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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Monday, September 26, 2016

Austerity and Stimulus in the American Revolution?

A few weeks back, the Course of Human Events blog highlighted a new book about the American Revolution coming from Steven Pincus, the Bradford Durfee Professor of History and co-director of the Center for Historical Enquiry and the Social Sciences at Yale University. His previous books have been about Britain in the turbulent 1600s.

About The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government, the blog explains:
Pincus maintains that the American Revolution was a major turning point in not just British or American history but global history, because it was a response to the huge debt crisis that had overtaken the European empires. The patriots and their opponents had differing opinions on how best to respond to a debt crisis. One side wanted to stimulate economic growth “in the most dynamic part of the empire, and that was the American colonies.” The other side argued for pursuing austerity measures and shifting the tax burden away from the English and onto those who couldn’t vote (the American colonists, for example).

The various acts passed in the 1760s and 1770s demonstrate which side won out in this fight between austerity measures and stimulus measures. The Sugar Act (1764) and Stamp Act (1765) taxed the colonies in order to raise revenue, and the first of the Townshend Acts was even called the Revenue Act (1767). Instead of stimulating economic growth in the American colonies, the colonists refused to purchase or even to import British goods because of the taxes imposed upon them. As Pincus explains, “The 1770s saw the first time austerity measures pursued in response to a debt crisis generated revolution, but it wasn’t going to be the last time.”
I read about this thesis a couple of years ago, and on first blush it struck me as too relevant for its own good. “Austerity measures and stimulus measures” have been a huge debate in western polity since 2009. But do those terms (or does that analogy) fit the situation of the 1760s?

There’s no question that the imperial government in London sought to collect more revenue from the North American colonies through various tariffs and the failed Stamp Act. But “austerity” seems like more than paying down the debt, especially when contrasted with an economic “stimulus.” Austerity also means freezing or cutting services, and I can’t think of significant services that the British imperial government provided to the colonies that could be cut.

With peace in 1763, the imperial government did shrink its military, which meant it wasn’t shipping specie into the colonies to pay its soldiers and sailors and mount campaigns. There was no doubt less expended on fortifications. But can we equate those with the sort of investment in infrastructure or other public projects we now consider “stimulus”? Furthermore, the colonists who protested imperial policy of the 1760s usually objected to seeing more soldiers in their cities on the grounds that those troops required local spending as well (the real problem with the Quartering Act).

In one area, Parliament definitely increased spending after the Seven Years’ War: the payroll of the Customs office. The Treasury Department also started to pay gubernatorial and judicial salaries instead of relying on colonial governments to come through with that money. Again, the American Whigs and their allies in Britain objected to that new imperial spending because the money ultimately derived from the new tariffs and went toward enforcing those tariffs.

So what austerity/stimulus does Pincus argue was significant?

TOMORROW: Another of today’s hot-button issues.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

“All the Province Stores Sent to Col James Barretts”

Sometime in the early spring of 1775, James Barrett of Concord, a Massachusetts Provincial Congress delegate and militia colonel, wrote down “An account of all the Province Stores Sent to Col James Barretts of Concord Partly in His Own Costody & Partly Elsewhere all under his Care.” That undated document is now at the American Antiquarian Society.

The top of the list begins with the most valuable, dangerous, and risky-to-be-caught-with items:
Two peices of Cannon Brought From Watertown to ye Town
Eight Peices of Cannon Brought to ye Town by Mr Harrington
Four Peices of Brass Cannon & Two Mortar from Col Robertsons
That last name should be Lemuel Robinson, proprietor of the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester. Massachusetts Committee of Safety records confirm that Robinson had those four brass cannon and two mortars in his custody early in 1775.

Barrett was thus in possession of sixteen pieces of artillery, on top of the handful of cannon that Concord itself had bought and mounted. Such weaponry had no use other than warfare, and there was no other foe on the horizon but the royal government.

Barrett’s account also listed a great many other military supplies, including musket cartridges, musket balls, flints, gunpowder, entrenching tools, medical chests, tents and tent poles, dishes and spoons, and “Four Barrels of Oatmeal containing 20 Bushels.” He was helping to equip an army.

Barrett clearly didn’t expect this account to fall into the hands of royal agents since he listed the names of men who had sent him those illegal supplies, including:
  • Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead (“thirtyfive half barrels of powder,” tents).
  • Moses Gill of Princeton (tents, “axes & pick axes & hatchetts”).
  • David Cheever of Charlestown (“Two Barrels of Musquit ball containing 2100 weight,” another “2900 of ball,” another “2000,” &c.).
All those gentlemen were members of the congress’s Committee on Supplies.

