Jane Kamensky Talks John Singleton Copley

KamenskyCheck out Mark Cheathem‘s interview with Harvard historian Jane Kamensky.  She talks about her award-winning book A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley.

Here is a taste:

For those who haven’t read your book, would you please provide a synopsis?

Jane Kamensky (JK): A Revolution in Color tells an off-kilter story of British America in the age of the American Revolution through the biography of the New England-born painter John Singleton Copley. Born on the eve of King George’s War, Copley came of age in a thoroughly British Boston, with streets named Queen and King, and book stores and coffee houses touting the latest news from London. He identified thoroughly with an imperial imaginary, dreaming of a world in color an ocean away. When Boston grew heated over taxes in the 1760s, he identified as a Son of British Liberty, and hoped for a return of the status quo ante. He painted men and women on all sides of the conflict–Paul Revere and Thomas Gage, Samuel Adams and Francis Bernard–who doubtless gave him an earful while they sat for their portraits. But when shouting turned to shooting, he, like Melville’s Bartleby, simply preferred not to. Copley’s life and work make visible, literally visible, the viewpoints of that large group of early Americans whose preferred side in Britain’s American War was neither. As Yeats would say of another revolutionary conflict more than a century later, he thought “the worst [were] full of passionate intensity.” He himself lacked political conviction, focusing his own intensity on art and family strategy rather than matters of nation or party. His rise and fall show both the terrors of revolutionary fervor, and the costs of passivity in an age where people insisted on forging their own destinies. Like the Revolution itself, it’s a very ambivalent story.

I would venture to say that many Americans have never heard of John Singleton Copley. What led you to choose him as the subject for this book?

JK: If they haven’t heard of Copley, they’ve seen his work. His Paul Revere is surely the second most famous face of revolutionary America, and we see a version of it every time we hoist a bottle of Sam Adams lager. And of course, Bostonians know Copley as written into the very landscape of the city: Copley Square, the Fairmont Copley Hotel, Copley T station. But the irony is, Copley’s life doesn’t support his use in contemporary culture, which follows a kind of New England nationalism. That gap was interesting to me. Plus, the evidence is very rich: in addition to his dazzling painted work, Copley and his kin left hundreds of letters, which is true for very few artists. Those letters allowed a muddled, middling character to emerge from the swirl of events in the age of revolution. Like a Copley portrait, he’s a well mottled character. We have too few of those in the literature of revolutionary heroes and villains.

Read the rest at The Republic Blog


Black Boston


Robert Gould Shaw Monument, Boston

The Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and the Tufts Data Lab are working together to document Boston’s African-American history.  Learn more about the African American Freedom Trail Project in this piece at WBUR.

Here is a taste:

Boston is a city rich in American history. Tourists come here to explore the city’s central role in some of the United States’ pivotal moments. But its historical narrative is whitewashed, often omitting the influence and accomplishments of the city’s African-American community.

That’s according to Kerri Greenidge, who teaches history at Tufts University and the University of Massachusetts Boston. She specializes in the African diaspora in New England and the Northeast.

“If you have the same people tell the story, you’re not going to get recent scholarship that challenges the story we accept,” says Greenidge.

The narrative Boston has accepted, Greenidge notes, doesn’t exactly highlight the African-American influence and experience beyond slavery.

The Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, where Greenidge is on staff, wanted to help change that. So, together with the Tufts Data Lab, the center embarked on a mission to document significant sites that reflect local African-American history.

Greenidge and Kendra Fields, the center’s director, created a digital map that both tourists and curious locals could use to explore underrepresented but important events in the city’s history.

Read the entire piece here.

Prayer Books and the American Revolution

Book_of_common_prayer_1662Over at the U.S. Intellectual History blog, Sara Georgini of the Massachusetts Historical Society examines the impact of the American Revolution on Boston Anglicans through a close reading of their prayer books.  Georgini describes the “humble prayer book” as “a key intellectual artifact of the revolution.”  In the process she also provides us with a nice little slice of revolutionary-era lived religion.

