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Posts Tagged ‘food’

Anti-Stamp Act Protests in Rhode Island

Public protests against the Stamp Act spread outside of Boston in August 1765 so quickly that I’ve fallen behind the sestercentennial anniversaries of those events.

Since the Newport Historical Society is commemorating that port town’s protests with a reenactment today, I’m focusing on the events in Rhode Island.

On 24 August, ten days after the first protest at Boston’s Liberty Tree, A Providence Gazette Extraordinary appeared. William Goddard (1740-1817) had stopped publishing this newspaper in May. This special issue was “Printed by S. and W. Goddard,” the “S.” being William’s mother Sarah (c. 1701-1770).

Sarah Goddard resumed the weekly publication of the paper in 1766 as “Sarah Goddard, and Company.” From January 1767 to 1769, the colophon clarified that she printed “(In the Absence of William Goddard),” the son having gone on to other cities. Finally she sold the business to employee John Carter, who maintained the paper for decades to follow. Her daughter, Mary Katherine Goddard, established a print shop in Baltimore.

That issue of the Providence Gazette was extraordinary indeed, being almost entirely devoted to one political cause:

  • Above the masthead it proclaimed, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” (“The Voice of the People is the Voice of God”).
  • The essays were all about the problems with the Stamp Act, including a paragraph from Isaac Barré’s speech in Parliament.
  • The news was all about anti-Stamp Act protests in Boston and Connecticut, and similar disturbances in Britain.
  • The paper printed five resolutions from the Providence town meeting modeled on the resolutions that the Virginia House of Burgesses had reportedly passed that spring.
  • The last page described a new paper mill that the Goddards were helping to build outside Providence—a business potentially at odds with the Stamp Act.

In his history of the Revolution, the Rev. William Gordon wrote that “Effigies were also exhibited; and in the evening cut down and burnt by the populace” in Providence on this date, but I haven’t found any confirmation of that.

Instead, the next big development in Rhode Island appears to have happened down in Newport on 27 August. Here’s the description of that day published in the 2 September Newport Mercury:

Last Tuesday Morning a Gallows was erected in Queen-Street, just below the Court-House, whereon the Effigies of three Gentlemen were exhibited, one of whom was a Distributor of Stamps, which was placed in the Center. The other two were suspected of countenancing and abetting the Stamp Act.

Various Labels were affixed to their Breasts, Arms, &c. denoting the Cause of these indignant Representations, and the Persons who were the Subjects of Derision.—They hung from Eleven o’Clock till about Four, when some Combustibles being placed under the Gallows, a Fire was made, and the Effigies consumed, amidst the Acclamations of the People.—The whole was conducted with Moderation, and no Violence was offered to the Persons or Property of any Man.

A report published in London later that year offered some more physical details: “about nine o’clock in the morning, the people of Newport, in Rhode Island, brought forth the effigies of three persons, in a cart, with halters about their necks, to a gallows, twenty feet high.”

Notably, the Mercury didn’t identify the three “Persons who were the Subjects of Derision,” even by initials. But everyone in town knew who they were:

  • Rhode Island’s stamp-tax collector, Augustus Johnston (c. 1729-1790).
  • Martin Howard, Jr. (1725–1781), a lawyer who had written a pamphlet titled A Letter from a Gentleman at Halifax to His Friend in Rhode Island, supporting the Stamp Act—a very rare position for an American to take.
  • Dr. Thomas Moffatt (c. 1702–1787), another supporter of stronger royal government.

Moffatt later identified three merchants—Samuel Vernon (1711-1792), William Ellery (1727-1820), and Robert Crook—as guarding the spectacle from local officials, just as the Loyall Nine did in Boston. The doctor also said that to build a crowd they “sent into the streets strong Drink in plenty with Cheshire cheese and other provocatives to intemperance and riot.” Yet that day ended with no other destruction than the burning of the effigies.

TOMORROW: But it wasn’t over yet.

Dividing the Prizes from Scotland

In June 1776, Gen. Artemas Ward wrote to his commander-in-chief, Gen. George Washington, with news of the fight in Boston harbor:

P.S. June 17. I have just received information that the Continental Privateers have taken and brought into Nantasket in this Harbour a Ship and a Brig from Glasgow with two hundred and ten Highland troops on board, with their baggage; the Ship mounted six carriage guns, and fought the Privateers some time before she struck, we had four men wounded, the Enemy had three privates killed and a Major, and eight or ten men wounded. The prisoners are coming up to Town among whom is a Colonel. Any further particulars that may be of importance I shall forward as soon as I can learn them.

This was news not just because of the prisoners, but because of the military supplies on those ships. The Continental Army had first claim on those useful supplies.

For example, the ship George was inventoried on 22 June and found to contain:

20 fusees; 31 small-arms; 6 kegs bullets and shot; 6 bundles paper for cartridges; part of a bag flints; 2 kegs part filled with cartridges; a cask containing a few books and 1 bundle bedding; 2 trunks and 2 portmanteaus; 1 black trunk; 1 bundle; 1 black canteen; 1 red bundle; 1 chest; 1 portmanteau; 3 casks porter; 1 cask hams; 3 casks bottled wine; 7 hogsheads and part of a hogshead rum; 361 black shoulder belts; 74 bundles and 1 bag gun straps; 1 field bed and 2 bundles binding; 4 markees; the Quartermaster’s camp equipage; Colonel [Archibald] Campbell’s ditto; a bundle ditto not directed; 3 field tents and materials; 6 bundles tent poles for markees; 12 bundles common tent poles; 7 bundles leather bullet pouches; 3 cartouch boxes; 6 kegs bullets and shot; 23 camp tents; a remnant of ticklenburg; 1 cask and 2 bundles tent-pins; 1 cask tin canteens, and 69 loose; 10 tin pans; 23 camp kettles; 1 package tent stools; 82 canvass knapsacks; 199 hair knapsacks; a bale containing 80 blankets; a bale containing 50 watch-coats; 1 box black plumes; 4 bundles soldiers’ clothing; 1 bundle stockings; 3 pair shoes; 2 bags with belts and knapsacks; 2 pieces plaid; 7 bonnets; 2 pieces and part of a piece duffel; 144 soldiers’ blankets; 33 beds; 85 pillows; a bale of brown paper; 44 hatchets; 1 bundle twine; 1 cask sheathing nails; 2 casks five-penny nails; 1 set small weights; 2 iron spades; part of a cask currants; 15 barrels pease; 6 barrels flour; 2 barrels barley; 9 barrels pork; 27 barrels beef; 19 kegs butter; 15 barrels oat meal; 2 tierces and part of a tierce vinegar; 2 barrels herring; 1 bag rice; 74 bags bread; 14 hogsheads bread; water cask.