Barrett also kept notes of where he was storing different supplies: at the homes of his son James, Ethan Jones, Joshua Bonds, Willoughby Prescott, Abijah Brown, Thomas Hubbard, Ephraim Potter, James Chandler, Joseph Hosmer, Jonas Heywood, and so on. Again, Barrett seems to have felt that information was secure, almost twenty miles from Boston.

But Crown agents found out about those military supplies in March 1775. They gave Gen. Thomas Gage detailed information about where things were in Concord, including those four brass cannon. And on 19 April three companies of the king’s soldiers arrived at Barrett’s farm.

How all that came about, what happened next, and what mysteries remain will be the topics of my talk this Thursday, 29 September, at Minute Man National Historical Park: “Cannons in Concord, and Why the Regulars Came Looking.” That event will start at the park’s Lexington/Lincoln visitor center at 7:00 P.M., and I’ll be happy to sign copies of The Road to Concord afterward.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Searching for the “Senatorial Saucer” Source

Yesterday I quoted the story of the “senatorial saucer” as it appeared in Harper’s magazine in 1884.

However, that wasn’t the first appearance of the story, nor an accurate reflection of its earlier appearance. Back in 1871 the German-born law professor Francis Lieber had put the tale in writing in a letter to Rep. James A. Garfield. Here’s that passage from The Life and Letters of Francis Lieber, published in 1882:
The student had heard [law professor Edouard] Laboulaye lecture in Paris just before the war. When Laboulaye spoke of the bicameral system, recommending it, he concluded his remarks with relating that [Thomas] Jefferson one day visited [George] Washington, and, full as Jefferson was of French views, he zealously attacked the system of two Houses.

Washington replied that Jefferson was much better informed than himself on such topics, but that he would adhere to the experience of England and America. “You yourself,” said the General, “have proved the excellence of two houses this very moment.”

“I,” said Jefferson; “how is that, General?”

“You have,” replied the heroic sage, ”turned your hot tea from the cup into the saucer, to get it cool. It is the same thing we desire of the two houses.”

There is not the least doubt in my mind that Laboulaye told this, but whence has he the delectable anecdote? I should give much to know.
As a proud tea drinker, I note that the earliest form of this story is about tea, not coffee as in the Harper’s version.

Lieber kept seeking information until his death in 1872. The following year, a number of periodicals, including the 1 Feb 1873 College Courant, ran this item:
A Berlin correspondent writes to the Christian Union: “A while ago the late Dr. Lieber published a card calling for the origin of an anecdote of Washington, which one of the Professor’s law students had heard from Laboulaye. . . . Your correspondent remembers telling this anecdote to Laboulaye, at his table, several years ago, and my authority for it was the late Judge [David] Daggett, who told it with inimitable gusto in his law lectures to the senior class in Yale College. His authority was probably the former Senator Hillhouse, of New Haven; and any survivor of the Daggett or the Hillhouse family should be able to verify so good an anecdote of Washington, and to put it on record beyond a question.”
It’s notable that the College Courant was published across the street from Yale. The Hillhouse and Daggett families remained in New Haven. Yet that magazine never published a follow-up with the confirmation of the anecdote Lieber had sought, nor have I found it anywhere else.

So the oral transmission of the story goes back like this:
  • Francis Lieber (1798/1800-1872)
  • an unnamed student 
  • Edouard Laboulaye (1811-1883)
  • unnamed correspondent in Berlin
  • David Daggett (1764-1851, shown above)
Why did the correspondent suggest the story came from “Senator Hillhouse”? James Hillhouse (1754-1832) represented Connecticut in Congress from 1791 through 1810. He was thus at the capital as a Federalist during Washington’s administration. He and Daggett later knew each other through Yale and the New Haven bar.

But the trail really stops with Daggett telling the story in his lectures. Only supposition leads on to Hillhouse. And Daggett didn’t serve in Congress until President Washington was long dead, so the story’s provenance stops short of the men involved in the conversation.

It’s worth noting that the “senatorial saucer” anecdote contrasts the wisdom of Washington with the “zealous,” francophile, and slightly hypocritical Jefferson. In other words, it reflects and reinforces how Federalists viewed those two men.

Given how little evidence there is of Jefferson actually objecting to bicameral legislatures, this legend seems dubious. Perhaps it’s a useful understanding of the Senate, but not one we should confidently ascribe to Washington himself.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cooling Down a Washington Quotation

When I was at Mount Vernon earlier this month, my eye fell on these coffee cups in the gift shop.