Here is a taste of her post:

Church records tell us half the tale of how people “lived” religion while turning their hearts and minds to full-scale war. But modern revolutions run on reading material, and all books have biographies. To get at early America’s shifting worship politics, let’s “track changes” in the Books of Common Prayer amended by Anglican and Episcopal laity in the 1770s and 1780s (shown here). As they changed ways of daily worship, Americans imprinted a new language of selfhood and statehood. They road-tested national rhetoric, long before they had any clear, constitutional vision of what that nation might look like. (For more, check out John Fea’s #ChristianAmerica? post, too). Parishioners moved around sacraments to suit new needs. The laity’s handwritten edits in prayer book margins—scraping off “King of Kings” and pasting over rote prayers for the royal family—operated as cultural cues for political change. At critical moments in the war, as colonists endured sieges and made sacrifices, they edited their prayer books to endorse turns in popular thought at the local level. During a holiday week when we think about declarations of independence big and small—and in a year marking the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary—the humble prayer book still serves as a key intellectual artifact of revolution.

At the same time, these volumes were signs of consensus and communion in the Atlantic World. Books of Common Prayer first reached America’s shores alongside the earliest settlers. Often, the 1662 edition printed by London’s John Baskerville was formally issued to new American churches by the Royal Wardrobe. At Old North Church in Boston, vestrymen of 1733 opened a green-baize lined trunk mailed “from the Jewell Office.” Next to sterling silver communion plate, velvet pulpit cushions, and a Bible emblazoned with the royal arms, lay a second cache. Old North vestry received two prayer books, “bound in Turkey leather strung with blue garter ribbon and trimmed with gold fringe” and a dozen more for the community to share, all “bound in Calf Gilt & filleted & strung with blue Ribbon.” Prayer books were more than highly prized signals of royal favor. These worship aids consolidated five liturgical texts: daily offices, Litany, Holy Communion, pastoral offices, and the ordinal. As Rowan Williams suggests, the Book of Common Prayer outlines theological positions, but it is “less the expression of a fixed doctrinal consensus… more the creation of a doctrinal and devotional climate.” Across the Atlantic World, Anglo-American clergy used them to convey a community’s civilization, and learning. In fractured parishes, buying prayer books was often the sole purchase that everyone agreed on.

Read the entire post here.

Paul Revere’s Church Bell

Revere Bell

Yesterday we reported on “The Nation We Build Together,”  a new floor of exhibits at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.  One of those exhibits is “Religion in Early America.”  It was curated by Peter Manseau, the Lilly Endowment Curator of American Religious History at the museum.

Over at “O Say Can You See,” the blog of the museum, Manseau writes about one of the featured items in the exhibit.

Here is a taste:

For several decades after the Revolution, Paul Revere was as famous for his church bells as for his midnight ride. His role as a horse-powered early warning system filling the Massachusetts countryside with shouts of “The British are coming!” in 1775 did not become the stuff of legend until Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his heroic poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1861. Yet he was always known as a man who could use sound in the service of his country.

While he is often remembered simply as a patriot silversmith, Revere’s career and reputation were far more complex during his lifetime. The opening days of the struggle for independence included the events that would eventually make him known to history, but he spent the latter part of the war under a cloud for the charges of insubordination leveled against him during the disastrous Penobscot Expedition, a chaotic naval operation that cost Continental forces hundreds of lives in 1779. Eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing, he continued to work to clear his name and improve his standing in the new nation.

With military laurels beyond his reach, Revere sought to rise socially through business. He broadened his metal-working to include a bell foundry in 1792, when the congregation to which he belonged, the New Brick Church, required a replacement bell for its tower. Between 1792 and his death in 1818, Revere’s company—Revere and Son—made more than 100 bells. The family-run foundry would ultimately cast 398, with the last bell sold in 1828.

Read the entire post here.


