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, December 03, 2016

New Education Center at the Paul Revere House

Years back, I gave a teachers’ workshop at the Paul Revere House in the North End. It took place upstairs in the neighboring Pierce-Hichborn house.

As I recall, we had about two dozen people crowded into a small, irregularly shaped room with sloping ceilings. It really gave one a sense of what it must have been like to live in that neighborhood in a family of fourteen.

Now the Paul Revere House has a lot more space. This weekend it opens its new Education and Visitor Center at Lathrop Place. The museum bought another neighboring building—an old tenement put up in 1835—and fixed it up into new exhibit, meeting, sales, and office space. In the process, the Revere house became wheelchair-accessible as well.

All told, this project required raising more than $4 million and overseeing extensive construction. As museums have to do these days, several of the new spaces are named for donors. Thus, there’s an Revere Education Room, a Curtis Classroom, and a Citizens Bank Enrichment Center [get it?].

I visited the new building last night along with other friends of the site. It’s a very impressive expansion—all the more impressive when one sees photographs of the same rooms before renovation. Lathrop Place will be open to the public all this weekend. There will be refreshments, music, and demonstrations of tinware and basketmaking.

This diorama is part of a new permanent exhibit about Revere’s many businesses, including as a silversmith, engraver, and dentist. It shows pre-industrial production in Revere’s shop.
Ben Edwards, Boston tour guide and Revere descendant, told me that this scene was originally made for the Boston Museum of Science maybe fifty years ago. After years on display there, the diorama was retired. Later, when that museum decided to throw it out deaccession it, a manager called to ask if the Paul Revere House wanted it. The scene spent several more years in storage until the house had just the right spot to display it, and now it does.

To go with its new building, the Paul Revere House also has a new website with good resources for people who can’t get to the North End.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Putting Down Rebels

The first ten issues of the Rebels comic book have been collected in a single volume from Dark Horse.

The series was conceived and scripted by Brian Wood on the model of his Northlanders series about Vikings: a variety of stories—different characters, different points of view, different lengths—all drawn one from extended historical conflict.

Most of this volume consists of a story titled “A Well-Regulated Militia,” illustrated by Andrea Mutti; it tracks a soldier from Vermont through the war. Then come much shorter stories following two women, a Native American, a British soldier, and (as seen through the eyes of the hero of “A Well-Regulated Militia”) a black Loyalist; each of those stories has art from a different artist.

I looked at the first issue of Rebels back in August 2015. I hoped the comic’s depiction of Revolutionary events would improve. It didn’t.

In a word, the historical content of this book is godawful. Wood presents such events as the conflict over land grants in Westminster, Vermont; the mission to bring heavy cannon from Lake Champlain to Boston; and the battles of Bunker Hill, Harlem Heights, Saratoga, Cowpens, and more. He mixes real people in with his original characters. But very little is accurate.

The errors aren’t at the level of “The author hasn’t read the latest scholarship” or “He hasn’t read Don Hagist’s guest posting about Pvt. Mathew Kilroy leaving the British army in 1776.” They’re more like “He didn’t bother to check Wikipedia for basic information.” Or if he did, he ignored it.

For example, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys fight at the Battle of Bunker Hill, with Gen. George Washington and Benedict Arnold nearby. Henry Knox heads out to Fort Ticonderoga in the summer of 1775, already a major general. A sergeant, not an officer, commands an artillery company. The Continental Navy flag of late 1775 (the “Grand Union Flag”) flies over a British fort in the Ohio Valley in 1755. Every long firearm is called a “rifle.”

Many errors reveal not just carelessness but basic misunderstandings about the Revolutionary conflict and the society in which it took place. Sometimes those arise from old nationalist assumptions. Thus, we see army regulars getting involved in real-estate disputes in the New England backcountry. The one British soldier we meet in depth is forced to enlist to avoid prison. Sometimes the problems grow out of modern inclusive preferences, not acknowledging how different society was. A woman of color owns a printing press in Boston, operates it entirely on her own, and posts anti-Stamp Act placards years after the Stamp Act has been repealed—which causes the British army to lock her up in Connecticut’s New-Gate Prison. And some errors are just plain errors: U.S. military officers interview people about government pensions instead of distant civil bureaucrats making the decision as they almost always have.

