That passage from her travel account continues:
We returnd to Newport to dine. After dinner a Gentleman introduced himself to us by the Name of Sharp. Professed himself a warm and zealous Friend to America. After some little conversation in which it was easy to discover that he was a curious Character he requested that we would do him the Honour to go to his House and drink Tea. We endeavourd [to] excuse ourselves, but he would insist upon it, and we accordingly accepted.

He carried us home and introduced to us an aged Father of 90 Years, a very surprizing old Gentleman who tho deaf appeard to retain his understanding perfectly. Mrs. Sharp his Lady appeard to be an amiable woman tho not greatly accustomed to company. The two young Ladies soon made their appearence, the Youngest about 17 very Beautifull. The eldest might have been thought Handsome, if she had not quite spoild herself by affectation. By aiming at politeness she overshot her mark, and faild in that Symplicity of manners which is the principal ornament of a Female Character.

This Family were very civil, polite and Friendly to us during our stay at Cowes. We drank Tea with them on the Sunday following and by their most pressing invitation we dined with them the tuesday following. Mr. Sharp is a poet, a man of reading and appears to possess a good mind and Heart and enthusiastick in favor of America. He collected a number of his Friends to dine with us all of whom were equally well disposed to our Country and had always Reprobated the war against us.
The Adams Papers doesn’t identify this man, but I suspect he was William Sharp, Jr., author of the poem “Sincerity” (1763) and A Rumble from Newport to Cowes, in the Isle of Wight (1784). The latter book has this to say about the recent American war:
O passing fate of things below!
No Immortality they know:
Change will on all her marks inscribe,
Except the ministerial Tribe,
And their vile Masters; they ne’er range;
To Pelf still true, they never change.
Be curs’d their arts and selfish ends
Who sink to foes and separate friends:
Where are the flags that once display’d
The blessings of a mutual trade: Where
Where are the crowded wharfs which own’d
America’s chaste produce round:
Discharg’d to give the state their pay,
Before they shap’d a distant way.
Yeah, it’s all like that. I think Abigail was lucky to get away without hearing more.

A footnote on this passage explains: “The CAROLINA trade was a great article at Cowes, many thousand barrels of Rice being unloaded here every season, and repack’d for market; after paying duty, afforded much employment and profit.” So Sharp felt the “ministerial Tribe” had damaged the local economy by disrupting trade with America for their own “selfish ends.” And he and his fellow Isle of White Whigs had opposed Lord North’s policy toward the American colonies.

The picture above comes from the frontispiece of Sharp’s 1784 poetry book. It shows the landscape of the Isle of Wight between the port of Cowes and the central town of Newport, a scene that Adams herself probably saw four years later.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Visiting Carisbrooke Castle with Abigail Adams

Earlier this year author Jaime Mormann sent me an email noting a passage from Abigail Adams’s account of her travels in Great Britain while she was wife of the U.S. Minister.

In the spring of 1788 Adams went to the Isle of Wight off England’s southern coast:
On tuesday we went to Newport in order to visit Carisbrook Castle. This is a very ancient Ruins. The first account of it in English History is in the year 1513. This is the castle where Charles the first was kept a prisoner and they shew you the window from whence he attempted to escape.

In this castle is a well of such a depth that the water is drawn from it by an ass walking in a wheel like a turn spit dog. The woman who shew it to us told us it was 300 feet deep. It is Beautifully stoned and in as good order as if finishd but yesterday. She lighted paper and threw [it] down to shew us its depth and dropping in a pin, it resounded as tho a large stone had been thrown in. We went to the Top of the citidal which commands a most extensive prospect.
Mormann added:
Out of curiosity, I checked to see if the castle still holds tours as it did in 1788. Sure enough (’cause England is awesome like that), they still do. Their website even features many of the things Abigail mentions in her journal entry.
Including the asses! (Now carefully called donkeys.)

TOMORROW: More of Abigail Adams’s experience of Newport, England.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

“Clothing & Character” Symposium in Lexington, 3-4 June

Hallie Larkin and Stephanie Smith at the Sign of the Golden Scissors, along with Larissa Sasgen and Sandy Spector, are organizing their first symposium, titled “18th Century: Clothing & Character in Context.”

This event will explore clothing, material culture, and character development for interpreters of the 1700s. It is scheduled to take place in Lexington, Massachusetts, on the weekend of 3-4 June 2017.