Early African Americans and Consumerism

hardesty frontOver at the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society, Jared Hardesty of Western Washington University has a fascinating post about how the eighteenth-century consumer revolution influenced African Americans in Boston.  Hardesty is the author of Unfreedom:: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston.

If you want to learn more about this book check out our April 2016 Author’s Corner interview with Hardesty.

Here is a taste of his post:

Pasted onto the pages of the nineteenth-century bound volume were eighteenth-century town crier documents kept by Arthur Hill. Hill’s records consist of lists of goods lost and found, or “taken up,” by Boston’s residents between 1736 and 1748. Required to submit these records to Boston’s selectmen, Hill seems to have had someone else keep records for a few years before taking over for himself in the early 1740s. Most importantly for our purposes here, people of African descent found a large number of the lost items recorded by Hill. Even more to the point, if we read this list in the context of both the rest of Hill’s records and eighteenth-century Boston, they provide insights into the everyday lives and lived experiences of early African Americans.

First, though, it is important to understand the function of a town crier during this period. Town criers were fixtures in early modern English towns, including those in the Americas. They would make public announcements, but also served as a sort of lost and found, collecting items people found and spreading word about items lost. Of course, this function was all for a fee. Although it started as an official, elected government position in Boston, by the time Hill became a town crier, the position had been largely privatized. As J.L. Bell describes in a series of blog posts (here, here, and here), men like Hill would apply to the selectmen for a license to be a crier. In return for permission and a promise to record all transactions, the licensee kept and recorded all the lost and found goods and charged a finders’ fee for his public announcements. That said, Hill seems exceptional in the sense that he kept such extensive records of items lost and found. His lists of goods are the only ones contained in Boston’s early town records, despite a number of criers operating during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

All told, Hill’s extant records list 380 items that were lost or found. Records for goods found dwarf the items reported to Hill as lost (368 found vs. 12 lost). Let’s look at the records for goods found as it provides a much larger sample for analyzing this list. Hill made fairly meticulous notes as to who found what goods. He recorded occupation and relationships. He also recorded race, often using the term “Negro” to describe people of African descent who took up lost items. Under that or related terminology (“Negro Fellow,” etc.), Hill recorded 36 items found by black Bostonians. That would mean they found 9.8% of the total items recovered, similar to Boston’s black population during this time period, which was roughly 10-12% of the total population. Of course, there is also evidence that Hill did not always record race, such as numerous references to “Maid,” “Man,” “Servant,” or “Boy.” Without racial nomenclature, however, I will err on the side of caution and only use the 36 men and women Hill explicitly recorded as black.

Hill provides little information about these 36 individuals. Of the 36, 31 are simply listed as “Negro,” while there is one described as “Neagar,” two listed as “Negro Woman,” one as “Negro Man,” and a “Negro Fellow.” Hill did, however, provide information about their masters. Indeed, most entries describe these men and women by demonstrating ownership, such as listing one “Negro Woman” as “Capt. Alexr Sears Negro Woman.” Only one entry does not have an owner listed, suggesting the other 35 were enslaved. It is also safe to assume that 34 of the 36 were men, especially considering Hill went out of his way to record “Negro Women” in the other two entries.

If these documents do not tell us much about the biographies of these men and women, what do they explain? At the very least, Hill revealed that people of African descent had quotidian and pedestrian interactions with quasi-officials at the most intimate levels of government. They had access to and participated in local institutions, in this case reporting lost goods they found. Black Bostonians were not socially dead, but part of a vibrant world of material goods and exchange.

These lists, then, help to open up the material worlds of enslaved and free blacks in early Boston. During the eighteenth century, Boston and most other British colonies in the Americas underwent a consumer revolution. Fueled by early industrialization in England, the colonies became dumping grounds for cheap consumer products such as cloth, pottery, clothing accessories (buttons, buckles, pocketbooks, and the like), and silverware amongst many others. Colonists purchased these goods and began associating consumption to class and social status. While scholars have long studied this phenomenon for white colonials, only recently have they started to pay attention to the consumption inhabitants of people of African descent.

Read the entire post here.