The art is quite good, in a range of realistic styles. Wood often gives the artists free rein for dramatic pages, sometimes wordless. But there are visual anachronisms blazing on every spread. Eighteenth-century British-American men appear with sculpted beards, mustaches, and sideburns. Women wear modern hairstyles and no caps. Civilians often appear in nineteenth-century clothing. Mounted hussars with tall, furry caps charge up Breed’s Hill. An 1802 dining room features furniture, fenestration, and houseplants out of the 1980s.

Even forcing myself to read this collection as stories from another universe, not rooted in Revolutionary history, left me unimpressed. In the first episode the hero and his father shoot at a group of redcoats. One teenager in uniform makes the choice to desert and ends up part of the hero’s family—but we’re just told about that change in a caption. We never see that character make a decision. We never see the family decide to take him in. And we never see major consequences from that arrangement—the character and the potential drama fall away.

A second volume of the Rebels series is slated for next year, following the son of the hero of “A Well-Regulated Militia” through the naval conflicts of the early republic. At this point, I don’t expect much better.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

John McMurtry: “He did not know it was loaded”

On 1 Dec 1775, Pvt. Aaron Wright, stationed in Cambridge, wrote in his diary about a fellow rifleman:
John M’Murtry, in Capt. [James] Chambers’ company, killed John Penn, by his rifle going off, when, he says, he did not know it was loaded. He was cleaning the lock, and put it on and primed it to see how she would “fier.” It shot through a double partition of inch boards, and through one board of a berth, and went in at Penn’s breast, and out at his back, and left its mark on the chimney. Penn put his hand on his breast, and as he turned round, fell down dead, and never spoke more.
I haven’t been able to find out anything more about John Penn.

John McMurtry was in his early twenties. He grew up in Somerset County, New Jersey, but went to Pennsylvania to sign up with a rifle company after the Continental Congress started to raise troops for its newly adopted army in June 1775.

After the shooting, McMurtry reenlisted in the Continental Army for the following year. In fact, he was promoted to corporal on 1 July 1776. According to his pension application, he saw action at White Plains, Trenton, Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown.

McMurtry recalled becoming a sergeant major and then an ensign on 1 Oct 1779. He resigned from the army on 1 Aug 1780. But then, he said, he went to Philadelphia and signed aboard a privateer named the Fair America under Capt. Stephen Decatur.

McMurtry and his new wife settled in what became Tennessee. He died in 1841. His pension application did not mention John Penn or any other event of note during the siege of Boston.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

“On the floating zephyrs of heaven”

When we left off the 1859 book Twelve Messages from the Spirit of John Quincy Adams, the spiritual medium Joseph Stiles had just channeled Adams’s meeting in the afterlife with George Washington.

Washington’s presence leads to another discussion of the evils of slavery. The spirit of Charles Follen, Harvard professor and abolitionist, joins in.

Having brought on Washington, where could the book go next? The next message puts Adams back into conversation with the spirit of Peter Whitney. Who? He was a minister in the Adamses’ home town of Quincy from 1800 to 1843. The two longtime acquaintances have a longer discussion about the spiritual world. A much longer discussion.

Message XI then shows us jubilant freed slaves, Jesus forgiving Judas, and James Monroe—which seems like a bit of an anticlimax.

The spirits divide into four groups. The leaders of the first three groups are, naturally, Josephine, Joan of Arc, and Napoleon. Adams says, “The Commander of the Fourth Division now arrests my attention. He was an intelligence. of invincible will and firmness, yet ever yielding when convinced he was in the wrong”—Thomas Paine!

Adams praises his mother, recalling how they watched the smoke from the burning of Charlestown in 1775. Abigail responds at equal length, describing how America needs good mothers.

Finally we reach the twelfth message. It starts with a look at “The Sphere of Prejudice and Error,” which includes “The Circle of Intolerance,” “The Circle of Bigotry,” and so on. The people who carried out what the book calls the “Massacre of St. Bartholomew” are there, for instance. Reflecting a deep misunderstanding of Islam, Muslims are in “The Circle of Idolatry,” though “the once partially inspired Spirit of the Prophet Mohammed had long since unfolded into the blessed Religion of the Only True God,—the Ever-living Jehovah.” And thus we conquer intolerance and bigotry.

But there’s still more to learn.

Helping Franklin to produce the defecated electricity are Isaac Newton and other scientists. They feed its charge to a circle of Native Americans including Samoset, Osceola, and Pocahontas.

