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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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sylvanus Johnson “returned from captivity”

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

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

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

TOMORROW: Sylvanus Johnson in the woods.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Princeton in the Snow

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Distant View of Roxbury During the Siege

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The J.A.R. Starting the Year Off Big

Over at the Journal of the American Revolution, there have been several articles of interest this year already. And not just because they arose out of conversations involving me.

First, the organization has given its 2016 Book of the Year Award to Brothers at Arms, American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It, by Larrie D. Ferreiro.

When I first looked at that book, I thought its marketing copy was too breathless—what student of the Revolutionary War doesn’t know that America’s ultimate victory depended on help from European governments, particularly France? But then I sampled the book, and I was impressed with the detail that Ferreiro brought to exploring that history.

Honorary mention goes to Edward G. Lengel’s First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His—and the Nation’s—Prosperity.

Last week the site featured one of its periodic round-robins, asking several of us contributors for short answers to some (hopefully) provocative questions. This series was:
As usual, there were a range of responses, especially from those of us who have a more narrow focus in our interests—with some lumping around particular personalities.

Finally, America’s History, L.L.C., will host its annual American Revolution Conference at Colonial Williamsburg on 24-26 March 2017. I attended last year for the first time, and enjoyed myself. Although some fine academic scholars attend, this isn’t an academic conference. In fact, it reminded me more of the fan conventions I’ve been to, except that in this case the corpus to study is real.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Kamensky on Copley in Medford, 18 Jan.

Here’s a passage from Jane Kamensky’s biography of John Singleton Copley, A Revolution in Color, that I quite enjoyed. This describes a period in 1774, when Copley was embarking on his long-dreamed-of Grand Tour of Europe to study art. He had picked up an Englishman named George Carter, a “failed mercer [textile dealer] lately turned painter,” as his traveling companion.
Carter romped through a barbed picaresque worthy of Cervantes, while Copley chronicled his earnest Pilgrim’s Progress. Their differing sensibilities began to chafe, at least on Carter.

“Mr. Carter [is] well versed in traveling, has the languages…is a very polite and sensible man, who has seen much of the World,” Copley told his mother. It was “an happy event[,] the having a companion,” he assured [his wife] Sukey, “by this everything goes easy.”

The very next day Carter noted: “my Companion…is a perfect dead Wait.”

As the week's stretched to months, Carter’s litany of complaints grew longer and louder. Copley was needy, “not knowing a Syllable of the Language,” yet had “so much to say in his own…that it rather Fags the Spirits.” He could be combative and even perverse, always taking “Things at the wrong End.”

He defended the untenable, arguing that “a Huckaback Towel was softer than a Barcelona Silk Handkerchief,” or that fealty to law was nobler than unforced honor. Yet he brooked disagreement poorly. Carter’s diagnoses: Copley had been too “long the Hero of each little Tale,” allowed to believe “there is Nothing that he is not Master of.” Boston was a small pond. . . .

Carter wearied, especially, of Copley’s paeans to the colonies. Every leaf, every vista, was measured against America—and found wanting: the mirror image of Copley’s letters home. American wood burned hotter than English coal. American milk tasted sweeter than French; surely the French cows “had eat dandelion.” (This after Copley had slurped eleven cups of milky tea greedily enough.)

From Toulon, near the end of September, Carter wrote,
My Companion is solacing himself that if they go on in America for an 100 Years to come as they have for 150 years past, they shall have an independent Government…Art will then be more encouraged there, great Artists would arise and that was the great object that induced him to take this Tour to Roame.

I just hinted that it was probabl[e] he might not live to see that Period; and therefore his coming to Rome, if that was the End intended to be answered, would he not be some what mistaken in the Outset?
Copley didn’t get that.

Prof. Kamensky, director of the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, will speak about Copley at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford on Wednesday, 18 January. This event will start at 7:30 P.M. Copies of A Revolution in Color will be available for purchase and signing.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Chandler on Martin Howard in Newport, 12 Jan.

On Thursday, 12 January, the Newport Historical Society will host Abby Chandler speaking on “The Life and Times of Martin Howard.”