The Author’s Corner with Jared Hardesty

hardesty front.jpgJared Hardesty is Assistant Professor of History at Western Washington University. This interview is based on his new book, Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston (NYU Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Unfreedom?

JH: I originally wanted to write a history of tobacco cultures across the Atlantic world, but quickly realized I also wanted to finish graduate school. I’ve long had an interest in slavery in the British North American colonies and when preparing for my comprehensive examinations, I realized that nobody had written a history of slavery in Boston. One of my graduate advisors then told me about a collection of court file papers at the Massachusetts State Archives that has a plethora of material about slaves and slavery, but was underutilized by scholars. That collection, the Suffolk Files, became the corpus for writing the dissertation and later Unfreedom.

The records contained in the Suffolk Files opened an entire new world of slavery for me. There are a large number of depositions and testimonies that allowed me to listen to enslaved voices in a unique and interesting way. While legal documents are inherently problematic, I was able to learn and synthesize quite a bit of information about individual slaves and their experiences.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Unfreedom?

JH: Unfreedom examines the lived experiences of enslaved Bostonians by embedding them in a larger Atlantic world characterized by multiple categories of bound labor, structured by ties of dependence, and maintained by deference. In this hierarchical and inherently unfree world, Boston’s slaves’ testimonies make clear they were more concerned with their everyday treatment and honor than with emancipation, as they pushed for autonomy, protected their families and communities, and demanded a place in society.

JF: Why do we need to read Unfreedom?

JH: The short answer is that historians and general readers interested in slaves and slavery will find Unfreedom unique and interesting in two ways. First, it is the first and only history of slavery in Boston. There are many works on slavery in New England, but none of them focus on Boston alone. Second, the book offers a new interpretative device for understanding slavery in the early modern Atlantic world: the continuum of unfreedom. This device allows us to understand the experiences of enslaved people living in a world characterized less by universal notions of individual liberty and more by multiple forms of dependence and oppression.

The longer answer is that Unfreedom moves slaves’ individual stories to the forefront of our discussion and understanding of slavery. In doing so, it makes an argument about the importance of context in understanding slavery and the lives of enslaved people. At the end of the day, Unfreedom demonstrates slaves and slavery cannot be divorced from that larger context. In the case of slaves in eighteenth-century Boston, they lived in a place quite different from our own and which had its own set of values, mores, and idiosyncrasies. It was a society where nearly 75% of the population lived in some state of dependence and where deference and understandings of traditional liberties and privileges structured the social order. Slaves were full members of this unfree world, which caused them to lay claim to a set of defensible rights, form communities across racial and class lines, find value and empowerment in their work, and appropriate communal institutions for their own use. Living in a world structured more by a continuum of unfreedom than by dichotomous conceptions of slavery and freedom, slaves often sought autonomy and to reshape the terms of their enslavement. Even if a slave won his or her legal freedom, liberty was always tenuous in a world that steadfastly refused to acknowledge black freedom. In this world where liberty could be just as fraught as slavery, then, Unfreedom demonstrates how enslaved Bostonians became masters of their status.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JH: Ha, this might be the hardest question of the interview! I think I sort of fell into it, but growing up in Ohio, I knew I wanted to be an educator and I loved history. Some of my fondest memories as a child involved history, such as my parents taking me on a road trip to Gettysburg when I was in 5th grade. Then, in high school, I had the opportunity to take college courses at the local branch campus of the Ohio State University. Despite having to take a number of required courses, all I wanted to study was History. When I transferred to Ohio Northern University as a freshman, I took a class in colonial American history. From the moment I first learned about the encounter between Native Americans and Europeans, the creation of settler colonies, and the rise of African slavery, I wanted to learn more and explore further. That passion for the history of the American colonies—and some great mentors along the way—has carried me through my undergraduate career, through graduate school, into a tenure-track job, and now through the publication of my first book.

JF: What is your next project?