Washington’s aide Samuel Blachley Webb asked the Continental agent in Massachusetts to send “From Ship George All the Fuzees, Small Arms & Bayonetts, Shoulder Straps, Gun Straps—Leather Bullet pouches, hair knapsacks, Canvass Knapsacks, Belts, Flints, Marquees, and Soldiers Tents, Common Tent Poles, Tin Canteens, Camp Kettles, Blankets, Watch Coats, Soldiers Cloathing, Stockings[,] Black Plumes.”

The rest of the cargo and the ships themselves were to be auctioned off, as announced in the 15 August New-England Chronicle. The proceeds were to be divided up between the local government and the captains and crews involved in capturing them.

However, as Jackson Kuhl explained in this Journal of the American Revolution article:

Everything else was sold but because the transports were Royal Navy[-leased] ships, the money first had to flow through the office of the naval agent in Boston, where it evaporated — used to pay for expenses of the Continental navy. Neither the state of Connecticut nor the men of Defence ever saw a penny of it.

So afterwards, Captain [Seth] Harding, along with Governor [Jonathan] Trumbull and the Council of Safety, made a very conscious decision not to strike military targets but instead to pursue merchant ships.

That’s one of the results of a privateering and prize system: it creates incentives for warships to seek the biggest profits rather than the biggest military benefits.

TOMORROW: Assessing the evidence.

John Goddard: “constant in service of the Province”

Back in April, I quoted from the diary of John Goddard (1730-1816) of Brookline, recording how he carted military supplies out to Concord for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s Committee on Supplies just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

Goddard’s work for the army continued after that break, as preserved in the same notebook:

April 22nd 1775—to supping and Breakfasting twelve Men and four oxen. £0:7:4

24. to dining 4 Men
to entertaining teames and men that brought Canteens 0:2:0

May 2d, 1775.
Delivered to the Commasary at the Store in Camebridge
Sixteen Bushels of potatoes £1:8.9 [etc. etc.]

May 2 for Entertainment for Carter with ordinance stores 0:1:0

May 22. Began to be constant in service of the Province Myself.

June 2, 1775. to load of flour and porke from Watertown 0:7:0
2 to Carting Catrage paper from Brookline to Watertown 0:4:0

June 3 to Carting load canteens to Camebridge 0:6:0

June 5. for going to Camebridge with team for ammunition 0:5.0

June 27. 1775. to one days work of two hands and teams Drawing tree to the brestwork 0-14-0

July 7, 1775. To hand and team carting stons to the well in the fort at Brookline 0-6-0

1775. Octr. 3. To a days work carting together Bombs & Balls for Colo. [William] Burbeck To 1/2 day’s work removing Powder from my own house to ye Magazine in Jamaica Plain.

Burbeck was the second-in-command of the artillery regiment.

A different partial transcription appears in Nathaniel Goddard: A Boston Merchant, 1767-1853 (1906), by Henry G. Pickering. It includes “July 19, 1775. To cart and tent poles and Baggage [“Also gabeons”] for Colonel [Timothy] Danielson’s Rigement 0..14..0”.

On August 9, Gen. George Washington’s orders included: “Mr. John Goddard is appointed by the Commander-in-Chief, Wagon-Master General to the Army of the twelve United Colonies, and is to be obeyed as such.”

Ropes Mansion Reopening in Salem, 23 May

On Saturday, 23 May, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem will reopen its historic Ropes Mansion to the public. The museum says the site “reimagines what a historic house experience can be,…in which present-day and personal life experiences are placed in dialogue with the past.”

Some more background:

Built in 1727 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Ropes Mansion was home to four generations of the Ropes family and is recognized as one of New England’s most significant and thoroughly documented historic houses. Filled with original furnishings, the house contains superb examples of 18th- and 19th-century furniture, ceramics and glass, silver, kitchenwares, textiles and personal objects. The property has been closed to the public since 2009, following a fire that was swiftly contained by firefighters, and its reopening ushers in a new chapter for this stately and illustrious Georgian Colonial. . . .

On the first floor, the dining room is set as it would have appeared for Christmas dinner in 1847, details gleaned from a letter by Sally Fisk Ropes Orne who hosted the event. The installation features an elaborate dinner service, menu and serving techniques used on that festive occasion. The nearby kitchen offers a glimpse into the lives of the parlor maid and cook employed by the Ropes family in 1894 and the housekeeping practices used in their daily tasks. Cooking implements, recipes, as well as the plain china used by the servants are on view in the kitchen. Towels hanging near the sink feature printed instructions to kitchen staff on the correct way to wash dishes and clean silverware. Elsewhere, guests are invited to try their hand at historic napkin-folding techniques and learn period table manners and etiquette.

Upstairs bedrooms present tales of marriage, housekeeping and child rearing, as well as emotionally charged accounts of illness and death within the family. The childhood toys, books and seashells of Elizabeth Ropes Orne are given stark contrast by the locket, containing a lock of her hair, that was commissioned and worn by her mother after Elizabeth died of tuberculosis at age 24.

Period rooms within the Ropes Mansion welcome guests to explore the intimate surroundings with as few barriers as possible. Open drawers, trunks and desks are designed to pique curiosity and offer a naturalistic glimpse into the lives of Ropes family members. Reproduction bed hangings, carpet and wallpaper introduce vibrant color and texture to the home and, for the first time, the 1894-period bathroom will be on view.

The Ropes Mansion is at 318 Essex Street in Salem, a ten-minute walk from the museum. It will be open free to the public in season, Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 4:00 P.M. Visitors will be able to freely circulate instead of following a tour, though guides will be present to answer questions.

Mary Sanderson and the Man in Her Bed

Mary Munroe was born in 1748 in a “part of Lexington called Scotland” for the number of Scottish immigrants who had settled there. She reportedly kept “a little of the Scottish accent…all her life.”

In October 1772, Mary Munroe married Samuel Sanderson, a cabinetmaker who had moved into town from Waltham four years before. A man who knew her later wrote that Sanderson was “reputed an excellent workman, and a man of strong, native, good sense, but of a rather phlegmatic and desponding temperament, with whom the world never wagged so cheerily as with many.”

The Sandersons had a boy named Amos in July 1774. Samuel’s brother Elijah also lived and worked with him in his house (shown here, courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection).

In April 1775, Samuel Sanderson was a corporal in the Lexington militia, standing on the common as the British column arrived. Local historian Michael J. Canavan recorded this story about how Mary Sanderson experienced the outbreak of war:

When he heard that the British were coming he piloted his wife over to her father’s carrying his babe, and accompanied by a little girl who was at their house. Over at Scotland they found the mother getting breakfast and the brothers at first did not believe the report.

After the British retreated Mary returned home and found a good many things had been stolen. Her cow (which was a good part of her marriage portion) had been killed; and a wounded British soldier was stowed away in her bed. She cried out “I wont hae him there. Why didn’t you knock him on the head?”