Howard was the rare Loyalist who before the Revolutionary War managed to tick off his Whig neighbors in two separate colonies. The event description says:
During this lecture, Dr. Chandler will explore Martin Howard’s life from his time in Newport, when he inhabited the Newport Historical Society’s Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House in the mid-eighteenth century, to his time in North Carolina where he served as the colony’s Chief Justice and his final years in London.

She will share how his political position placed him in firm opposition to many Newport residents during the 1765 Stamp Act crisis, how this led to his decision to flee his Rhode Island home after his house was attacked, his figure was hung in effigy and publicly burned.
Chandler is a professor of early American history at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, researching a book on political unrest in British North America during the 1760s. She is already the author of Law and Sexual Misconduct in New England, 1650-1750: Steering Toward England.

This program will take place at the Newport Historical Society Resource Center at 82 Touro Street,  starting at 5:30 P.M. Admission is $1 for members, $5 for others. Reserve a seat online at NewportHistory.org or call 401-841-8770.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

“A comma in the middle of a phrase”

Here’s one last posting about Angelica (Schuyler) Church, for now. In the early years of the republic, she exchanged letters with a lot of American political men, and some of those letters seem flirtatious. Among those correspondents was Thomas Jefferson, whom Church met through the artist Maria Cosway.

Some authors writing about Church’s brother-in-law Alexander Hamilton take it as a near certainty that the two of them had a sexual affair: Willard Sterne Randall in Alexander Hamilton, Arnold Rogow in Fatal Friendship, Warren Roberts in A Place in History. Other authors say they just played at flirting, or never acted on their attraction, or that it’s simply impossible to know.

Me, I’m not sure Hamilton was even in Angelica Church’s league—not when her husband John Barker Church was around to supply both money and excitement. And if they were having a secret affair, I’d think they’d be less flirtatious in the letters each probably shared with his or her spouse. But it’s impossible to know.

The Hamilton show on Broadway presents the two in-laws’ relationship as an unconsummated yearning, mostly on Angelica’s part. That comes through most in a number titled “Take a Break,” in which Angelica sings:
In a letter I received from you two weeks ago
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase
It changed the meaning. Did you intend this?
One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days
It says:
“My dearest Angelica”
With a comma after “dearest.” You’ve written
“My dearest, Angelica.”
In his surviving correspondence Hamilton never wrote “My dearest Angelica,” with or without a comma. (He did write “my dear Angelica” in three letters between 1794 and 1803.)

The inspiration for that verse clearly comes from an exchange between Angelica Church and Alexander Hamilton in 1787. In the first letter, Church wrote:
You had every right my dear brother to believe that I was very inattentive not to have answered your letter; but I could not relinquish the hopes that you would be tempted to ask the reason of my Silence, which would be a certain means of obtaining the second letter when perhaps had I answered the first, I should have lost all the fine things contained in the Latter. Indeed my dear, Sir if my path was strewed with as many roses, as you have filled your letter with compliments, I should not now lament my absence from America: but even Hope is weary of doing any thing for so assiduous a votary as myself. I have so often prayed at her shrine that I am now no longer heard. Church’s head is full of Politicks, he is so desirous of making once in the British house of Commons, and where I should be happy to see him if he possessed your Eloquence.
Hamilton wrote back in December:
You ladies despise the pedantry of punctuation. There was a most critical comma in your last letter. It is my interest that it should have been designed; but I presume it was accidental. Unriddle this if you can. The proof that you do it rightly may be given by the omission or repetition of the same mistake in your next.

So Mr. Church resolves to be a parliament-man. I had rather see him a member of our new Congress; but my fervent wish always is that much success may attend all his wishes. I am sincerely attached to him as well as to yourself.
Hamilton signed that letter “Adieu ma chere, soeur” (Adieu my dear, sister), to drive home the joke about punctuation. Or was it a joke?