JH: I am currently at work on two projects. The first is a short and accessible synthetic history of slavery and emancipation in early New England. The second is an exploration of fort construction across British North America between 1689 and 1715 to better understand the intersection of labor and empire in colonial America.

JF: Thanks, Jared!

When Did the Boston Massacre Become a “Massacre”

Revere 2

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 tries to answer this question.  Here is a taste:

Bostonians started to call the killings on King Street on 5 Mar 1770 a “massacre” almost immediately, according to the official record. The minutes of the emergency town meeting that started the next day begin:

At a Meeting of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston at Faneuil Hall on Tuesday the 6th. Day of March 1770 – 11 O’Clock A:M; occasioned by the Massacre made in King Street, by the Soldiery the preceeding Night . . .

Upon a Motion made it was Voted, that if any of the Inhabitants present could give information respecting the Massacre of the last Night, that they be desired to do it in Meeting, that the same might be minuted by the Town Clerk

That clerk was William Cooper, and it appears he was the person who started to apply the term “massacre” as he took notes at that meeting.

By the end of that town meeting that afternoon, Cooper was writing the phrase “horrid Massacre.” On the afternoon of the 12th, that had become “the late horred Massacre.” The latter meeting had chosen a small committee headed by James Bowdoin to write Boston’s official report on the event, which had the title A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston.

In choosing that word, Boston Whigs strengthened the links they perceived between them and government reformers in London. The term echoed the Massacre of St. George’s Fields, which had taken place in London in May 1768. A crowd had turned out to show support for the radical politician John Wilkes. Magistrates “read the Riot Act,” ordering the people to disperse. When they didn’t, soldiers fired at the crowd, killing six to eleven people. 

Read the rest here.

The Wall of Smoke That Divides Us: Serena Zabin on the Boston Massacre

RevereOver at “We’re History,” Serena Zabin, a history professor at Carleton College, offers a slightly different perspective on the so-called “Boston Massacre” and Paul Revere’s famous engraving of it.

There is a lot going on in this short piece. Zabin offers an uncommon reading of Revere’s image that focuses on the shield of smoke billowing between the British and the colonists. She situates both the colonists and the British soldiers in the context of 1770s Boston, suggesting that all the people pictured in this image were neighbors.

In the process, she offers a lesson about what Revere’s engraving and the 246th anniversary of the Boston Massacre might mean for us today.

Here is a taste of her piece:

There certainly were tensions in Boston in 1770. A year and a half before the “massacre,” 2,000 soldiers, along with hundreds of women and children, had crammed into a city of 16,000 inhabitants that sat on a peninsula not much more than a single square mile in size. There was little room to spread out, so it was no wonder that resentments flared. But the conflicts were between neighbors, not strangers. Soldiers and Bostonians found that their daily lives were tangled and knotted together. No bright white line divided them.

Political spin as blatant as that of Revere’s engraving seems to pervade our world today, and we often believe that we can see through the manipulation. But sometimes the most obvious sleight of hand is precisely the one we overlook, because it plays to our assumptions about the world. We let our focus on political difference blind us to the strength of our human relationships. Sometimes the lines that we believe divide us from each other really are no more than smoke.

Read the entire essay here.

Check Out the Records of the Boston Committee of Correspondence

Mark Boonshoft, a post-doctoral research fellow at the New York Public Library, informs us that records of the Boston Committee of Correspondence (1772-1774) are now freely available online. Here is a taste of his post at the blog of the NYPL:

Looking back on the Revolution in 1815, John Adams remarked that “The History of the United States never can be written” without the records of the Boston Committee of Correspondence. When it was formed in 1772, the BCC was the closest thing to an organizing body of the nascent American revolutionary movement.  From that year through 1774, when the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, the BCC corresponded with similar committees in hundreds of Massachusetts towns, as well as from every one of the thirteen colonies.  It was the central node in a growing revolutionary network.  According to Adams at least, the BCC was not merely significant for American history but also for world history. He argued that the BCC provided a model for future European revolutions…

As part of an ongoing project to digitize large portions of the New York Public Library’s early American manuscript collections, NYPL has made the records of the Boston Committee of Correspondence freely available online.  Over the next couple of months, I’ll periodically blog about the collection, especially with an eye toward making it accessible for students.  And we certainly hope this will reinvigorate researchers’ interest in the collection.  But keeping with the Library’s mission to make knowledge available to all, we hope everyone who is interested in the history of the American Revolution will also dive into this rich material.