But the town authorities insisted he be taken care of. . . . The soldier begged for Tea but she refused. “what for should I gae him tae for? He shall hae none.”

The wounded man refused to eat or drink unless the food was tasted by some of the family.

Smart man.

Despite crippling arthritis, Mary Sanderson lived to be a centenarian. On 23 Sept 1852 the women of Lexington organized a “levee” in her honor at the town hall, with refreshments and music. It raised $300. She died less than a month later at the age of 104.

John Goddard Carts Supplies to Concord

On 24 Febr 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s Committee of Safety and Committee on Supplies voted to procure these items and store them in Concord:

1000 candles; 100 hhds. [hogsheads] salt; a suitable supply of wooden spoons; 20 casks of raisins; 20 bushels of oatmeal; 1500 yards Russia linen; also 2 barrels Lisbon oil; 6 casks of Malaga wine, and 9 casks of Lisbon wine, to be lodged at Stow.

The committees had already started to amass other supplies, including some with no other purpose but to wage war. The congress needed someone to move all that stuff around, so on that same day the committees

Voted, unanimously, that Mr. John Goddard, of Brookline, be waggon master for the army, and that Capt. [Benjamin] White inform him of his choice by the province.

Goddard (1730-1816) had been one of Brookline’s three representatives to the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress, convening in October 1774, but for the February session the town had sent only White.

In 1898 the Brookline Historical Society printed John Goddard’s expense book, listing these entries for the beginning of the year 1775:

The Committee for Supplies to John Goddard of Brookline Dr. for his Expense of Time —

March 4th 1775 to one day going to Boston & engaging Team £0.. 5 .. 4
[etc. etc.]

March 8th 1775.
The Committee for Supplies to Sundry Persons under ye Direction of John Goddard Dr. —
To carting fifty five Barrels of Beef from Boston to Concord @5/ Pr Barrel £3..15..0

18th
to carting two Hogsheads of Flints & other articles from Boston to Brookline 0..6..6

20th to carting 74 C:3/4 of Rice from Boston to Concord @1/2d pr C 4..19..8

22. to carting 15 C:1/4 of weights 1..0..2
to carting sheet Lead and three Barrels of Linen 0..8..0

24. To carting 2 casks of Leaden Balls 0..2..8

April 10th 1775. to carting two Ox Cart & two horse cart loads of canteens to Concord £3..6..8
to ye assistance of 3 Men in removing canteens 0..3..0

14th to carting 1 ox cart & 1 horse cart load of Canteens to Concord 1..13..4

In Nathaniel Goddard: A Boston Merchant, 1767-1853 (1906), Henry G. Pickering wrote that on the trips to Concord, “One of these teams was driven by John Goddard himself, and another by his son Joseph, then a lad of fourteen.”

Book Eating in the Bible

  ***Dedicated to KMH who came up with this link*** A recent post looked at Bible sandwiches, the idea of eating the Bible to cure yourself from ills or poison. The average reader might raise their eyebrows and wonder what the scriptural basis for that is. This was Beach’s residual-protestant reaction but, then, to his shock, […]

The “Baker General” of the Continental Army

On 3 May 1777, the Continental Congress appointed Christopher Ludwick “Superintendent of Bakers and Director of Baking for the Continental Army.”

When he passed that news on to Gen. George Washington, John Hancock wrote, “I make no Doubt he will do [that job] to the entire Satisfaction of the Troops, and in such a Manner as to save considerable Sums to the Public.”

Ludwick proved reliable. His name appears regularly in army documents from that date through 1782. At least once Washington referred to him as “Baker General” to the army.

On 17 Feb 1781 the Congress resolved:

That Mr. Christopher Ludwick, who has acted with great industry and integrity in the character of principal superintendant of bakers, be, and is hereby continued in that employment; and that he be empowered to hire or inlist any number of bakers, not exceeding thirty, on such terms as the Board of War shall think proper:

That Mr. Christopher Ludwick receive, as a compensation for all past services, one thousand dollars, in bills of the new emissions.

Unfortunately, by that point in the war the “bills of the new emissions” were losing value.

Four years later, in March 1785 Ludwick petitioned the Congress for “a Compensation or Bounty in Land or otherwise equal with other Officers who have served in the American Army,” saying he’d advanced considerable money to his bakers and that the big $1,000 grant had been “reduced by Depreciation.” He gathered certificates of his service signed by Arthur St. Clair, William Irvine, Anthony Wayne, Timothy Pickering, and Thomas Mifflin.

And then Ludwick went for the big gun. On 29 Mar 1785 he wrote to Washington at Mount Vernon:

As Your Excellency often expressed a friendship and Regard for your old Baker Master, and well know what Service he was to the Army—I now beg leave to acquaint you that, finding my private Property greatly injured and diminished by my Attention to, and Exertions in the Public Service, and by necessary Advances of my remaining Cash to some near Relations of my Wife who by the Event of the Revolution have been reduced to indigent Circumstances, I have been obliged to apply to Congress for Compensation—Inclosed is a Copy of my Memorial to Congress, which I transmit for your Excellency’s Perusal.

Several Gentlemen late Officers in the Army have chearfully granted me their Recommendation, but in Order to ensure my Success I wish to have a Recommendatory Letter from Your Excellency in my behalf to Congress on the Subject of my Memorial—I flatter myself that You will not refuse me this favor, and am with great Respect & Esteem Your Excellency’s Most obedt & very humbe servt

Christopher Ludwick

P.S. should your Excellency grant my Request, a Letter by the Post will be very acceptable to C. Ludwick who is now 65 Years of Age.

Washington responded on 25 April:

I have known Mr Christr Ludwick from an early period of the War; and have every reason to believe, as well from observation as information, that he has been a true and faithful Friend, and Servant to the public. That he has detected and exposed many impositions which were attempted to be practiced by others in his department. That he has been the cause of much saving in many respects. And that his deportment in public life has afforded unquestionable proofs of his integrity & worth.

With respect to his losses, I have no personal knowledge, but have often heard that he has suffered from his zeal in the cause of his Country.

Geo. Washington

In June the Congress voted to grant Ludwick another $200. But the old baker reportedly found more value in Washington’s letter about him, “which he had neatly framed and hung up in his parlour.”

[Shown above, courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, are cookie molds that Ludwick brought to Pennsylvania when he immigrated in the 1750s.]

The “Baker General” of the Continental Army

On 3 May 1777, the Continental Congress appointed Christopher Ludwick “Superintendent of Bakers and Director of Baking for the Continental Army.”

When he passed that news on to Gen. George Washington, John Hancock wrote, “I make no Doubt he will do [that job] to the entire Satisfaction of the Troops, and in such a Manner as to save considerable Sums to the Public.”