Over George Washington’s signature they say (within quotation marks), “Decision making, like coffee, needs a cooling process.”

These cups were shelved with lots of other paraphernalia displaying Washington quotes, such as:
But the words about coffee didn’t sound like Washington.

And indeed, I haven’t found them in any published edition of Washington’s papers, in the material now available at Founders Online, in the Library of Congress’s online papers, or at the Washington Papers project. In fact, Google Books doesn’t find the quotation in any book at all, though it does appear on internet quotation sites.

The phrase “decision making” didn’t really take off until the mid-1900s. The phrase “cooling process” made it into a 1799 issue of The Critical Review, just within Washington’s lifetime, but it’s not in Washington’s own writings.

The source of this ersatz quotation is probably the legend of the “senatorial saucer” which recounted a supposed conversation between Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As printed in Harper’s magazine in 1884, that story quoted the first President explaining the need for a Senate this way:
“Why,” asked Washington, “did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer, before drinking?”

“To cool it,” answered Jefferson, “my throat is not made of brass.”

“Even so,” rejoined Washington, “we pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”
However, Monticello’s website points out that Jefferson was in France when the Constitutional Convention discussed and decided on a bicameral legislature, and his writings show he supported the idea before he returned. Back in 1776 he had mapped out a bicameral legislature for Virginia. Monticello therefore has the story filed under “Legends.”

Mount Vernon likewise has a webpage devoted to “Spurious Quotations” of Washington. I believe the line about decision-making and coffee should be on it, but perhaps the coffee cups have to sell out first.

TOMORROW: The search for the source of the senatorial saucer.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Political Science in Fever-Stricken Philadelphia

H-Net just ran Jan Golinski’s review of Feverish Bodies, Enlightened Minds: Science and the Yellow Fever Controversy in the Early American Republic by Thomas A. Apel.

As Golinski explains, no one in 1790s Philadelphia understood the cause of the epidemic that emptied the new national capital, but that didn’t stop two schools of thought from forming:
Broadly speaking, the “localist” side of the dispute traced the disease’s origins to bad air in the affected area, due to the presence of corrupt or putrefying matter or to a change in what they called the “atmospheric constitution.” Against them were ranged the “contagionists,” who believed the disease had originated elsewhere, brought by migrants—such as the refugees who fled to Philadelphia from the revolution in Haiti—and subsequently communicated from one individual to another.

From a modern perspective, one might be inclined to dismiss the whole debate as founded on ignorance and mistaken assumptions. Nobody at the time had any knowledge of the virus that causes yellow fever, and nor did anyone recognize the role of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito in transmitting it from person to person. We now know that the disease is not directly infectious, though it is so through the medium of the insect vector; it is not caused by putrefying organic matter, but stagnant water does provide an environment in which the mosquito can easily breed. Both localists and contagionists could therefore muster facts to support their case, but neither side could decisively disprove the other’s claims.
Like many medical controversies in the eighteenth century, therefore, we don’t really want to take either side. It would be so much easier if any of the debating doctors of the period just washed his hands.
In his final chapter, Apel examines the political dimension of the controversy. He rightly declines to map the two sides directly onto the political divisions of the time. On the other hand, he suggests that the fierceness of the dispute did reflect the political factionalism of the 1790s. This was the era when the Enlightenment public sphere fissured into contending groups, and when conspiracy theories abounded on both sides of the Atlantic. Participants in the yellow fever debates frequently alleged their opponents were lying or conspiring against the public interest.

[Dr. Benjamin] Rush, in particular, exhibited a high degree of paranoia, likening himself to the early Christian martyrs persecuted under the Roman Empire. Simultaneously, he insisted that his opinions were the undeniable outcome of reason and truth. Apel reminds his readers that twentieth-century critics of the Enlightenment identified this combination of paranoia, conspiracy theories, and dogmatic insistence on one’s own rationality as symptomatic of the last phase of the movement.
The epidemic occurred at the same time as the French Revolution, after all, and the harsh British reaction to its radicalness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wheatley and Attucks “Against All Odds” Advertisements

On his Black Quotidian website, Matt Delmont shares material from African-American newspapers—the news stories, opinion pieces, and advertisements that black Americans in larger cities were reading in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Earlier this week the site featured a comics-style advertisement for Black and White Ointment and Skin Soap from the 17 Sept 1938 Pittsburgh Courier. That ad featured the Boston poet Phillis Wheatley—shown as a little girl coming of a slave ship at left.