Expert speakers are coming from Virginia, New Jersey, and New York, as well as many parts of New England. Presentations scheduled for Saturday include:
  • Matthew Brenckle, “Dock Workers, Sailors & Fishermen: Making a Living in 18th-Century Boston.”
  • Will Tatum, “Men’s Clothing in New England 1760-1770: The Hallmarks of Fashion Prior to the War of Independence.”
  • Hallie Larkin & Stephanie Smith, “18th-Century Textiles for Colonial Clothing: Making Choices in the Modern Marketplace.”
  • John Nichols, “Hide Fashion: Leather Breeches, Common Wear out of Common Materials.”
  • Lynne Zacek Bassett, “‘Idle Hands are the Devil’s Workshop’: 18th-Century Needlework in New England.”
  • Niel Vincent De Marino, “Setting the Table: Interpreting and Presenting Food in the 18th-Century Manner.”
  • Gregory Theberge, “Beyond the Musket: Utilizing Documented Material Culture to Enhance Your Impression.”
Hands-on workshops scheduled for Sunday are:
  • Roy Najecki, “Make a Cartridge Box.”
  • Sharon Burnston & Kirsten Hammerstrom, “Inhabiting the Clothes.”
  • Larissa Sasgen & Meléna Streitman, “Where Are the Primary Sources?”
  • Niel Vincent De Marino, “Cutting a Proper 18th-Century Figure.”
  • Larissa Sasgen, “The Right Hair for the Right Cap” and “Styling Men’s Wigs in the Neatest Manner.”
  • Stephanie Smith & Victoria Brenckle, “Do This—Not That!: Quick and Easy Fixes” (two workshops, for women and for men).
  • Hallie Larkin, “Introduction to 18th-Century Whitework” and “18th-Century Quilted Petticoats Inside and Out.”
Registration for Saturday, 3 June, costs $85 and includes a boxed lunch and snacks. For the Sunday workshops, a morning or afternoon session costs $50, or $90 for both, with an additional materials fee for some workshops. See the brochure (P.D.F. download) for all details.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Joseph Pope’s Orrery in “The Philosophy Chamber”

Eventually, Joseph Pope’s orrery went to Harvard College. I’ll tell that story in more detail sometime, but today I’m highlighting how the machine is on display once more as part of the Harvard Art Museums’ new exhibit, “The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820.”

As this Harvard Gazette article explains, the Philosophy Chamber housed the college’s finest scientific instruments, biological and anthropological specimens, and artistic treasures in the early republic. The new exhibit is an attempt to recreate that assemblage.
The exhibition features more than 100 works displayed in four thematic sections, including a loose reconstruction of the Philosophy Chamber itself. Included are full-length portraits by John Singleton Copley; exceptional examples of Native Hawaiian feather work and carving by indigenous artists of the Northwest Coast; a dazzling, large-scale orrery (a model of the solar system) by Joseph Pope; mezzotints after the work of expatriate American artists; and Stephen Sewall’s mural-sized copy of the Wampanoag inscription on the landmark known as Dighton Rock, an 11-foot boulder located in Berkley, Massachusetts. The objects are drawn from a number of private, academic, and public collections in the United States and the United Kingdom…
The exhibit opens today. In conjunction with it, on Tuesday, 23 May, at 3:00 P.M., Prof. Jane Kamensky will deliver a free lecture about Copley’s experiences in pre-Revolutionary Boston.

On the following two days, 24-25 May, admission to the museums, and this exhibit, is free. Of course, those days are also Harvard University’s Class Day and Commencement, so Cambridge might be a little crowded.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Boston’s Orrery “luckily preserved”

Yesterday we left watchmaker Joseph Pope burned out of his home and workshop on the west side of Orange Street in April 1787.

The Massachusetts Gazette’s 24 April report on the fire included some good news:
We are happy, however, in informing the publick, that, amidst the destruction by the fire, a curious specimen of art and industry, which does honour to our country, was luckily preserved; we mean the ORRERY constructed by Mr. JOSEPH POPE.

This admirable performance, the result of many years labour and study, is near six feet in diameter, and was almost finished, when the house of the artist, with most of his effects, were in a few minutes reduced to ashes. Much praise is due to those gentlemen who, by their exertions, preserved to the lovers of science this curious specimen of philosophick and mechanick ingenuity, and deposited it at the house of his Excellency the Governour, where, we are told, it still remains.
Citing a letter written by Joseph Pope’s daughter, the Memorial History of Boston (1881) described the rescue of the orrery this way:
Governor Bowdoin, who had been interested in it, when he heard of its danger, sent six men with a cart and blankets to rescue it. With difficulty it was brought down the stairs (Mr. Pope himself tearing away the balusters), and taken temporarily to the Governor’s house…
Gov. James Bowdoin (shown above) was a highly learned man in eighteenth-century style: born to wealth, successful as a merchant, he became a prominent amateur in several fields without really distinguishing himself in any.

As a writer, Bowdoin was the principal author of Boston’s report on the Boston Massacre and traded poems with Phillis Wheatley. A longtime member of the Massachusetts Council, he followed John Hancock in being elected governor of Massachusetts. In scientific pursuits, he corresponded with Benjamin Franklin and the Royal Society in London. In 1780 Bowdoin was the principal founder of Massachusetts’s own learned society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and remained its president until 1790.

Bowdoin had obviously heard about Pope’s orrery and thought it deserved to be saved. However, the report of the machine being saved from the fire was the first time Boston newspapers had mentioned it. Perhaps Pope had not yet been ready to announce his creation, it being only “almost finished” and still upstairs in his workshop.

In any event, the fire appears to have made the orrery famous in Boston. According to Pope’s daughter, the watchmaker moved to a new house on Essex Street, and his invention “was visited by hundreds a day.” But where, gentlemen asked, did it really belong?

TOMORROW: The orrery on display.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Joseph Pope’s Own Orrery

All the talk in the 1770s about David Rittenhouse’s orreries and the honor they brought to America might have inspired a young Boston watchmaker named Joseph Pope (1748-1826).