Ludwick proved reliable. His name appears regularly in army documents from that date through 1782. At least once Washington referred to him as “Baker General” to the army.

On 17 Feb 1781 the Congress resolved:

That Mr. Christopher Ludwick, who has acted with great industry and integrity in the character of principal superintendant of bakers, be, and is hereby continued in that employment; and that he be empowered to hire or inlist any number of bakers, not exceeding thirty, on such terms as the Board of War shall think proper:

That Mr. Christopher Ludwick receive, as a compensation for all past services, one thousand dollars, in bills of the new emissions.

Unfortunately, by that point in the war the “bills of the new emissions” were losing value.

Four years later, in March 1785 Ludwick petitioned the Congress for “a Compensation or Bounty in Land or otherwise equal with other Officers who have served in the American Army,” saying he’d advanced considerable money to his bakers and that the big $1,000 grant had been “reduced by Depreciation.” He gathered certificates of his service signed by Arthur St. Clair, William Irvine, Anthony Wayne, Timothy Pickering, and Thomas Mifflin.

And then Ludwick went for the big gun. On 29 Mar 1785 he wrote to Washington at Mount Vernon:

As Your Excellency often expressed a friendship and Regard for your old Baker Master, and well know what Service he was to the Army—I now beg leave to acquaint you that, finding my private Property greatly injured and diminished by my Attention to, and Exertions in the Public Service, and by necessary Advances of my remaining Cash to some near Relations of my Wife who by the Event of the Revolution have been reduced to indigent Circumstances, I have been obliged to apply to Congress for Compensation—Inclosed is a Copy of my Memorial to Congress, which I transmit for your Excellency’s Perusal.

Several Gentlemen late Officers in the Army have chearfully granted me their Recommendation, but in Order to ensure my Success I wish to have a Recommendatory Letter from Your Excellency in my behalf to Congress on the Subject of my Memorial—I flatter myself that You will not refuse me this favor, and am with great Respect & Esteem Your Excellency’s Most obedt & very humbe servt

Christopher Ludwick

P.S. should your Excellency grant my Request, a Letter by the Post will be very acceptable to C. Ludwick who is now 65 Years of Age.

Washington responded on 25 April:

I have known Mr Christr Ludwick from an early period of the War; and have every reason to believe, as well from observation as information, that he has been a true and faithful Friend, and Servant to the public. That he has detected and exposed many impositions which were attempted to be practiced by others in his department. That he has been the cause of much saving in many respects. And that his deportment in public life has afforded unquestionable proofs of his integrity & worth.

With respect to his losses, I have no personal knowledge, but have often heard that he has suffered from his zeal in the cause of his Country.

Geo. Washington

In June the Congress voted to grant Ludwick another $200. But the old baker reportedly found more value in Washington’s letter about him, “which he had neatly framed and hung up in his parlour.”

[Shown above, courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, are cookie molds that Ludwick brought to Pennsylvania when he immigrated in the 1750s.]

Poussin at Sotheby’s 2015

A interesting cache of Poussin coming up for auction in New York on the 28th Jan. Just some notes on them.

 

1. A painting, probably a sketch, or fragment of two putti fighting on goats. Pierre Rosenberg put this in his “Poussin et Nature.” exhibition which I saw in 2007. Connected to several drawings, the subject is unknown.

 

http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/master-paintings-part-i-n09302/lot.63.html

 

2. A drawing of shields, tents, provisions standards. Poussin often took motifs from Trajan’s Column, or illustrations after it.; or antiquarians like De Choul. Not the best of this series- but still good.

 

http://www.sothebys.com/content/sothebys/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/old-master-drawings-n09301/lot.69.html

 

3. A drawing by Charles Mellin, “Presentation in the Temple.” Previously owned by the Getty, when they catalogued it as “characteristic of Poussin’s mature style.” Fortunately, real connoisseurship intervened and it was re-attributed to Mellin. Good as a guide to how Poussin’s contemporaries imitated him.

 

http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/old-master-drawings-n09301/lot.67.html

 

4. Anon 17th century French Artist. “Portrait of Poussin.” Be careful. Sotheby’s state  this is a “very interesting 17th-century portrait of Nicolas Poussin.” But there is absolutely no proof that this is Poussin’s likeness. They invoke Blunt’s argument of 1947 that this might be a poor drawing after a lost self-portrait, but it doesn’t resemble any of the three extant self-portraits. Speaking as a Poussin scholar, I think Sotheby’s should make it clear that the identification is a hypothesis, not a fact. As to the artist, I have no idea who it is but it’s not an accomplished drawing.

 

http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/old-master-drawings-n09301/lot.66.html

 

Happy New Year!

Behind Gingerbread for Liberty!

Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution is a picture book due to be released next month. Author Mara Rockliff tells the story of the Philadelphia baker Christopher Ludwick, whom the Continental Congress appointed “Superintendent of Bakers, and Director of Baking” in May 1777.

As Publishers Weekly reports, the artist Vincent X. Kirsch, a former food stylist, created watercolor illustrations inspired by gingerbread cookies. Ludwick was known in Philadelphia for his gingerbread; indeed, it looks like he had made a tidy fortune between arriving in that growing city in the early 1750s and the Revolutionary War.

Rockliff told that magazine about her challenges in finding sources on Ludwick: “It turned out that pretty much everything anyone knows about Ludwick comes from a short biography first published in 1801, the year he died, by his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.”

Rush sent an early copy of that pamphlet to Abigail Adams, writing on 23 July 1801:

The Account of Christr: Ludwick was written to fulfil an Old promise made many years ago, in case I should survive him. You will feel the patriotic Sentiments uttered by him. To the present calculating generation, they appear fanatical, and unintelligible.—

(Subtext: Young people today.)

Adams replied:

The Life of Christopher Ludwick will be read with pleasure by all Lovers of virtue, honor and patriotism; it is a model for the Youth, but my dear Sir these days of prosperity, Luxury and dissipation are not those in which such characters flourish; we have an intire new Theory in Religion, Morals & politicks, corresponding with our State of Society.

(Subtext: It’s all Jefferson’s fault.)

Rush’s pamphlet was reprinted throughout the 1800s by the charitable organization Ludwick had funded. It naturally portrayed him in a good light.

TOMORROW: How much did Ludwick really do during the war?

Just Desserts in a New Children’s Book?

A picture book to be published next month takes readers through three centuries of history following a simple recipe for blackberry fool, but it has depths that some people have found troubling.

The book is A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. It shows four parent-child pairs preparing the receipt in successive years: 1710, 1810, 1910, and 2010. At each stage, the technology for whipping the cream and otherwise becomes more sophisticated.