Another ad in the same “Against All Odds” campaign highlighted Crispus Attucks, shot and killed at the Boston Massacre. It looks like twelve such pages might have been combined to create the Against All Odds booklet one could buy with three Black and White Beauty Creations labels and 25¢. I haven’t found any trace of that booklet today.

I can pick holes in the history that both ads relate. Wheatley didn’t meet King George III or, as far as the contemporaneous evidence tells us, Gen. George Washington. (But she did meet the Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the colonies, and Washington did invite her to visit him at Cambridge.)

Likewise, no witness spoke of Attucks making a “speech” that incited opposition to the British troops on 5 Mar 1770, though he was at the front of the crowd that confronted the soldiers on King Street.

Still, these ads are valuable evidence of how the memory of Wheatley and Attucks was preserved and shaped in popular culture—not just in schoolbooks and formal histories but also in commercial communications. At a time when mainstream America was openly hostile to citizens of African ancestry, they upheld the memory of “the terrible ‘Middle Passage’” and of blacks’ role in the nation’s origin.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Clark-Pujara on the Slave Trade in Salem, 26 Sept.

On Monday, 26 September, the Salem State University History Department and Salem Maritime National Historic Site will host Christy Clark-Pujara speaking on “The Business of Slavery in Colonial and Revolutionary New England.”

Clark-Pujara, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is the author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island. In an interview with John Fea, she described the message of that book this way:
There is no comprehensive history of slavery in Rhode Island even though the business of slavery was central to the development and economic success of the colony and state. Moreover, a full accounting of the institution of slavery in the Americas necessitates a full accounting of the business of slavery, which was concentrated in the northern colonies and states. I also hope that my work contributes to scholarly literature combating the myths that northern slaveholding was rare, that slavery was mild or that emancipation was quick and free blacks were fully incorporated into the new nation.
This talk will take place in the Salem Regional Visitor Center at 2 New Liberty Street. It is free and open to the public, and he doors will open at 7:00 P.M. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cannon to Reappear at Grotonfest, 24 Sept.

One of the events of this Saturday’s Grotonfest will be the Groton Historical Society’s unveiling of a Revolutionary-era cannon.

The Groton Herald and Nashoba Valley Voice have both run stories about local curator Earl Carter’s work restoring that iron cannon and building a (naval) carriage for it. The Herald’s online story includes a photograph of the markings on the gun, including the royal monogram.

However, in relaying Carter’s understanding of the cannon’s history, the Herald story raises questions:
The cannon was captured when the British gunboat H.M.S. Diana, fitted with four cannon and swivel guns, sailed up Chelsea Creek from Boston Harbor to engage Colonial forces. Exposed to heavy gunfire, the British were forced to abandon Diana at about 10 pm. When British Lieutenant [Thomas] Graves abandoned Diana, he transferred his men to HMS Britannia, which was successfully towed to deeper water. Unmanned, Diana drifted and ran aground on the Mystic River side of the Chelsea coast, tipping onto one side.

American forces, including the eight Groton Minutemen, commanded by Asa Lawrence, boarded the Diana and removed four cannon, one of which is pictured on the front page of the paper. Other American forces rapidly removed everything of value, including other guns, rigging, sails, clothing, and money. They laid hay under the stern to serve as kindling, and the vessel was set on fire at about 3 a.m. to prevent it from falling back into British hands.

Twenty days later, these same four captured cannon were deployed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Three of the four cannon were lost in the battle, with this one cannon remaining in American hands. Immediately following the battle, a great amount of the armament and gunpowder, including this cannon, were taken to Col. [James] Barrett’s farm in Concord for safe hiding from the British. But, soon, the British learned of this hiding place and sent a large contingent to confiscate these military stores.
The same narrative appears in the video accompanying the Valley Voice article.

However, the “large contingent” of British soldiers sent to confiscate weapons at Barrett’s farm arrived on 19 Apr 1775, one month before the fight over the Diana and two months before the Battle of Bunker Hill.

In addition, the Massachusetts artillery regiment got six cannon onto the Charlestown peninsula during Bunker Hill and lost five—all “4 pounders,” according to Lt. Richard Williams of His Majesty’s 23rd Regiment.