Pope married Ruthy Thayer, daughter of a tallow-chandler, on 13 May 1773. She died on 22 Aug 1775 in Braintree, at a relative’s house. Apparently the couple had evacuated there during the siege of Boston. I don’t see a record of Joseph serving in the army.

After the British military evacuated in 1776, it appears, Pope returned to Boston and started to build an orrery. At least, he later said he had started that year. But his project didn’t attract any print attention for a long time.

Pope’s plan for the orrery was ambitious. It was to show not only the Sun, the Earth, the Moon, and the known planets from Mercury to Saturn, but also all the known moons of those planets and Saturn’s rings.

In 1781, after the watchmaker had already put in years of work, astronomer William Herschel announced the discovery of Uranus (which he called Georgium sidus, after George III, who in return named him King’s Astronomer). Pope ignored that and kept to his original plan, working in his shop on the west side of Orange Street.

Then on 20 Apr 1787, as the Massachusetts Gazette reported four days later:
About sun-set,…a fire broke out in the malt house of Mr. William Patten, in Beach-street, a little to the north-east of Orange-street, at the south part of the town; and it is with real sorrow we announce, that the devastation which ensued, within about three hours time, was never equalled in this place, excepting in the years 1711 and 1760, since its settlement. . . .

The wind blowing fresh from the Northward, the coals of fire, burning shingles, &c. were, however, carried, in great quantities, and lodged on the roofs of many of the houses in Orange-street, some of which were instantly on fire, while a number of the interjacent buildings were preserved. It raged on both sides of the street, with awful fury, as long as the current of wind was nearly parallel with the direction of it; but coming to that part which inclines a little more south-easterly, and the wind tending something more to the eastward, the fire was stopped in this street, but raged on the west side of it till an opening of vacant land towards the bay, on the west side of Boston neck, prevented farther destruction. . . .

The place where the fire commenced being remote from most of the engines—the driness of the weather—10 or 15 buildings being in flames in a few minutes after the fire began, which greatly divided the attention of the inhabitants—the scarcity of water, the tide being down, and but few pumps near at hand—were circumstances which baffled the utmost efforts of the citizens for putting a stop to the devouring element for the space of upwards of three hours.
Two days later, the Continental Journal ran a list of inhabitants who had been burned out—including Joseph Pope and his brothers.

TOMORROW: And Mr. Pope’s orrery?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Orreries in a Time of War

Silas Deane was the first American diplomat in Paris during the Revolutionary War, trying to win support for the Continental Congress from the French government.

Since France was a monarchy, Deane decided to do some old-fashioned fawning, presenting influential people with special gifts from America.

On 28 Nov 1776 he wrote to the Congress’s Committee of Secret Correspondence, which was directing foreign policy:
I wish I had here one of the best saddle-horses of the American or Rhode Island breed. A present of that kind would be money well laid out with a certain personage. Other curious American productions at this time would, though trifles in themselves, be of consequence rightly timed and placed. I mentioned Mr. [David] Rittenhouse’s orrery in a former letter, and I think Arnold’s collection of insects, etc., but I submit any step of this kind to your mature judgment.
I haven’t come across that “former letter,” but a few days later, on 3 December, Deane wrote to John Jay with the same bright ideas—and an identification for that “certain personage”:
The queen is fond of parade, and I believe wishes a war, and is our friend. She loves riding on horseback. Could you send me a narrowhegansett horse or two; the present might be money exceedingly well laid out. Rittenhouse’s orrery, or Arnold’s collection of insects, a phaeton of American make and a pair of bay horses, a few barrels of apples, of walnuts, of butternuts, etc., would be great curiosities here, where everything American is gazed at, and where the American contest engages the attention of all ages, ranks, and sexes.
On 10 May 1777, John Adams wrote to his wife:
Upon a Hint, from one of our Commissioners abroad, We are looking about for American Curiosities, to send across the Atlantic as presents to the Ladies. Mr. Rittenhouse’s Planetarium, Mr. Arnolds Collection of Rareties in the Virtuoso Way, which I once saw at Norwalk in Connecticutt, Narragansett Pacing Mares, Mooses, Wood ducks, Flying Squirrells, Redwinged Black birds, Cramberries, and Rattlesnakes have all been thought of.

Is not this a pretty Employment for great Statesmen, as We think ourselves to be? Frivolous as it seems, it may be of some Consequence. Little Attentions have great Influence. I think, however, We ought to consult the Ladies upon this Point. Pray what is your Opinion?
I haven’t found Abigail Adams’s reply to the idea of shipping rattlesnakes and other curiosities to Queen Marie Antoinette.

The man behind “Arnold’s collection of insects” was Edward Arnold of Norwalk. On his way to the Congress in May 1775, Robert Treat Paine “Went to see Mr. Edward Arnold and saw his Museum a very large Collection of Birds, Insects, Fossils, Beasts, Fishes &c w’h he has been 9 yrs collecting.” Those curiosities did eventually make its way to Europe. According to Adams, Arnold sold his collection to William Tryon, royal governor of New York, who shipped it to London. Those specimens went into Sir Ashton Lever’s private museum.