And at each stage, the family and its situation change, starting with a mother and child in rural England and ending with a father and child in a modern American city. That dimension of social history evidently troubled the reviewer at Publishers Weekly:

Unfortunately, an attempt at historical authenticity backfires as the 19th-century plantation family’s blackberry fool is made for them by their slaves. The African-American cook and her daughter are not permitted to eat the dessert they’ve made; instead, they serve it to the white family, and the two are left to lick the bowl in a dark closet. The historical facts are not in dispute, but the disturbing injustices represented in this section of an otherwise upbeat account either require adult readers to present necessary background and context or—worse—to pass by them unquestioned.

Parents or teachers supplying “necessary background and context”? Based on “historical facts”? How unfortunate indeed!

Evidently, this reviewer felt that American children aged four to eight wouldn’t have been introduced to slavery before, even at this basic level. And that families’ enjoyment of a simple luxury like blackberry fool or a full-color picture book should not be disturbed, even for a few pages, by the thought of injustice. That was enough for this reviewer to call the plantation episode, unaccountably, “an attempt at historical authenticity.”

Other early reviewers, such as Kiera Parrott at School Library Journal, saw more value in that history. And it’s clear that picture of change in everyday life was crucial to the conception of this book for both author and artist. You can follow artist Blackall’s visual research through her series of blog posts.

A Punch Bowl in Pennsylvania

Last month the Museum of the American Revolution being built in Philadelphia shared news about archeology on its site, including the shards of a ceramic punchbowl shown here.

The museum’s blog reported:

In all, we excavated a well and twelve brick-lined privies, most of them brimming with artifacts. One of the largest assemblages of artifacts came from an 18th-century privy in the southeast corner of the site, located behind a house that would have faced Carter’s Alley. Among them was one of our most treasured findings: the pieces of an English delftware punch bowl.

When these sherds were pieced together in the lab, we were delighted to see a resplendent ship flying British flags with the words “Success to the Triphena” below. (“Triphena” is the name of the ship depicted.) We were the first people to lay eyes on this object since it was broken and discarded around the time of the American Revolution.

American colonists drank enormous quantities of alcoholic beverages, including beer, cider, wine, brandy, rum, gin, and whiskey. One particularly popular beverage during the era of the American Revolution was punch, which combined various ingredients like sugar, citrus juice, spices and liquor, and was commonly served in ceramic “punch bowls” like the “Success to the Triphena” bowl found on our site. . . .

During the 18th century, many of the punch bowls that were exported to the American colonies were produced by potters in Liverpool, England. The collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England includes an example that is a very close match to the Triphena bowl. Such bowls were likely produced to commemorate the launch of a new ship or to mark a voyage.

Thanks to the digitization of 18th-century American and British newspapers, we have been able to piece together some fascinating details about the original Triphena. (“Triphena” is Greek for delicate or dainty). The December 1, 1763 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette carried an advertisement for merchants Robert Lewis and Son, located on Front Street in Philadelphia, where they offered an assortment of goods just imported on the “Triphena, Captain Smith, from Liverpool.” It is certainly no coincidence that Captain Smith’s travels on the Triphena over the next few years regularly carried him to Liverpool, the place where the punch bowl was made, as well as Philadelphia, Charleston, and the West Indies.

The museum notes that in 1765 the Triphena carried the Philadelphia merchants’ protest against the Stamp Act. In that same season it carried a copy of one letter and possibly two to Benjamin Franklin. The 31 Oct 1765 Pennsylvania Gazette reported that “Capt. J. Smith” had cleared the Tryphena (the more common spelling) for Liverpool.

That was a significant date since the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect the next day. In The Stamp Act Crisis Edmund Morgan wrote: “In Philadelphia, apparently alone among colonial ports, many ships’ captains secured their clearance papers before November 1, even though they were still only partially loaded, so that when they finally sailed later in November [without Customs documents on stamped paper] they could persuade the commanders of naval vessels that they were operating perfectly legally.”

Plumb Crazy

Constabulary notes from the Old Bailey Online, 10 Oct 1733 in London:

John Sherman was indicted for the Murder of John Wiggans, by striking him on the left side of the Head with a Cane, by which he fell to the Ground, and by that Fall received one mortal Wound and Bruise on the Fore part of his Head, Sept. 20 of which Wound he linguished till the 26th of the same Month, and then died. He was a 2d time indicted on the Coroner’s Inquest for Manslaughter.

The Prisoner and the Deceased were at the Tewksbury-Church Alehouse in White-chappel; they sat in different Boxes; the Prisoner and his Company were spelling Words, and at last a Tankard of Beer was laid about spelling Plumb; upon which the Deceased started up, and said, God damn you all for a Parcel of Blockheads, P, l, u, m, b, spells Plumbn

Some of the Prisoner’s Company said, what silly Fellow is that, to trouble his Head with us?

The Deceased came to them, and swore he was as good a Man as any of them, and he’d fight e’er a Man there with a Stick, either for Love or a Tankard of Beer, and at last he would needs sight the Prisoner. The Prisoner declined it, but the Deceased went home, and returned with his Cane, and challenged the Prisoner to go into the Yard.

They fought, and broke one another’s Heads.—The Prisoner’s Cane was split. They parted. The Deceased would have t’other Bout. The Prisoner knocked him down, and he fell with his Head upon the Pavement; he was help’d up; they went in; their Heads were dress’d; they drank to one another; shook Hands; parted Friends, and the Deceased went home, and not imagining the Wound to be dangerous, neglected to send for a Surgeon till it was too late; his Skull was fractured, and it proved the Cause of his Death.

Manslaughter.

Good times.

Today at Minute Man Park

Today the Minute Man National Historical Park is hosting a “Battle Road Open House” from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Visitors can stop in on some of the restored colonial houses in the park, known as “witness houses” since they were already present during the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Among those houses is the William Smith House in Lincoln, home to the captain of the Lincoln Minute Men and his family. Today’s reenactor Lincoln Minute Men have helped to refurbish and refurnish that house with what a typical eighteenth-century farmhouse held:

the walking wheel, for spinning wool; the infant’s cradle with reproduction tick and blanket, the kitchen cupboard stocked with redware and pewter; items for cooking on the hearth, a tilt-top table set for tea, a gate-leg table set for Catharine and William’s dinner, a desk where the Smiths could pay bills and write correspondence, and much more!

Members of the Lincoln Minute Men will be present in period clothing to welcome visitors. They plan to provide musket-firing demonstrations at 10:00, noon, and 1:00 P.M., as well as drills for children, fife & drum music, and demonstrations of sewing and spinning throughout the day.