In any event, it was Hamilton, not Church, who read meaning into a misplaced comma and wondered what it meant about the other’s affections. Hamilton even invited Church to repeat the “the same mistake” in her next letter. If she did, that document is lost. The next letter we have is from late 1789, and Church wrote:
Adieu my dear Brother, may god bless and protect you, prays your ever affectionate Angelica ever ever yours. . . . Adieu my dear Hamilton, you said I was as dear to you as a sister keep your word, and let me have the consolation to beleive that you will never forget the promise of friendship you have vowed. A thousand embraces to my dear Betsy, she will not have so bad a night as the last
No commas out of place there, plus a mention of his wife and of “the promise of friendship…as a sister.”

Angelica Church wrote that letter just as she finished a visit to New York without her husband, and some authors think that was when she and Hamilton consummated an affair. But it’s impossible to know.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

John Barker Church: “the mere man of business”?

So was the marriage of Angelica Schuyler (shown here) and John Carter/John Barker Church happy? We don’t have a body of correspondence between them as we have for, say, John and Abigail Adams. But their marriage lasted until their deaths, and they certainly enjoyed good circumstances.

In 1780 Carter became partners with former Continental Army commissary general Jeremiah Wadsworth (1743-1804) of Connecticut as the main supplier for Gen. Rochambeau’s troops in North America. The French needed food and supplies for thousands of men.

Unlike the Continental Congress, whose paper money was rapidly losing value, France could pay in specie. Wadsworth and Carter got a cut of everything they supplied. They also gained excellent credit they could use for their other ventures, and money they could lend other businessmen. As a result, by the end of the war, Wadsworth and Carter were very rich.

In August 1782 James McHenry wrote to Alexander Hamilton from Baltimore:
Mr. Carter is the mere man of business, and I am informed has riches enough, with common management, to make the longest life very comfortable. Mrs. Carter is a fine woman. She charms in all companies. No one has seen her, of either sex, who has not been pleased with her, and she has pleased every one, chiefly by means of those qualities which make you the husband of her Sister.
The next July, the Carters and Wadsworth headed to France to collect their final payments. Sometime in 1783, Carter revealed his real name: John Barker Church. There’s no evidence of when he told his wife about that part of his past. By that fall, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay knew about it, though the couple still went by “Carter” for a few months longer.

Finally, the family headed to Britain, and at that point they came out permanently as the Churches. At the end of 1784, Abigail Adams wrote to a sister from London, “Mr. and Mrs. Church are here too, alias Cartar. Mrs. Church is a delicate little woman. As to him, his character is enough known in America.”

Back in Britain, Church quickly paid off the debts that he had left behind in 1774 and reestablished himself in business. He bought a house on Sackville Street in London. He bought a country house near Windsor. The couple entertained widely, not just among the American community—one of John Barker Church’s gambling friends was the Prince of Wales.

We might think that a rather boring, aristocratic life compared to the drama of nation-building that brother-in-law Hamilton threw himself into in America, but John Barker Church was also interested in politics. He was part of the radical Whig faction, causing George III to call his principles “avowedly enemical.” In 1787 he ran for Parliament and lost. The following year, Church took another approach: he bought a rural estate which came with a parliamentary seat, and put himself up for that seat in 1790.

By then the French Revolution was roiling Europe, and Church was decidedly on the side of reform. He opposed Britain’s war measures and hosted French exiles at the height of the Terror. In addition, he:
  • financed Charles James Fox, leader of the Whig left, with big loans he was never able to collect on.
  • bankrolled an attempt to break Lafayette out of a Prussian prison on 1792. (One of these days I’ll tell that story.)
  • helped Talleyrand sail to America in 1794 after Britain suddenly expelled him.
After six years in Parliament, Church gave up his seat, sold his estate, and headed back to the U.S. of A.

In 1797 Robert Morris went bankrupt. Church was one of his creditors, and to settle the debts he took over a great many of Morris’s western land claims. A few years later, the Churches’ oldest son Philip went to a tract in western New York and founded the town of Angelica, named after his mother. John Barker Church himself commissioned a mansion in Belmont called Belvidere.