It’s not clear to me how Deane expected the Congress to obtain a Rittenhouse orrery for Marie Antoinette. Was the Congress to buy or confiscate one of the devices from the college at Princeton or Philadelphia? [The one at Philadelphia appears above.] Or did he want the legislature to commission a new device from Rittenhouse, despite the going price of £300-400?

In January 1777, soon after Deane wrote, the British and Continental Armies battled over the town of Princeton, each occupying the college buildings in turn. The Congress’s envoy to Spain, Arthur Lee, told Deane and Benjamin Franklin that “The barbarity of these Sarracen Invaders went so far as to destroy the Philosophical Apparatus at Princeton College, with the Orrery constructed by Dr. Rittenhouse.” That report was exaggerated, but after that news Deane stopped asking about shipping over an American orrery for the queen.

TOMORROW: Boston’s own orrery.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Rittenhouse Orreries

On 5 May 1768, the Pennsylvania Gazette ran an article headlined, “A Description of a new ORRERY, planned, and now nearly finished, by Mr. DAVID RITTENHOUSE, of Norriton, in the County of Philadelphia.”

An orrery was a machine that simulated the movements of the solar system through axles and gears. The term had been coined early in the 1700s in honor of the fourth Earl of Orrery. He didn’t invent the device, but he was the patron and funder of the man who did, George Graham. [It was good to be an earl.]

Like Graham, Rittenhouse was a clockmaker. Their orreries were based on the idea that the solar system ran like a clock.

Rittenhouse’s orrery was just one of the machines he invented in Revolutionary Philadelphia. He was also a surveyor and astronomer, and one of the Philadelphia Whigs.

In honor of his orrery, Princeton College gave Rittenhouse an honorary degree. The college president, the Rev. John Witherspoon also raised nearly £300 to buy the machine in April 1770. It was installed in Nassau Hall the following year.

John Adams viewed the Princeton orrery on 27 Aug 1774, on his way to the First Continental Congress, writing:
Here we saw a most beautifull Machine, an Orrery, or Planetarium, constructed by Mr. Writtenhouse of Philadelphia. It exhibits allmost every Motion in the astronomical World. The Motions of the Sun and all the Planetts with all their Satellites. The Eclipses of the Sun and Moon &c.
However, the sale to Princeton had miffed the Rev. William Smith, head of the College of Philadelphia (precursor of the University of Pennsylvania). He thought he’d wooed Rittenhouse into giving his institution first refusal on the device. So Smith convinced the Pennsylvania legislature to “purchase from Mr. Rittenhouse a new Orrery, for the use of the Public, at any sum not exceeding four hundred pounds.”

This new machine, apparently delivered by the end of the year, was bigger and more sophisticated than the first. Rittenhouse followed the same basic design but added some new features. British-Americans viewed the “Rittenhouse orrery” (they seem to have treated the two machines as one) as a convincing argument of their society’s sophistication.

TOMORROW: Orreries at war.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

“We were to go to Nova Scotia”

Atlantic Loyalist Connections just shared some anecdotes from the memories of Hannah Ingraham (1772-1869), who with her family moved from New York to New Brunswick, Canada.

Ingraham’s reminiscence was first published by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society in 1912. The manuscript is at the University of New Brunswick. It was an important source for Earle Thomas’s Greener Pastures: The Loyalist Experience of Benjamin Ingraham, published in 1983, about Hannah’s father.

Here’s how Hannah recalled the war, which started when she was still a toddler (in the published version).
1776 to 1783. My father lived at New Concord, twenty miles from Albany. We had a comfortable farm, plenty of cows and sheep. But when the war began and he joined the regulars they (the Rebels) took it all away, sold the things, ploughs and all, and my mother was forced to pay rent for her own farm. What father had sown they took away, but what mother raised after she paid rent they let her keep. They took away all our cows and sheep, only let her have one heifer and four sheep.

Uncle had given me a sheep, and when he found we were like to lose all he took it away and kept it for me.

Little John, my brother, had a pet lamb and he went to the Committee [of Safety] men and spoke up and said, “Won’t you let me have my lamb?” He was a little fellow, four years old, so they let him have it.
Benjamin Ingraham joined the King’s American Regiment, seeing action from Rhode Island to Georgia.  He returned as a sergeant from the losing army and immediately made plans to leave.
1783. He came home on Sept. 13th, it was Friday, and said we were to go to Nova Scotia (New Brunswick was then part of Nova Scotia), that a ship was ready to take us there, so we made all haste to get ready.

Killed the cow, sold the beef, and a neighbour took home the tallow and made us a good parcel of candles and put plenty of beeswax in to make them hard and good.

Uncle came down and thrashed our wheat, 20 bushels, and grandmother came and made bags for the wheat, and we packed up a tub of butter, tub of pickles, and a good store of potatoes.

And then one Tuesday, suddenly, the house was surrounded by the rebels and father took prisoner and carried away. Uncle went forward and promised them who took him that if he might come home then he would answer for his being forthcoming next morning. But No, and I cried, and I cried, and I cried enough to kill myself that night. When morning came they sent to say that he was free to go.