Adams then turns back down to visit George Jeffreys, Lord Chancellor during the “Bloody Assizes” of the 1680s. We read another critique of the Fugitive Slave Act. Adams sees the martyr Jane Grey leading spirits to enlightenment. He describes welcoming “Calhoun, Clay, and Webster” to the afterlife. And after checking off all those boxes the former President offers readers a closing exhortation:
Ye who are travelling the ways of darkness, come forward, and aid us to start this Juggernaut of Truth on its glorious march of victory, until the Demon of Error, and its hideous children, Ignorance, Superstition and Bigotry, are crushed out of existence, beneath the ceaseless rotations of its ponderous wheels!
But that’s still not all! Just as Stiles finished writing Adams’s last message, “another spirit…immediately took possession of his arm.” He wrote out a letter to Adams from another spirit in a different handwriting. This is none other than George Washington again, expressing regret at slavery:
I am aware that the holding of human beings in bondage was incompatible and at war with the mighty cause for which I was so vigorously contending. And gladly would I have rid myself of this incubus to my happiness,—this source of deep mental anxiety. But the strong prejudices of that age were not easily surmounted, and they wound around me a fortress which my better feelings and impulses could not then storm.
After Adams’s brief reply, Stiles wrote out the signatures of “five hundred and forty individuals,” all in different handwritings and some in unintelligible scribbles so we know they must come from ancient cultures. And anyone who can write out five hundred different people’s signatures has got to be trustworthy.

Now it turns out that the notebooks in which Stiles originally wrote all this out survive in the Library of Congress. (To get there, by the way, they passed through the hands of Harry Houdini.) John Benedict Buescher has investigated those documents and shared his findings in this P.D.F. report.

Sadly, Buescher discovered that the text Stiles wrote under the influence of John Quincy Adams’s spirit is quite different from what was published. Material was moved around, shortened, lengthened, and reworded. Hancock, Henry, Warren, Arnold, and others originally made no appearances in Adams’s messages. So I’m sorry to say that the published book is not a reliable account of the afterlife.

Buescher also explored the reception for the book. William Lloyd Garrison, who actually gets a shout-out of praise from Adams’s spirit, responded with less than enthusiasm in The Liberator:
While, with unfeigned respect and good-will to Mr. Stiles…, we feel constrained to pronounce the claim set up for the spiritual origin of this work as preposterous and delusive, we are nevertheless highly gratified with its many excellent and fearless sentiments on the subject of slavery, war, the rights of woman, universal reform, and everlasting progression…
The Spiritual Telegraph, which we might expect to praise these revelations, stated:
We rather regard them as coming from that mid-region of dreams and phantasmagoria which is made up of the exuviae and odds and ends of all celestial, infernal and mundane spheres, agglomerated into mental and visual forms correspondent with the predominant associative spirit-thought and desire, and with the existing mediative susceptibilities.
And The Spiritual Age stated:
In fact, so markedly is the style throughout that of an uncultivated youth, and so different from what we should expect from the “Sage of Quincy,” the “Old Man Eloquent,” that it is difficult to believe he had any hand—or anything more than a hand—in it.
But then the Civil War broke out, and the parts of the book that warned of national division over slavery—particularly the parts said to come from Washington himself—gained new respect. “Had the people of this country been sufficiently enlightened to investigate these messages fairly, they would have seen that there was sufficient evidence that this warning really came from Washington,” wrote Joseph Rodes Buchanan in 1887.

Joseph Stiles went on to a long career as a performing medium. He died in Weymouth in 1897 at the age of sixty-nine.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Afterlife of John Quincy Adams

There’s a pretty fierce competition for the strangest Revolution-related book that I’ve encountered this year, but one very strong competitor is Twelve Messages from the Spirit of John Quincy Adams, through Joseph D. Stiles, Medium, to Josiah Brigham, prepared for the press by Allen Putnam and published in Boston in 1859, eleven years after Adams’s death.

At the beginning of the book Brigham attested:
The messages contained in this book, coming from the immortal spirit of John Quincy Adams, were written out in manuscripts, at various times, at my house in Quincy, Mass., and at the house of my son-in-law, C. F. Baxter, Boston, during the last four years, through the hand of Joseph D. Stiles, medium, when in an entranced state, and who, at the time of writing them, was unconscious of what was being written.

The whole was written in an almost perfect fac-simile of that peculiar, tremulous handwriting of Mr. Adams in the last years of his earthly life,—a handwriting which probably no man living could, in his natural state of mind, so perfectly imitate, and which is wholly unlike the usual handwriting of the medium.