Meanwhile, Church kept busy in the New York business world. He underwrote loans and was a director of the Manhattan Company and the Bank of North America. The Churches had eight children between 1778 and 1800, most of them living a long time. And still their life was full of drama. John Barker Church fought a duel with Aaron Burr five years before Hamilton did. In fact, Church was the family expert on affairs of honor, supplying the pair of pistols that his nephew Philip Hamilton and his brother-in-law used in their fatal confrontations.

Angelica Church died in 1814. John Barker Church returned to his native Britain and died four years later. He wasn’t a brilliant writer or political theorist, but he certainly wasn’t boring.

Friday, January 06, 2017

“Even the Carters could not shut their hearts against us”

As I described yesterday, John and Angelica Carter moved from Albany, New York, to Boston in late 1777, John aiming to go into the business of supplying the Continental Army.

Another large group of people made a similar journey a few weeks later: the “Convention Army” of British and Hessian prisoners of war after the Battles of Saratoga. Gen. John Burgoyne and his troops marched to the outskirts of Boston, where Gen. William Heath and the civil authorities scrambled to find them housing.

Among those prisoners was Baroness Frederika von Massow Riedesel (shown here), wife of Gen. Friedrich Adolph Riedesel of Brunswick, and their three youngest daughters. In Albany that family stayed with Gen. Philip Schuyler. After traveling to Cambridge, the baroness looked up Angelica Carter, the Schuylers’ eldest daughter.

In her memoir, translated from the German and published in America in the early nineteenth century, the Baroness Riedesel wrote:
None of our gentlemen were allowed to go into Boston. Curiosity and desire urged me to pay a visit to Madame Carter, the daughter of General Schuyler, and I dined at her house several times.

The city, throughout, is pretty, but inhabited by violent patriots, and full of wicked people. The women, especially, were so shameless, that they regarded me with repugnance and even spit at me when I passed by them.

Madame Carter was as gentle and good as her parents, but her husband was wicked and treacherous. She came often to visit us, and also dined at our house with the other generals. We sought to show them by every means our gratitude. They seemed, also, to have much friendship for us; and yet, at the same time, this miserable Carter, when the English General [William] Howe had burned many hamlets and small towns, made the horrible proposition to the Americans to chop off the heads of our generals, salt them down in small barrels, and send over to the English one of these barrels for every hamlet or little town burned down; but this barbarous suggestion fortunately was not adopted.
I haven’t found confirmation that Carter actually said this, but the baroness clearly believed he had. And if he’d said it in her presence, even as a joke, as the wife of a general working for the British king she had every right to be alarmed.
On the 3d of June, 1778, I gave a ball and supper in celebration of the birthday of my husband. I had invited to it all the generals and officers. The Carters, also, were there. General Burgoyne sent an excuse after he had made us wait till eight o’clock in the evening. He invariably excused himself, on various pretenses, from coming to see us, until his departure for England, when he came and made me a great many apologies, but to which I made no other answer than that I should be extremely sorry if he had gone out of his way on our account.

We danced considerably, and our cook prepared us a magnificent supper of more than eighty covers. Moreover, our court-yard and garden were illuminated. As the birthday of the king of England came upon the following day, which was the fourth, it was resolved that we would not separate until his health had been drank; which was done with the most hearty attachment to his person and his interests.

Never, I believe, has ”God save the King” been sung with more enthusiasm or more genuine good will. Even both my oldest little daughters [Gustava and Frederica, ages six and four] were there, having staid up to see the illumination. All eyes were full of tears; and it seemed as if every one present was proud to have the spirit to venture to do this in the midst of our enemies. Even the Carters could not shut their hearts against us.

As soon as the company separated, we perceived that the whole house was surrounded by Americans, who, having seen so many people go into the house, and having noticed, also, the illumination, suspected that we were planning a mutiny, and if the slightest disturbance had arisen, it would have cost us dear.
The house where the Riedesels lived in Cambridge and hosted this occasion still stands on Brattle Street, though it’s been moved and remodeled.

TOMORROW: Back to the Carters’ marriage, and the unveiling of John Barker Church.