We had five wagon loads carried down the Hudson in a sloop, and then we went aboard the transport that was to bring us to St. John.
In the coming months I’ll share more about how the Ingraham family settled into their new life on the Canadian frontier.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Uniforms Less Than Uniform

Last year Prof. Ashli White of the University of Miami wrote on the Omohundro Institute’s blog about her research at the institute and nearby Colonial Williamsburg.
As armies and navies were deployed throughout the Atlantic, they took with them uniforms, flags, banners, and even dinnerware, emblazoned with insignia that declared where they stood on the ideological spectrum of revolution. . . .

Sources show that soldiers were not wearing uniforms as we tend to think of them—snappy, carefully coordinated sets with various accoutrements and details that adhered to clear codes. Rather, soldiers’ and even officers’ clothing was much more mixed, if not at times downright ad-hoc. This situation resulted because of the difficulties of distributing clothing and its constant wear-and-tear. What’s more, armies appropriated their enemy’s clothing as spoils of war and then incorporated it into their kits. And whenever possible, soldiers exerted their own sartorial preferences, too.

Take, for example, a uniform coat in CW’s collections that had worn by a British Field officer in North America. I had the privilege to meet with Linda Baumgarten, curator of textiles, to look at examples of both civilian and military clothing, including this remarkable coat. It dates from about 1790, but as Erik Goldstein, the curator of mechanical arts and numismatics, has demonstrated, it is stylistically in keeping with coats worn during the American Revolution. So while gearing up for war with France, this British officer chose a cut for his coat that harkened to his service almost twenty years before, even though it was out of step with the latest trends.
I couldn’t find a picture of the coat White described, but this waistcoat (shown above) came into the Colonial Williamsburg collection with it.

The museum curators understand that the coat and waistcoat were made for Col. James Moncrieff, who had become a young army engineer in 1763 in time for the siege of Havana. During the Revolutionary War he served at Brandywine, Stono Ferry, Savannah (from the inside), and Charleston (from the outside). The museum says, “He attained the appointment to deputy adjutant general in 1790. The style of this coat is specific to deputy adjutant general and quartermaster general.” Moncrieff was mortally wounded at Dunkirk in 1793.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Tate’s New Copley—or Is It?

At the end of last year, the Tate Britain museum in London announced that it had accepted the gift of a significant John Singleton Copley painting from 1776, saying:
The Fountaine Family shows how Copley adapted his style to the British market, emulating the work of Johann Zoffany (1733-1810), whose renewal of the conversation piece format in the 1760s greatly influenced British art. The painting depicts Brigg Price Fountaine, a wealthy member of the Norfolk gentry, standing in the centre of an elegant drawing room at Narford Hall, the Fountaine ancestral home. To the left is his wife Mary and to the right are their two children, Andrew and Elizabeth, with a spaniel playing at their feet. Andrew is also depicted in the two preparatory drawings by Copley hung next to the painting.

The painting remained with the Fountaine family for many years, before being offered at auction in the late 1980s, described simply as English School, circa 1780. Art historical research and technical examination since then demonstrated the attribution to Copley. The two preparatory drawings discovered at The Courtauld Institute of Art in 1988 provided decisive evidence of Copley’s authorship. . . .

The Cultural Gifts Scheme was introduced by the Government in 2013 as an initiative to encourage life-time giving to UK public collections. The addition of The Fountaine Family not only improves Tate’s existing collection of eighteenth-century conversation pieces, but it also illuminates how an ambitious American artist adapted to a distinctly British format and style. The work complements the three Copley works already in Tate’s collection – Portrait of Mrs [Relief] Gill c1770-1 painted in America; and two major subject paintings painted in Britain, The Death of Major Peirson 1781 and The Collapse of the Earl of Chatham 1779-80.
This article shows the painting alongside the sketches of a boy’s head and body. Here’s a better view of the head (shown above) and body sketches from the Courtauld Gallery.

The British Arts Council’s report on the painting (pages 22-23 in this P.D.F. download) shows that one and the same man, David Posnett, purchased the painting in the 1980s, built the case that it was by Copley, and donated it to the Tate, thus defraying his taxes. Posnett was in the art trade for decades and was chairman of the Holborne Museum in Bath from 2000 to 2013. He has received the honor of the O.B.E.

Nevertheless, I’m deeply skeptical that this is a Copley painting. The boy in the sketches, which have long been accepted as Copley’s, is posed somewhat like the boy in the painting. But the painting itself looks nothing like Copley’s work.

By the time he left America in 1774, Copley had perfected some signature elements of his portraits: shimmering fabrics, vivid flesh, expressive faces and hands. He put all those qualities into the magnificent portrait of his own family that he displayed in London in 1777—to so much acclaim that he later commissioned an engraving of it.

For the attribution of the Fountaine family portrait to Copley to be correct, he would have had to toss all those qualities aside in place of awkward anatomy and flat surfaces, supposedly because they were more fashionable in London. He would have had to sketch a serious, round-cheeked boy and then on the canvas rendered him as a torqued mannequin with tiny hands.