The writing of these messages in manuscript was commenced in August, 1854, and closed in March, 1857. The medium (in trance] commenced copying and revising them for publication about the first of April following, and finished in June, 1858, making some additions and some omissions.
So what did the spirit of John Quincy Adams have to say? The book explains that he has discovered a “Celestial Telegraph” which works as “a thin line of clarified electricity” extending from a “Spiritual Circle” and lets him visit Earth through various mediums. (Media?)

Other figures from the American Revolution show up in the book, rather like the Florentines whom Dante meets in Hell. None other than John Hancock welcomes Adams to the afterlife. John and Abigail Adams are pleased to see him as well but don’t say anything particularly parental at first—they must have moved beyond earthly concerns.

Then two more spirits appear “in full military costumes, similar to those worn by the soldiers during the Revolutionary War”—none of those white robes. One comes forward and turns out to be…Lafayette! Adams was President when Lafayette made his return tour of America in the 1820s, after all.

Adams gets to meet Christopher Columbus and “Americus Vespucius,” which leads to a long discussion of scientific discoveries, such as spiritualism. For example, “The so-called Salem Witchcraft” turns out to have been “the attempt of spirits to manifest their presences to earth’s children.” Too bad about the people who were hanged and crushed to death.

Back to Revolutionary celebrities: John André, “dressed, not in a flowing robe, but in a British uniform”! Joseph Warren! Patrick Henry! Benedict Arnold!

Benedict Arnold? “Desiring to eradicate, as far as possible, the sins of his mortal career, and to become a useful member of Celestial Society, he earnestly sought the instruction of Higher Minds, and other means necessary to insure happiness and a perfect unfoldmept of his spiritual faculties.” So this book offers hope for everyone.

And the sight of a repentant Arnold leads swiftly to a condemnation of “the Fugitive-Slave Bill” and what it says to people seeking freedom:
No! Massachusetts cannot give
The boon thy soul doth fondly crave;
The poor and panting fugitive
Must on her soil Remain a slave!

Her Bunker Hill, where patriot blood
In freedom’s cause was freely spent,
Cannot a shelter give to thee
Beneath its tow’ring monument!
There’s a lot of anti-slavery rhetoric in this book, and a lot of poetry, too. Which makes perfect sense, since John Quincy Adams did devote a lot of time to both activities.

After some mild adventures, Adams and Lafayette ascend higher, thus reaching the same sphere as “William Penn, Shakspeare, Mary Washington, Augustine Washington, Martha Washington, Hannah More, Felicia Hemans, Jane Grey, Josephine, Elizabeth Frye, John Howard, Peter Whitney.” Followed by “Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, Israel Putnam.”

Then Napoleon, the Duke D’Enghein, Joan of Arc, Peter Melanchthon, William Ellery Channing, Confucius, François de Fenelon, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elias, and, high above the others, Christ. Followed by Mary and Joseph.

But whom haven’t we heard from yet? Finally in the ninth message George Washington appears to speak to Adams—though their conversation gets interrupted by Martin Luther, of all people. Adams rhapsodizes about Washington:
Can any one doubt but that spirits from the immortal world sustained him through all the disheartening trials and almost unendurable sufferings of Valley Forge,—cheered his heart, and those of his desponding soldiers when they were so heroically laboring to release their dear native land from the clutches of a tyrannical potentate and his myrmidons?
Myrmidons including, you know, André.

TOMORROW: But wait, there’s more! We’re only up to Message IX.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Between Aphra Behn and Jane Austen

Today instead of writing about books I’ll write about a podcast about books.

Earlier this year Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the British magazine The New Statesman, hosted six conversations for its podcast Hidden Histories. That first series of recordings is titled “The Great Forgetting,” and it focuses on the early history of the British novel.

The standard summary of that topic presents a progression through Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Tobias Smollett, and a few other authors before getting to Jane Austen. And there’s nothing wrong with those novelists. (Well, except Richardson.)

Yet in that eighteenth century most British novels were written by women. Likewise, people expected women to be the main audience for most novels, so many if not most novels were about women. So how does that usual list of British novelists before Austen contain nothing but men?