In addition, the park and its volunteers have special activities scheduled at other houses:

  • Jacob Whittemore House: Hands-on 1775, experience life in colonial times
  • Hartwell Tavern: Historic Trades and Colonial Food Preparation
  • Meriam House: Site of the beginning of the 16-mile running battle back to Boston
  • Barrett Farm: British Army Uniforms of the American Revolution with the recreated 63rd Regiment of Foot

There’s no entrance fee for this day. Park in the Hartwell Tavern lot to visit that building and the William Smith House.

Dispatch from the Green Dragon

I’m typing this in a coffee house in Carlsbad, California. But not just any coffee house—the one attached to the Green Dragon Tavern and Museum.

I reported on the plans for this complex and its opening last year. So when I made plans for a convention in San Diego, I included time to drive forty minutes up the coast to south Carlsbad and check it out for myself.

I went thinking I’d find something fairly kitschy: a replica of the original Green Dragon (as depicted by John Johnson) tacked onto a California strip mall.

And in fact the site is in an area of strip malls. Next door is a car wash with a lovely Southwestern tile roof, as seen in the background of this photo. The first thing one sees getting off that exit from I-5 is a giant windmill attached to a motel.

But the Green Dragon Tavern and Museum is a more extensive and substantive enterprise than I’d expected. In size, it’s not just part of a strip mall—it’s an entire strip mall’s worth of structures. The part made to look like the original tavern is the main restaurant dining room, two levels high, and the coffee shop and bookstore. On the far side are a series of meeting rooms for special dinners.

And in between is a museum devoted to the owner’s interests in New England history, particularly the Revolution but starting in Plymouth Colony and including the Salem Witch Trials. The displays include replicas of significant documents and many original artifacts bearing the signatures of famous historical figures: legal documents signed by Samuel Sewall, Thomas Hutchinson, John Adams, and Robert Treat Paine, for example.

Throughout the building are framed copies of early American newspapers, mostly from the last two decades of the eighteenth century. And by throughout, I mean throughout. The hall to one set of restrooms, for example, includes a 1783 issue of the Providence Gazette and two issues of Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel from the early 1790s. In another issue of the Centinel I spotted a big advertisement from Samuel Gore, one of “my guys.”

Amidst those genuine period documents are reproductions of nineteenth-century popular art, posters of the most famous Founders, postcard photographs of national monuments, and so on. So there’s definitely the potential for hagiographic kitsch. But the quotations on those Founder posters all have citations to particular documents (which is more than some folks can provide). There’s a display clearly explaining the eighteenth-century long s to visitors. Some of the labels discuss how American historiography or commemoration has changed over time.

I quibble with some of the historical statements I see in the displays or literature. I don’t think of the Sons of Liberty as a “secret society” but rather an amorphous political label like “Tea Party” or “Occupy Movement.” I don’t think “Paul Revere departed the Green Dragon Tavern for his famous ride,” though he definitely spent a lot of time there. But for me the list of quibbles is small.

The bookstore attached to the coffee shop includes a lot of popular titles for both kids and adults, focusing mostly on the Founders (and including some I think are flawed). However, the selection includes ground-breaking biographies from academics, including Woody Holton on Abigail Adams and Jill Lepore on Jane Mecom. And I can’t complain about any store carrying Reporting the Revolutionary War, with two essays by me.

The restaurant has wood paneling and a fireplace, but it’s not trying to be a period site (at least at lunchtime). There are multiple televisions tuned to sports channels. The menu may have sandwiches named after Boston Revolutionaries, but they’re all California cuisine, heavy on the avocado.

Overall, the Green Dragon Tavern and Museum is a solid little private museum with a significant number of print artifacts to examine, particularly newspapers. In its emphasis on the most prominent Founders, their signatures, and genealogy, its sensibility is old-fashioned, but within that sensibility the standards are high. The site is a very short drive off I-5, so I feel confident recommending it to folks traveling between San Diego and Los Angeles and seeking a genuine taste of the Revolutionary Era (as well as California cuisine).

Winslow House Events in July

The Winslow House Association in Marshfield has sent information about four events this month with links to Revolutionary times.

Tavern Night
Friday, 11 July, 7:00 P.M.
During the late colonial and early revolutionary periods taverns or ordinaries in Colonial America became increasingly popular. The tavern was a place to gather, have a pint of ale or cider, share a newspaper, engage in political debate, or partake in a game of chance. The Winslow House recreates an 18th-century Publick House with musical entertainment with Three of Cups and colonial card and strategy games. Admission includes our version of 1700s tavern fare (snack-sized) and non-alcoholic beverages. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere and try your hand in colonial games of chance and historical trivia. Admission is $10/person or $25/family or household.

Fort Halifax: Winslow’s Historic Outpost
Tuesday, 15 July, 11:00 A.M.
On July 25, 1754, Gen. John Winslow arrived with a force of 600 soldiers to establish the fort at the confluence of the Kennebec River with the Sebasticook River. Beginning as a French and Indian War garrison and trading post, the fort welcomed historic figures from Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr to Paul Revere and Chief Joseph Orono. This talk is by Daniel Tortora, an assistant professor of history at Colby College and member of the Fort Halifax Park Implementation Committee. Admission is $5, or $3 for Winslow House Association members.

Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Boston History with Paul Della Valle
Thursday, 17 July, 7:00 P.M.
The lives of notorious bad guys, perpetrators of mischief, visionary—if misunderstood—thinkers, and other colorful antiheroes, jerks, and evil doers from Boston history all get their due by author Paul Della Valle. The book’s profiles start with the Rev. Cotton Mather, governor Thomas Hutchinson, and Dr. Benjamin Church, and end in the late twentieth century. Admission is $7, or $5 for members.

Marshfield During the Revolutionary War
Tuesday, 22 July, 10:30 A.M.
With new information researched by Town Historian Cynthia Krusell, Dr. Isaac Winslow’s wife Elizabeth, portrayed by Regina Porter, will reminisce about the life and times in Marshfield during the American Revolution. Who was actually living in the Winslow House? Were we really a “Tory town”? Crossing political and social status, Mistress Winslow will speak on the impact this war had here in Marshfield. Admission is $5, or $3 for members.

Joseph Snelling’s Delivery at Bunker Hill

Here’s another notable story of the Battle of Bunker Hill, told by the Rev. Joseph Snelling in his 1847 autobiography. It concerned his father, also named Joseph Snelling (1741-1816).

The elder Snelling was a bookbinder in Boston. He married Rachel Mayer in 1763 and evidently had a small shop of his own at the start of the war.

Snelling’s older brother Jonathan (1734-1782) was a merchant and officer in the Cadets. He dined with the Sons of Liberty as the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester in 1769. But he signed the laudatory addresses to the royal governors in 1774, confirming himself as a Loyalist.

In contrast, Joseph the bookbinder “took an active part in our struggles for liberty, from the commencement to the close of the. American Revolution.” Or at least that’s what his son believed.