And then, just a few months after producing that picture for Fountaine up in Narford Hall, Copley would have gone back to his own style for a piece he planned to exhibit in London. None of that makes sense. (And that’s not even what Zoffany family portraits look like, either. They’re full of lively character.)

I can imagine Copley being influenced by the recent “conversation pieces” by Zoffany and others. He might have studied examples, even sketching figures from them in his style. And then he tried out the form with his own family as models, creating the biggest group portrait he’d made to date. But I’m not convinced he took an one-off side journey into the style of a second-rate provincial portraitist.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

More to See at Saratoga and Camden

Two important Revolutionary War battlefields have recently been augmented with more land, according to news reports.

However, in both cases that land was already owned by an organization devoted to environmental and/or historical preservation. So these additional acres don’t appear to have been in danger of being built or paved on.

The New York History Blog reported:
Saratoga National Historical Park finalized the acquisition of 170 acres of historically significant land in April, after 10 years of collaboration with the Open Space Institute (OSI). After a minor administrative boundary adjustment to the park in 2016, Saratoga successfully secured funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to provide for the transfer of the property from OSI.

The property, located in the Town of Stillwater at the northeast end of the park on State Route 4, is a key portion of the historic site of the Battles of Saratoga, considered by many to be the turning point of the American Revolution. In September of 1777, this parcel was surrounded by the British Army to the north and the American Army to the south. When the British broke camp and advanced upon the American positions, General [John] Burgoyne and his troops occupied the high ground on this property, making it the “high water mark” of the British Army’s advance southward from Canada toward Albany. A road cut diagonally across this parcel and a fortification was built on the hilltop to block the road.

The land, purchased by OSI in 2005, also included a segment of the historic Champlain Canal, along which a region-wide effort is underway to construct a trail, known as the Champlain Canalway Trail, which runs for 62 miles between Whitehall and Waterford. In 2014 the town of Stillwater received a Consolidated Funding Application grant to complete the segment of the path that runs through the property, and in 2016 OSI donated that portion of the property to the Town of Stillwater. Navigating the administrative logistics of funding, boundary revisions, and coordinating environmental analysis and appraisals was finally complete to ensure the protection of this treasured landscape.
The Battle(s) of Saratoga was of course a major American victory, and that area has been preserved and celebrated for a long time.

It’s harder to find support to preserve the sites of major American defeats. In Camden, South Carolina, the local Chronicle-Independent newspaper reported on a portion of the battlefield where Gen. Horatio Gates lost big-time to Gen. Cornwallis:
The Palmetto Conservation Foundation recently transferred ownership of the 476-acre core battlefield to the Historic Camden Foundation. The battlefield is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. . . .

Historic Camden Foundation also owns and manages the related Revolutionary War site, “Historic Camden,” south of the modern downtown. Historic Camden, which includes the original colonial village site, is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized as a National Park Service affiliate. . . .

Plans for the property transfer began in earnest last fall. Historic Camden reviewed documents and reports from PCF, including “Battle of Camden Development Report, 2016,” compiled by the Olde English District tourism agency. Historic Camden provided legal and financial documents for PCF review. Both PCF’s and Historic Camden’s boards of directors gave final approval in late winter for the real estate transaction. . . .

PCF acquired the battlefield in 2002 when Katawba Valley Land Trust and Historic Camden asked for help to protect the battlefield from private sale and development. The organizations first negotiated a conservation easement with property owner Bowater Inc., a pulp and paper corporation. The easement protected 310 acres of the battlefield’s core. . . . Because Bowater wanted to sell rather than own property with a conservation easement, PCF purchased the 310 acres. Five years later in 2007, PCF purchased 161 adjoining acres owned by Crescent Resources, which was a subsidiary of Duke Energy. Both acquisitions were funded through the South Carolina Conservation Bank. The Daughters of the American Revolution also transferred to PCF the 6 acres they had protected since 1907. Katawba Valley Land Trust continues to hold the property under permanent conservation protection.

After assuming ownership, PCF conducted archaeological research to locate and protect graves and cultural resources, curated artifacts for public display in the Camden Archives and Museum, and replanted longleaf pine to help restore the battlefield landscape. As a trail-builder, PCF also constructed three miles of walking trails with interpretive signage, a podcast of battle history, and a digital topographic map.

Historic Camden plans to continue PCF’s work, and strengthen the connection between Camden’s history and the larger Southern Campaign that won the War for Independence.
People can see that “core battlefield” land by driving on Flat Rock Road 2.2 miles off U.S. Highway 521. The newspaper adds, “The remaining 824 acres where the Battle of Camden was fought are privately owned.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bergman on Zilberstein’s A Temperate Empire

Last month James Bergman reviewed Anya Zilberstein’s A Temperate Empire: Making Climate Change in Early America, published in 2016 by Oxford University Press, for the H-Net.

European settlers found the climate of North America to be more extreme than what they had known at home (often while sticking to a smaller range of latitudes). Winters were colder, summers hotter. But, many declared, the New World was becoming more healthy by the decade!

Here are some extracts from the review:
Zilberstein’s book comes amid what she calls a “spate” of efforts to situate the early modern colonial project in the climate of the Little Ice Age, and indeed, such studies as Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis and work by Dagomar Degroot and Sam White have taken climate from a historical backdrop, a condition merely to be overcome, to a historical actor in its own right. The atmosphere, these works effectively argue, should not just be used for atmosphere.