“The Great Forgetting” aims to unearth the female novelists who worked before Austen, and the female literary society that existed in 1700s Britain. Lewis’s interlocutors are Sophie Coulombeau, Elizabeth Edwards, and Jennie Batchelor, scholars at different British universities. Their six conversations are on these topics:
  • Re-writing the Rise of the Novel: whom do conventional accounts of the era overlook?
  • Bluestocking Culture: how did women become writers?
  • Sociable Spaces: what did it mean to have a magazine by women?
  • Unsex’d Females: women writers and radical politics
  • Fight Club: who’s the most interesting female writer of the eighteenth century?
  • The Great Forgetting: why are the authors we remember mostly men?
For people who enjoy exploring eighteenth-century fiction (as well as essays, histories, biographies, poetry, plays, and other literary forms), the conversations will provide some long reading lists. The podcast page also includes links to supporting articles, such as this article about the Whig historian Catharine Macaulay. The recordings can all be downloaded from iTunes. I enjoyed them.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Studying Musket Balls with Daniel M. Sivilich

One of the folks who contributed expertise to the “Parker’s Revenge” project I discussed yesterday is Daniel M. Sivilich, president of the Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteer Organization and author of Musket Ball and Small Shot Identification.

Starting on the Monmouth battlefield in the late 1980s, Sivilich has been collecting musket balls and other metal shot—which isn’t that hard in New Jersey, the “crossroads of the American Revolution.” But he’s also analyzed and categorized those artifacts in ways that shed more light on them, and thus on the lives of soldiers and the action of battles.

The “Parker’s Revenge” project found 32 musket balls; 31 showed signs of having been fired, and the last one was pristine enough to have been dropped. Sorting the fired balls by weight produced a clear pattern: those found at the expected British position were on average lighter than the balls found around the provincial position. That data matched the hypothesis of the Lexington militiamen firing at the British with smaller-caliber muskets and then withdrawing under fire from the regulars’ heavier shot.

I got to hear Sivilich speak about his work toward the end of this project. Among other topics, he spoke about chewed musket balls. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers accused their enemies of chewing musket balls in an attempt to poison whomever they wounded, as shown in quotations here. Later, as Sivilich wrote in his first paper from 1996 (P.D.F. file), authors came to associate biting on a musket ball with soldiers undergoing painful surgery.

Sivilich has indeed found some balls with the imprints of human teeth. But more often, he’s concluded since publishing that paper, the very chewed-up balls found on battlefields came out of pigs’ mouths, not humans’. This page from Jefferson Patterson Park in Maryland discusses some of the evidence. Another way Sivilich investigated that question? Chewing on a piece of shot to test how much distortion a human jaw could cause. (Not that much.)

Musket Ball and Small Shot Identification doesn’t stop there. In his review of the book for the Journal of the American Revolution, Don Hagist wrote:
Several chapters of this book are devoted to the different ways that spherical lead projectiles were misshapen: imprecise casting; impressions made by ramrods, multiple projectiles, and fabric patches during loading; and the wide range of deformation caused by impacts. If you’ve wondered how a ball that struck a fence rail different from one that hit a tree, or how to distinguish a ricocheted ball from a spent one, this book will explain it with words and pictures.
Over 300 pictures, in fact. Let’s face it: this book is a detailed dive into a technical subject. But for folks working on eighteenth-century battlefield archeology, it’s a must.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Final “Parker’s Revenge” Archeology Report

Last month the Friends of Minute Man National Park published the final report on the Parker’s Revenge Archeological Project. I first posted about this project back in 2012 when it was just getting started, then shared periodic updates based on lead archeologist Meg Watters’s public presentations.

Now Watters has finished her formal report, and anyone can download it from this page. The Friends announced:
Technologies utilized in the research informed formal excavations and 1775 battlefield reconstructions. These methods included: 3D laser scanning, GPS feature mapping, and geophysical surveys including metallic surveys, ground penetrating radar, magnetic gradient and conductivity/magnetic susceptibility.

Taken together, the technologies enabled researchers to locate a farmhouse that figured prominently in the battle terrain, to recreate the actual 1775 battlefield landscape and battlefield features and even to model exactly what combatants could and could not see at various positions along the battle road.

Artifacts discovered included 29 British and colonial musket balls from the battle. The location and spatial patterning of the musket balls recovered enabled archaeologists to interpret the exact positions where individuals were standing during the battle—and then outline battle tactics most likely deployed.
The findings appear to validate the local tradition—stated early but without detail—that Lexington militiamen took some shots at the British column as it returned to their town from Concord. Since many of those same militiamen had been on the town common under Capt. John Parker that morning, when the regulars fired the first fatal shots of the war, a twentieth-century historian dubbed the skirmish “Parker’s Revenge.”