Joseph Snelling’s name doesn’t actually show up in the records of Patriot activities before 1775, so far as I can tell. According to his son, he continued to serve British officers and soldiers in his shop before the war: “the officers and soldiers were often in, paid honorably for the goods they purchased, and even treated the family with civility and respect.” The one possible example of prewar Patriot activity that Snelling’s son recorded was this:

At a certain time when the English had possession of Boston, our people at Watertown were in want of ammunition. My father hearing of this, volunteered with three or four others to convey it to them, if possible. Accordingly a scow was procured and loaded with arms and ammunition; and, to prevent suspicion, the whole was covered with boards. They then, in plain sight of English vessels, poled the scow to Watertown, and delivered the load to the people, who received it gladly.

There were trips to smuggle military material out of Boston before the war began. However, that story appears in the Snelling memoir after the Battle of Bunker Hill, when the family had moved out to Newton. Thus, that delivery may not have been from Boston, with a harbor patrolled by British warships, but from Newton down the Charles River, far from the enemy. (If it actually happened.)

As for Bunker Hill, the younger Snelling’s account is a combination of what he’d evidently heard from his father and what he understood about the battle, not always accurately. Thus:

On the afternoon before the battle of Bunker Hill, our people met at Cambridge, in order to make the necessary preparation for a battle which they were hourly expecting. My father was there with them. There was the brave General [Joseph] Warren, who came with his fusee and his powder-horn hung over his shoulder, and volunteered his services. When they were ready to start for Bunker Hill, Dr. [Peter] Thatcher offered a solemn and appropriate prayer to Almighty God, that their heads might be covered in the day of, battle, and they protected from their enemies.

According to our other sources, Warren wasn’t with the troops at Cambridge on 16 June 1775 but joined them in Charlestown the next day. The minister who prayed with those troops the evening before they went onto the peninsula was the Rev. Samuel Langdon, president of Harvard, not the Rev. Peter Thacher, who watched the battle from the far side of the Mystic River.

As for Joseph Snelling’s own experience:

Colonel Bradlee and my father were appointed to superintend the conveyance of five loads of provision to the fort for the refreshment of our people. Accordingly they engaged five ox teams, loaded with provision, and five men to drive them. In order to reach the fort they were obliged to cross a neck of land directly in front of the Glassgow frigate, and a floating battery, then lying in the river. These soon discovered the teams, and aimed their cannon at them, to prevent them from getting to the fort. As soon as the cannon balls began to whiz around them, the five teamsters left their teams, and fled with great precipitation.

Colonel Bradlee and my father then drove these five teams to the fort alone, which was the first time that my father ever drove a team. This was in the midst of the battle—but they were in more danger than the people at the fort. The balls flew thick and fast all around them, and I have heard my father say they were expecting every moment that their heads would be taken off, but a kind providence protected them; not a ball touched them, or one of their teams. Thus, agreeable to the prayer, their heads were covered in the day of battle.

When they arrived at the fort, they found our people almost exhausted, and suffering greatly with thirst—all their cry was water, water. Some hogsheads of beer were brought with the provision, by which they were greatly refreshed. The day was extremely warm, and our people, by the effect of the heat, the powder and smoke, resembled colored people. One man came to my father for refreshment, who had received a musket ball in the back of his head, which took out his eye without touching the brain—blood and water was then gushing from the wound. (Three months after this, the same man came to my father to receive his rations, his wound perfectly healed.)

A shorter version of this tale appears in Benjamin Woodbridge Dwight’s The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong (1871); that refers to Snelling’s companion as “Col. Bradford, an associate commissary.” The Symmes Memorial, by John Adams Vinton (1873), doesn’t include the anecdote but says Snelling “joined the army…under Gen. [Artemas] Ward as a commissary.”

Joseph Snelling’s name doesn’t appear in the surviving records of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress or its Committee of Safety. However, a legislative act late in 1775 confirms that the Massachusetts government owed him money for somehow assisting its commissary general. (The General Court voted to recompense several other men as well, but not anyone named Bradlee or Bradford.)

In early 1812, the U.S. House considered a petition from Snelling “praying further compensation for services rendered as a clerk in the office of the Deputy Commissary General of Issues in the Revolutionary war.” The Committee of Claims responded “That the prayer of the petitioner ought not to be granted,” and it wasn’t. That doesn’t mean that Snelling’s petition was exaggerated; its facts might simply not have met the threshold for further compensation.

But really the Snelling family lore does seem extraordinary. American accounts of the Bunker Hill battle talk about how the soldiers on the front lines didn’t receive any supplies. Young Robert Steele recalled a desperate search for water. If five ox carts (somehow driven by two men, one a complete novice) had brought in beer and other provisions after the fighting had started (given that one man was allegedly bleeding from a musket wound), then surely some soldiers would have taken note of that fact.

The Rev. Joseph Snelling clearly had a familial motive for telling this story, and a religious one: he wanted readers to understand that his father and Bradlee had been protected from enemy fire “agreeable to the prayer.” But it looks like there had been a lot of “memory creep” between the elder Joseph Snelling’s experiences delivering some supplies to the provincial army in 1775 and when his son wrote down this tale decades later.

Ebenezer Fox on the Jersey

Ebenezer Fox was a teenaged sailor aboard the Massachusetts warship Protector when two Royal Navy vessels captured it off the coast of New Jersey on 5 May 1781.

In his 1838 memoir Fox told this story of what happened next:

About a third part of our ship’s crew were taken on board of their vessels, to serve in the capacity of sailors, without regarding their remonstrances; while the remainder of us were put on board of a wood coaster, to be conveyed on board the noted prison ship called the “Jersey.” The idea of being incarcerated in this floating Pandemonium filled us with horror; but the idea we had formed of its horrors fell far short of the realities which we afterwards experienced.

The next few chapters of Fox’s memoir describe life aboard the Jersey, an old hulk anchored in New York harbor. In fact, that topic takes up almost a quarter of the book (excluding appendixes). Citing other reminiscences for support, Fox painted a horrible experience for the prisoners of war confined there:

The miseries of our condition were continually increasing: the pestilence on board spread rapidly, and every day added to our bill of mortality. The young, in a particular manner, were its most frequent victims. The number of the prisoners was continually increasing, notwithstanding the frequent and successful attempts to escape: and when we were mustered and called upon to answer to our names, and it was ascertained that nearly two hundred had mysteriously disappeared without leaving any information of their departure, the officers of the ship endeavored to make amends for their past remissness by increasing the rigor of our confinement…

The British authorities kept offering a way out: enlisting in the royal military forces. Fox wrote of how he and his comrades resisted that enticement at first, but their conditions made it more appealing:

To remain an indefinite time as prisoners, enduring sufferings and privations beyond what human nature could sustain, or to make a virtue of necessity, and with apparent willingness to enlist into a service, into which we were satisfied that we should soon be impressed, seemed to be the only alternatives. . . .