Interview with J.L. Bell of Boston 1775

Todd Andrik and J.L. Bell

Check out Todd Andrlik’s interview with Bell at the Journal of the American Revolution.  The prolific blogger talks about his sideburns, the birth of Boston 1775, his favorite books about the Revolution outside of Boston, his use of Google Books, his connection with Nathaniel Philbrick, and the potential of a future book stemming from his posts at Boston 1775.

Here is a taste:

2 // Your first posts on Boston 1775 published May 13, 2006. What inspired you to launch your blog seven years ago? And, more importantly, what kind of coffee have you been drinking to give you enough energy to write almost daily since then? 

Back in 2005 or so, I was thinking about a website to share some of the fun little things I’d discovered about Revolutionary history. I talked about possibilities with a writing friend named Greg Fishbone (http://gfishbone.com/), who also did website design, and I realized that it would be much easier to build up the site gradually as a blog than to try to design it all from the start. Plus, with blogging architecture I wouldn’t have to learn all of HTML or go through a sixteen-year-old webmaster every time I wanted to make a change

I didn’t actually do anything more until I went to a workshop by another writing friend named Mitali Perkins (http://www.mitaliperkins.com/), and she urged everyone to start blogs on their special interests. So later that month I posted my first Boston 1775 essay.

As for coffee, I don’t drink it. I do, on the other hand, drink about six cups of tea a day. I probably wouldn’t have survived well in America in late 1773. 

3 // You’re one of the few bloggers I know who has sustained such an aggressive editorial calendar. What’s your secret and how do you choose/plan your content? 

I don’t really plan my content. Oh, sure, I stay aware of major anniversaries like the Boston Massacre, Battle of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and the Boston Tea Party. But many other significant dates sneak up on me until it’s too late.

Sometimes I post items that I’ve had saved on my hard drive for years. Sometimes a story or question catches my fancy on one day and I end up following a tangent for two or three more days, often longer than I expect. Sometimes a comment or email will raise questions that I can’t resist looking into, and then I want to share the results more widely.

At busy times I will gladly pilfer content—excuse me, pass on excellent research and writing from other websites. With links, of course.

John Adams Took The Case

Heather Cox Richardson reminds us, in a post titled “John Adams and the Rule of Law in Boston,” that Adams defended the British soldiers who fired into a crowd on March 5, 1770, killing five people.  Of course we know this event as the Boston Massacre.

Richardson draws some parallels between Adams’s insistence that the British soldiers get a fair trial and the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Here is a taste:

Message boards and blogs are full of angry people calling for Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be tortured or killed. Or both. Immediately. After all, it’s pretty clear he’s guilty, right? Why waste tax dollars on this guy with a long, expensive trial? 
And anyway, who ever said a terrorist who murders Americans should get a fair trial? 
Well, Founding Father John Adams, for one. Right here in Boston…
But by insisting on a fair trial for his country’s enemies, Adams served his cause far better than if he had bowed tothe popular desire to mete out mob justice. Adams and his team established that Massachusetts—and by extension, the new nation Massachusetts men wanted to create—would put no man, even a killer, beneath the law, and no man above it. Theirs would be a nation based not on popular sentiment, but on law. “Facts are stubborn things,” Adams said in defense of the soldiers, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates or our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” He went on: “The law no passion can disturb. ‘Tis void of desire and fear, lust and anger. ‘Tis . . . written reason, retaining some measure of the divine perfection. It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man, but, without any regard to persons, commands that which is good and punishes evil in all, whether rich or poor, high or low.”
What do you think of this comparison?