For folks who want to read the report, be aware that in P.D.F. form it comprises 35 megabytes of data. My download from the Friends of Minute Man site stopped several times, so I had to keep an eye on it to poke the restart button.

The report contains over 300 pages with more than 100 illustrations, most in color. Those illustrations include photographs of artifacts and researchers, maps of the field, and charts. Unfortunately—and this is the biggest shortcoming of the report in P.D.F. form—many of those maps have blurry text and lines, making them hard to interpret.

This is a scientific report and a government report (not produced by the government, but for a government agency). As such, it includes a lot of information that’s necessary for future study but may not interest more casual readers. There are a lot of blank pages, a list of every artifact found in the study, and transcripts of discussions among experts assembled a year ago.

The portions I found most interesting are:
  • pages 51-65, on the original verbal sources about the event and how historians have described and interpreted it.
  • the detailed recreation of the skirmish based on the new evidence, pages 153-197.
  • for technical details, descriptions of the field work (pages 81-99 and 140-150) and the recreation of land use in 1775 (pages 103-121).
This project was a big undertaking. We should be grateful to Watters, the Friends and their donors, Minute Man National Historical Park, and all the enthusiastic volunteers who made it happen.

(The image above, by Kyle Zick, appears in the report. It shows the British column moving east into Lexington. See that rock outcrop at the rear center? That’s going to be trouble.)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Book Talk at the Massachusetts State Library, 29 Nov.

I’m pleased to report that The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War is now available in digital form for both the Kindle and Nook readers, as well as through iBooks.

I suppose that as a modern author I should add a plea to people who have enjoyed the book to post reviews of it at those online retailers or others, or at Goodreads. But I’m very slow at rating and reviewing products at such sites myself. So all I can say is that if you’re already in the habit of posting book reviews on a website you like, please consider addressing The Road to Concord as well. Thanks!

On Tuesday, 29 November, I’ll speak at the State Library of Massachusetts inside the new State House. (The one with the dome, not the one with the lion and unicorn.) That’s a lunchtime talk, noon to 1:00 P.M., on Beacon Hill, and I’ll sign books afterward.

Given the venue, and given how I already spoke about Boston’s militia cannon at the State House in 2013, I couldn’t resist titling this talk “Overthrowing the Government of Massachusetts: The Bottom-Up Revolution of 1774.” Our event description:
Published earlier this year, The Road to Concord explores the confrontations in New England that led up to the Revolutionary War. It starts with the action-packed days of September 1774, when a spontaneous rural uprising overthrew the royal government of Massachusetts outside of Boston. In the following months, the colony’s Patriots worked to build up a military force. Meanwhile, the British military, under the leadership of General Thomas Gage, tried to thwart those efforts. Central to this story are four small brass cannon belonging to the colonial militia that were smuggled out of Boston by radical Patriots and subsequently located by British spies on a farm in Concord. For different reasons, both the Patriots and Gage strove to keep these guns out of their public reports. In his thoroughly documented book, Mr. Bell argues that these little-known episodes sparked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
This talk will focus on the “Powder Alarm” that opens the book and sets off New England’s “arms race.” I’ll look forward to seeing folks on Tuesday in Room 341 of the Massachusetts State House.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

“Half a dozen cooks were employed upon this occasion”

In the spring of 1761 there was an argument in the pages of Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette over whether the dinner to celebrate the installation of a new minister at the Old South Meeting-House had been too elaborate.

The initial report called the celebration “very sumptuous and elegant,” and declared “many poor People were the better for what remained of so plentiful and splendid a Feast.”

But then a correspondent identifying himself as from the countryside declared the event a “disgusting” contradiction of ministers’ disapproval of “Feasting, Jollity and Revelling.” On 11 May 1761 that writer described what he understood of the meal itself:
There were six tables, that held one with another 18 persons, upon each table a good rich plum pudding, a dish of boil’d pork and fowls, and a corn’d leg of pork, with sauce proper for it, a leg of bacon, a piece of alamode beef, a leg of mutton with caper sauce, a piece of roast beef, a roast line [loin] of veal, a roast turkey, a venison pastee, besides chess cakes and tarts, cheese and butter.

Half a dozen cooks were employed upon this occasion, upwards of twenty tenders to wait upon the tables; they had the best of old cyder, one barrel of Lisbon wine, punch in plenty before and after dinner, made of old Barbados spirit.

The cost of this moderate dinner was upwards of fifty pounds lawful money.
Which was, indeed, an awful lot.