Zilberstein’s contribution to this literature is to situate these efforts in the scientific debates among elites about natural history. She finds that these debates were inextricable from the colonial project. Boundaries between biogeographic regions were often conflated with political boundaries. Networks of correspondence about natural history were often bound up in political and cultural connections between elites on both sides of the Atlantic. And settler colonialism was often “naturalized” by describing the way different racial bodies were suited to different climatic regions (p. 95).

Zilberstein focuses on the American Northeast, an area that would now encompass New England and Nova Scotia, but whose boundaries were much more fluid and contested in the eighteenth century. This focus permits a rich treatment of the archival material she has amassed, which includes promotional material, government documents, correspondence between elites, and treatises on the environments of the different colonies. From these texts emerge an extremely open-ended and heavily debated understanding of the climate of different regions. This revolved around several different questions: Where was the “temperate” zone? Who could settle there? And were the climates of the American colonies becoming more “temperate”?

Zilberstein traces the substantial instability of the basis for these questions, beginning with the question: what did it mean for a climate to be “temperate,” anyway? Before the seventeenth century, this zone tended to center around the Mediterranean. With the northward movement of political power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came a northward movement of that zone to center around England and France. With the settlement of New England and the endurance of its harsh winters came a new valuation of a temperate climate among the colonial elites. The cold climates of Vermont and New Hampshire were not “stupefying,” as some commentators believed. They provided “vigor,” according to local colonial elites writing to skeptics across the Atlantic (pp. 34, 38).

Likewise, John Wentworth, the governor of Nova Scotia, countered attacks by abolitionists that relocating escaped Jamaican slaves (maroons) in Nova Scotia was cruel—prevailing views on race held that African bodies were suited to different climates than white bodies—by stating that, in fact, the climate was temperate enough for all bodies. This was, in fact, part of Wentworth’s campaign to convert his colony from one of English garrisons and absentee landowners to one of “useful and loyal settlers” (p. 117). . . .

Climate change was part of discussions about agricultural improvement and settlement, but the reverse was also true: the perception of climate change depended on the ambitions of the settlers. . . . Studies by twentieth- and twenty-first-century historical geographers, for instance, have found that the climate was, in fact, not getting “more temperate,” but getting colder (p. 2). This is especially important to note, as it allows her to point out that the perception of climate, and climate change, has historically been bound up in the logic of “improvement.” To understand current perceptions of climate change, Zilberstein argues, we need to recognize this, as it has become that much more urgent, with the current consensus on climate change, that those sensibilities be reversed.
“Improvement” in this case meant not (just?) creating better conditions but getting use out of resources.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

“Landmarks of Slavery and Freedom” in Hingham, 13 May

On Saturday, 13 May, the Abigail Adams Historical Society, which is the steward of the Abigail Adams Birthplace (shown here), and the Hingham Public Library will present a panel discussion on “Landmarks of Slavery and Freedom: Exploring Local African-American Historic Sites.”

The event description says:
Abigail Smith Adams strongly opposed the institution of slavery, yet she grew up in a slave-owning household. Her father, the Reverend William Smith, owned a male servant named Tom and a female servant named Phoebe; both played significant roles in Adams’s life. As part of the Abigail Adams Historical Society’s continuing efforts to explore the subject of colonial New England slavery, it is co-sponsoring with the Hingham Public Library a panel discussion on local African-American historic sites.

Representatives from the Abigail Adams Birthplace, Museum of African American History (MAAH), Parting Ways Historic Site, and the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee/Florence’s African-American Heritage Trail will describe the stories behind these landmarks and the important role they play in the community.

Providing insight into the lives of African Americans in early New England will be historian Kerima Lewis.
This event will run from 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. at the Hingham Public Library, 66 Leavitt Street, in Hingham. It is free and open to the public, with no reservations necessary.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Marblehead Resistance Walking Tour, 10 May

On Wednesday, 10 May, and twice more at the end of the month, Judy Anderson of Marblehead Architecture Heritage will lead a walking tour of Marblehead focusing on the events of 1774 and 1775.

At that time, Marblehead was the second-largest town in Massachusetts, third-largest in New England. Historically it stood out from the rest of the colony with an economy based on fishing more than farming and a population less devout than the Puritans.

The tour will quote from writings by and about Marbleheaders at that time—some secret, and some in diaries or newspapers. It will focus on the town’s resistance activities, from top to bottom.

As a significant trading port (with a bunch of smaller coves) and a large fleet, Marblehead was an important site for importing weapons and gunpowder in those years.

On 27 Oct 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appointed its first five “commissaries,” responsible for obtaining supplies for the army it was surreptitiously forming. Those men included Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead (shown here).

On 9 February, the congress added Elbridge Gerry, also from Marblehead, to what had become a whole committee on supplies. Meanwhile, another delegate from the town, Azor Orne, was on the committee of safety. And with the port of Boston closed, those three merchants and their neighbors brought in a lot of the military supplies the Massachusetts militia started the war with.