King Hancock

John Hancock

J.L. Bell has served up another fascinating post at Boston 1775.  This one is about “King Hancock,” the nickname that Massachusetts farmers used to describe John Hancock in the wake of the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.  Here is a taste:

Giving John Hancock the nickname “King” could have been an allusion to his wealth. Likewise, colonial Americans referred to Robert “King” Carter of Virginia (1663-1732), and Robert “King” Hooper (1709-1790) of Danvers. Men in Lexington might have had a particular fondness for Hancock because his paternal grandfather had been the minister of their town for a long time…
…With Hancock just concluding a stint as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, royal officials might have suspected he wanted to set himself up as monarch of Massachusetts.

Hancock and other leading American politicians of April 1775 would have hotly denied such an ambition. At the time they were still professing their loyalty to George III and the British constitution. The source of all the troubles, they complained, was the corrupt ministry in London, not the king. So I doubt those men would have been pleased to hear the provincial soldiers shout “King Hancock forever!”

In fact, in nearly all the uses of the term that have come down to us, “King Hancock” was a pejorative thrown out by supporters of the royal government trying to discredit or ridicule Hancock and the Patriot cause.

Did the British Plan to Burn Harvard in 1775?

J.L. Bell has a great post at Boston 1775 on a 1775 Thanksgiving sermon accusing the British of plotting to burn Harvard College.  The sermon was preached by Rev. Isaac Mansfield Jr., a Continental Army chaplain.  When it was published in 1776, it contained a footnote that described a plan that would have had British soldiers destroying Harvard in April 1775 on their return from Concord.

Bell is not buying Mansfield’s story.  He writes:

Mansfield thus accused the British commanders of planning to capture the Massachusetts legislators, destroy Harvard College, and fortify Cambridge common. He refused to identify his source for that inside information about enemy plans. And of course he was speaking in the midst of a war, when rumors and accusations fly at their fastest.
In fact, Mansfield’s claims don’t make sense. Gen. Thomas Gage did issue a call in September 1774 for the Massachusetts General Court to convene, but they were to gather in Salem, not Boston, and he quickly canceled that summons after the “Powder Alarm.” (The politicians gathered in Salem anyway, out of his reach, and formed a Provincial Congress instead.) There was no call for a legislature in April.

There was also nothing in Gen. Gage’s orders about Harvard. Indeed, the college was so little on Col. Percy’s mind on 19 April that he had to ask tutor Isaac Smith, Jr., which road led from there toward Concord. Percy didn’t have entrenching tools, and Cambridge was a poor place to stop and defend. So when Percy brought the column back through Cambridge, they didn’t pause at the college or the common, nor tried to recross the bridge over the Charles River, but pushed straight on to Charlestown, which was closer to the troops in Boston and more easily defended. 

Read the entire post here.

The Tarring and Feathering of John Malcom

Nathaniel Philbrick is gearing up for the release of his new book, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution.  You can read an excerpt from the book at Smithsonian.com.  Here is a taste:

Earlier in the evening, Malcom had taken a manic delight in baiting the crowd, bragging that Governor Hutchinson would pay him a bounty of 20 pounds sterling for every “yankee” that he killed. His undoubtedly longsuffering wife, the mother of five children (two of whom were deaf), opened a window and pleaded with the townspeople to leave them alone. Whatever sympathy she had managed to gain soon vanished when Malcom pushed his unsheathed sword through the window and stabbed a man in the breastbone.  

The crowd swarmed around the house, breaking windows and trying to get at the customs official, who soon fled up the stairs to the second story. Many Bostonians served as volunteer firemen, and it wasn’t long before men equipped with ladders and axes were rushing toward the besieged house on Cross Street. Even Malcom appears to have realized that matters had taken a serious turn, and he prepared “to make what defense he could.”