Neither newspaper story lays out the historical documentation for that narrative—which, of course, is not what newspaper stories usually do. But I hope there are clear answers to these questions:
  • What size is this iron cannon? What other physical evidence does the gun itself carry? 
  • What paper trail traces the cannon from the Diana into the New England army and through the war? In researching The Road to Concord I found that Col. Richard Gridley’s Massachusetts artillery regiment did a lousy job with paperwork, and the Continental Army not much better when it came to tracking individual guns.
  • When does this particular cannon surface in Groton records? The town had an unusually active, document-loving local historian in Samuel Abbott Green (1830-1919). I found no mention of a local Revolutionary cannon in his books, even in the section of his Groton during the Revolution that discusses how the Massachusetts Committee of Safety assigned “four six-pounders” to the town on 15 Apr 1775. (It’s not clear the committee had time to ship those guns to Groton before the war began.)
There were cannon in Groton as early as 1808 because the town had its own militia artillery company. In that year (according to Green in his Natural History and the Topography of Groton) the Federalist Columbian Centinel reported that the town’s Independence Day celebration had been spoiled by partisan feuding within the company:
Capt. [James] Lewis [1761-1828], of the Groton Artillery, (a demo[crat].) tho’ courteously invited to appear with his company to celebrate the day, which gave our country birth, not only meanly denied Lieut. [Solomon] Carleton [1773-1856] and his company the use of the cannon on the occasion, but unsuccessfully endeavored to dissuade many from the celebration.
That gathering toasted the “Concord Artillery” instead. Even more specific, at a Lawrence Academy ceremony in 1854, Abbott Lawrence (1792-1855) shared a youthful memory of “the Groton artillery, with their two enormous guns—three pounders.”

According to the Valley Voice, “In 1972, the Groton Historical Society re-discovered [the cannon] behind a building near Lawrence Academy. Someone had built a miniature outdoor display…[but] the barrel was covered in vines ‘30 to 40 years old’.” So the cannon’s provenance seems clear for the last fifty years, at least.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

American Apotheoses

I do like me some political apotheosis art.

As discussed at the Unemployed Philosophers Guild and Princeton’s Graphic Arts Collection, these were prints that honored a dead political figure by showing him ascending to heaven.

After George Washington’s death at the end of 1799, the Irish-born artist John James Barralet produced a print, shown here, of the late President being received into heaven by Genius, Immortality, Faith, Hope, and Charity while Liberty and America mourn below.

That was such a popular image in America that after Abraham Lincoln’s murder in 1865 there was an apotheosis image copied from it.

S. J. Ferris portrayed Lincoln and Washington in heaven together with different degrees of slashiness.
In the same year, another “Apotheosis of Washington” was painted on the U.S. Capitol ceiling.

The earliest example of an American political apotheosis that I’ve spotted actually came from Revolutionary France in 1790: “L’Apôtre de le Liberté Immortalisé (The Apostle of Liberty Immortalized),” by Baricou Montbrun. This was a Parisian a response to the death of favorite diplomat Benjamin Franklin. The Newport Historical Society recently located a copy in its collection.
I have to say, Franklin’s body language makes this action look more like Titian’s “Rape of Europa” than a cheerful apotheosis.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Elizabeth Chapman’s Revolution

This afternoon I’m leading my new “Children of the Revolution: Boys & Girls in Cambridge During the Siege of Boston” walking tour for Cambridge Discovery Day, as described here.

One of the young people I’ll speak about is Elizabeth Chapman, born in Charlestown in March 1758 and thus seventeen years old when the war broke out. When she was seven, Eizabeth’s father had died while sailing to Surinam, leaving eight children with his widow Jemima.

I don’t know how the family supported themselves for the next decade, but Elizabeth’s older brother Jonathan went to sea four days before his nineteenth birthday, sailing in May 1775 from Gloucester. He returned a month later to find Charlestown “in Ashes” after the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Elizabeth, her other siblings, and their mother had “fled (with some little furniture to the Country)”—specifically to the house of Jonas Green in Malden. Massachusetts’s rebel government was scrambling to find homes for war refugees and ways they could support themselves.

Around the start of October 1775, Elizabeth Chapman went to work in a household in Cambridge. Not just any household—she became a maid at Gen. George Washington’s headquarters in the mansion left behind by the Loyalist John Vassall, shown above. Elizabeth reported to the household steward Timothy Austin, his wife, and the other women he had hired to cook the meals and clean the building.

On 4 April 1776, the day Gen. Washington headed south to New York, Austin paid “Eliza. Chapman 6 months wages” amounting to £2, 3s., and 4d. Not much cash, but Elizabeth had found food and shelter through the winter and relieved some of the burden on her family.

Eight years later, in 1784, Elizabeth Chapman married a Hartford-born sea captain named Ozias Goodwin. The couple settled in Boston and raised a family. Ozias became a merchant and served as an Overseer of the Poor, a respected public office. He died in 1819, and Elizabeth on 18 December 1831, fifty-five years after she had helped to look after the Washington household.