The 10 May walk is scheduled to last from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. It will start at Abbot Hall, 188 Washington Street. It will end at Homan’s Cove, where Lt.-Col. Alexander Leslie’s troops reportedly disembarked in Marblehead Harbor on Sunday, 26 Feb 1775. That cove is between two harborside restaurants—The Barnacle and The Landing—where tour members can choose to eat before or after the event.

Anderson will repeat the walk twice on Memorial Day weekend: on Saturday morning, 27 May, 9:00 to 11:00 A.M., and Sunday afternoon, 28 May, 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. There is a suggested donation of $5 per adult for any tour. Reservations are not necessary.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Hoock on Revolutionary War Violence in Boston, 11 May

On Thursday, 11 May, Holger Hoock will speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society on his new book, Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth.

Here‘s the publisher’s description of this book, officially published this week:
The American Revolution is often pictured as the orderly, restrained rebellion of brave patriots who defended their noble ideals in a strangely bloodless war against an oppressive empire. It’s a stirring narrative, and one the Founders did their best to encourage after the war. But as historian Holger Hoock shows in this deeply researched and elegantly written account of America’s founding, the Revolution was not only a high-minded battle over principles, but also a profoundly violent American civil war and a civil war in the British Empire.

In Scars of Independence, Hoock writes the violence back into the story of the Revolution. American Patriots persecuted and tortured Loyalists. British troops massacred enemy soldiers and raped colonial women. Prisoners starved on disease-ridden ships and in subterranean cells. African-Americans fighting for or against independence suffered disproportionately; and Washington’s army waged a genocidal campaign against the Iroquois.

In vivid, authoritative prose, Hoock’s new reckoning also examines the moral dilemmas posed by this all-pervasive violence, as the British found themselves torn between unlimited war and restraint towards fellow subjects, while the Patriots ingeniously documented war crimes in an effort to unify the fledgling nation.
Holger Hoock holds the J. Carroll Amundson Chair of British History at the University of Pittsburgh, where he has also just become Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. His earlier books include Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750-1850 and The King’s Artists: The Royal Academy of Arts and the Politics of British Culture, 1760-1840. He grew up near Heidelberg, earned his doctorate in the U.K., and now works on what was once the American frontier, giving him a wide perspective on the Revolutionary War.

This event starts with a reception at 5:30 P.M., and Hoock is scheduled to speak at 6:00. He will sign books afterward. The event is free for M.H.S. members and fellows and $10 for others. Register here.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

“Trial, for the supposed Murther of Henry Sparker”

On 3 June 1768, three Royal Navy officers went on trial in Newport, Rhode Island, for stabbing a local shoemaker named Henry Sparker.

That killing the previous month had reportedly caused an angry crowd to threaten to lynch the officers. Later chroniclers tied that tension to the political turmoil in America since the Stamp Act, but ordinary friction between the navy and civilian sailors, particularly over impressment, might have played a bigger role.

Oliver Arnold, the colony’s attorney general, prosecuted the case. Joseph Russell presided as chief justice, and the other judges that year were Metcalf Bowler, William Greene, Nathaniel Searle, and Samuel Nightingale. (Unlike in the Massachusetts system, Rhode Island superior court judges were elected for short terms instead of appointed for life by the Crown.) I don’t know who represented the defendants.

On 6 June 1768, the Newport Mercury reported on the trial:

Last Friday, at the Superior Court, held here, Mr. Robert Young, Mr. Thomas Carless, and Mr. Charles John Marshall…had their Trial, for the supposed Murther of Henry Sparker. The Jury, consisting of Gentlemen of Capacity and undoubted Reputation, having heard the Case plead, with the Evidences and Circumstances attending the unhappy Affair, went out, and in a few Minutes returned to their Seats, and declared the Prisoners not Guilty, the Verdict being to the entire Satisfaction of the Court; and accordingly the Prisoners were immediately and honourably discharged.—

N.B. Mr. Dexter, the other Person wounded, is now almost recovered: His Evidence was greatly in Favour of the Prisoners.
The Mercury printer, Solomon Southwick, clearly tried to present that outcome as just, emphasizing the jurors’ respectability and speed. A month before, a report had suggested that Philip Dexter “could not long survive”; this story insisted he was “now almost recovered.” It’s not clear whether Dexter testified that he didn’t think the officers were really guilty or whether his description of his own actions that night revealed that he had been the aggressor—as a report in the Boston Chronicle certainly suggested.

Actual court records may say more about this case. The newspapers don’t even state which officer was accused of fatally wounding Sparker, but nineteenth-century historians said that was Midshipman Careless.

According to Capt. John Henry Duncan’s diary, published in The Naval Miscellany, in 1776 Midn. Thomas Careless was assigned to the Eagle. That ship carried Adm. Richard Howe to North America as he came to take over the war. Unlike most of his fellow midshipmen, Careless never rose to the rank of captain.

Careless’s captain back in 1768, Thomas Cookson, died in November 1775—not in the war but at age sixty-five in London. His son George, then fifteen years old, had already entered the Royal Navy, but Lord North sent him instead to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich instead, and he became an officer in the Royal Artillery in 1778. He fought through the wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and ended his military career as a general.