Collective violence had been a longstanding part of colonial New England. Crowds tended to intervene when government officials acted against the interests of the people. In 1745, a riot had broken out in Boston when a naval press gang seized several local sailors. Twenty-three years later, anger over the depredations of yet another press gang contributed to the Liberty Riot of 1768, triggered by the seizure of John Hancock’s ship of the same name by Boston customs officials. In that the crowds were attempting to address unpunished wrongs committed against the community, they were a recognized institution that all Bostonians—no matter how wealthy and influential they might be—ignored at their peril. On August 26, 1765, as outrage over the Stamp Act swept across the colonies, a mob of several hundred Bostonians had attacked the home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, breaking windows, beating down doors, and ransacking the house of its elaborate furnishings. But as John Malcom was about to find out on that frigid night in January 1774, and as Thomas Hutchison had learned almost a decade before him, the divide between a civic-minded crowd and an unruly and vindictive mob was frighteningly thin.

The First Catholic Easter in Boston

Pope’s Day in Boston, Nov. 5, 1769

Yesterday I did a phone interview with John Turner‘s American religious history class at George Mason University and one of the students asked me about anti-Catholicism and the founding fathers. I talked a little bit about why Catholicism was a threat to the largely Protestant colonies and how many of the founders were anti-Catholic in their religious sentiments.

I could have also called the students’ attention to Emilie Haertsch’s recent post at The Beehive, the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Haertsch writes about the first Roman Catholic parish in Boston.  I was struck (but not surprised) that a Catholic parish was not founded in this Puritan stronghold until 1788. 

Here is a taste of the post:

…when the Massachusetts Constitution took effect in 1780 it became legal for Catholics to practice publicly. The Rev. Claudius Florent Bouchard de la Poterie, a former French naval chaplain, established the first Catholic parish in New England in 1788 on School Street in Boston, and he celebrated the first mass there on November 2, the Catholic feast of All Souls’ Day.

So exotic was Catholic worship to Bostonians when the parish opened that La Poterie felt it necessary to write an explanation of Catholic practices in order to show that there was nothing to fear. In 1789 he published a pastoral letter titled “The Solemnity of the Holy Time of Easter: The Order of the public Offices, and of the Divine Service, during the Fortnight of Easter, in the Catholick Church of the Holy Cross at Boston,” a copy of which the Society has in its collections. His explanation begins with Palm Sunday, continues through Holy Week, and finishes with Easter Sunday. He writes of the “paschal duty” of Catholics to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and the subsequent availability of daily confession to Catholics throughout Holy Week. La Poterie also illuminates the ritual surrounding Holy Thursday mass, including the washing of the “feet of 12 lads, between 10 and 14 years of age; the poorest will have the preference.” The 12 boys represented the 12 apostles, who had their feet washed by Jesus in the Gospel. La Poterie also describes the importance of the Easter Vigil mass as the time when new Catholics are welcomed into the Church through baptism.

Read the entire post here. 

What Happens When the Blogmaster at "Civil War Memory" Wants to Study the American Revolution?

I have never met Kevin Levin, and I am not a scholar of the Civil War, but I am a big fan of his award-winning blog and website–Civil War Memory.

In his most recent post, Levin confesses that his research and writing interests are moving toward the American Revolution in Boston.

I hope Levin makes the switch. 

Here is a taste of his post entitled “Contemplating a Different Trail.”

So, what to write about?  Most of you won’t be surprised by this, but what I am most interested in are the bricks that make up Boston’s Freedom Trail.  Begun in the 1950s, the Freedom Trail frames Boston’s Revolutionary history in a profound way.  The path steers thousands of visitors each year through the winding streets determining what they see and hear.  There is no one organization responsible for the trail and because it is physically laid out the trail is contested space.  As a result, there are ongoing disputes about what sites and stories ought to be included.

Such a topic would give me the opportunity to explore issues related to tourism, public history, and historical memory and all in my own backyard.  I haven’t thought much about the scope of the project, but I would want to write something that blends a scholarly narrative with the playfulness of Tony Horowitz’s Confederates in the Attic.  I’ve only just begun to do some background reading on the subject so whether I carry through or not has yet to be determined.  What do you think?

I like it.