…a recruiting officer came on board to enlist men for the eighty-eighth regiment, to be stationed at Kingston, in the island of Jamaica. We had just been trying to satisfy our hunger upon a piece of beef, which was so tough that no teeth could make an impression on it, when the officer descended between decks, and represented to us the immense improvement that we should experience in our condition, if we were in his Majesty’s service: an abundance of good food, comfortable clothing, service easy, and in the finest climate in the world, were temptations too great to be resisted by a set of miserable, half-starved, and almost naked wretches as we were. . . .

The recruiting officer presented his papers for our signature. We hesitated, we stared at each other, and felt that we were about to do a deed of which we were ashamed, and which we might regret. Again we heard the tempting offers, and again the assurance that we should not be called upon to fight against our government or country; and, with the hope that we should find an opportunity to desert, of which it was our firm intention to avail ourselves when offered—with such hopes, expectations, and motives, we signed the papers, and became soldiers in his Majesty’s service.

One goal for my trip to London earlier this month was to find out more about Ebenezer Fox’s experience. That included going to the British National Archives to examine the muster rolls of the Jersey, which I’d learned about from Todd Braisted’s Facebook feed.

TOMORROW: What the Jersey rolls say about Ebenezer Fox.

The Print Record of Pickled Olives in Early America

Yesterday I recounted an anecdote about Henry Knox’s first, unhappy encounter with pickled olives. And I wondered whether those were truly an exotic delicacy in North America.

I went to Readex’s Early American Newspapers database for more information on this question. Its search function confirms that pickled olives weren’t advertised or widely discussed in America until after the Revolution, and then appear to have been a special import.

The only mention of “pickled olives” in American newspapers before independence is a 2 Apr 1767 item in the New York Gazette, reprinting a article in the Quebec Gazette, which in turn quoted from Henry Baker’s Employment for the Microscope, published in London in 1753. That quotation described treating a woman after accidental arsenic poisoning with an emetic, and it compared her resulting excrement to pickled olives.

Moving on.

In the 18 July 1785 Connecticut Courant, a Hartford merchant named Daniel Smith announced that he’d just put on sale a very wide assortment of imported goods, including “pickled Olives and Capers.” The 22 Dec 1788 State Gazette of South Carolina had an advertisement from the mercantile firm of Crouch and Trezevant offering, among other things, “Pickled Olives and Girkins.”

Finally, in the New York Daily Advertiser starting on 31 July 1797 the Coster brothers ran an ad about a ship just arrived from Bourdeaux. Among its goods were “pickled olives, capers anchovies.” That was during the decade when Martha Washington reportedly served pickled olives to Knox, Secretary of War.

In that same year, Samuel Deane of Bowdoin College published a book titled The New-England Farmer, or Georgic Dictionary, in which he encouraged American farmers to plant olive trees. “The oil and pickled olives brought from thence [Europe], amount to more than a trifle, which ought to be saved if practicable.” By that point pickled olives were clearly known in America, but Deane still had to argue that their import from Europe amounted to “more than a trifle,” so they probably weren’t widely consumed.

What Henry Knox Would Not Eat

The Westbrook (Maine) Historical Society preserves this story about Henry Knox and Martha Washington, apparently first published in the Narragansett Sun newspaper of Portland on 12 Dec 1895 (P.D.F. download):

An anecdote that is vouched for as true by high authority is worth recording. At one of those elegant dinners given by Washington after he had come to the presidency, and which were presided over by his estimable wife, the pickled olives, now so common, but at that time almost unknown, were passed to Gen. Knox. The first trial of the new relish was quite enough for the valiant Secretary of War, who quickly taking the obnoxious fruit from his mouth, thus addressed himself to his hostess, “Please, Madam, may I put this d___ thing on the floor?”

I can easily fit this anecdote in with what lots of other sources describe as Knox’s easy friendship with the Washingtons. But is there any way to test its authenticity?

One question is whether pickled olives were still unfamiliar by the 1790s. A 1749 London edition of A Treatise on Foreign Vegetables, by Dr. Ralph Thicknesse (1719-1790), includes this entry:

Pickled Olives, being eaten before Meals, says Schroder, provoke an Appetite, raise and comfort a moist Stomach, and move the Belly.

Richard Bradley’s Treatise on Husbandry and Gardening, as published in 1723, discusses cherries treated “to imitate pickled olives,” suggesting that the latter had become popular somewhere.

But that was in Britain. Had pickled olives made their way to the colonies? In 1759, George Washington sent an invoice to his London merchant that included: “1 Case of Pickles to consist of Anchovies—Capers, Olives—Salid Oyl & 1 Bottle India Mangoes…” That’s the closest match to the phrase “pickled olive(s)” that I found in all of the Founders’ papers digitized at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. But Washington ordered “French olives” regularly in the 1750s. Was pickling taken for granted?

TOMORROW: Evidence from newspapers.

“The Honors of the Preceding Night”

Yesterday I broke off the story of the first documented public celebration of Gen. George Washington’s birthday in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1779 just as things were getting interesting: the celebrants were ready to set off two cannon. Dudley Digges, a member of the state Council, was determined to stop them.

Digges had already told the young men planning that party that it would be improper during a war. When he saw them grabbing the cannon from a smithy, he sent a lieutenant to bring those guns back, and the partygoers refused.

Most of those celebrants appear to have been students at the College of William & Mary, and their master of ceremonies was former school usher James Innes. It’s striking that Innes was a generation younger than Digges but held a higher military rank.

The account from college student David Meade Randolph continues:

Captain Digges went immediately to the Arena, where, in the pride of his power, with sixty men, he drew up in form; and demanded the cannon at the point of his bayonets! Innis stept up to Captain Digges, and shaking his cane at him, swore that he would cane him, if he did not depart instantly with his men! This enraging Digges,—he said that if the pieces were not surrendered, he would fire upon the party. Innis repeating his threat,—ordered [William] Finnie to charge the cannon with brick bats: the mob in the street, and the gentlemen of the ball, re-echoing the order. The pieces were soon charged with brick bats: Innis all the while firmly standing by the Captain at the head of his men, daring him to fire! After some delay, the Captain retreated with his men; and the evening closed with great joy.

Next day, Innis was arraigned before the Hustings Court, for Riot! confronted by the valiant Captain Digges. During the proceedings, when Innis replied to the charge, Digges in the body of the Court, and Innis in the Bar—among other particulars characteristic of the Colonel’s temper and genius, he swore “it made no odds whether Captain Digges wore a red coat, or a black coat, he would cane him!” The case was attended with no farther particulars. Innis facing the Court, and repeating his threats; till at length he was dismissed, and triumphantly walked out of Court, attended by most of his friends, who had shared the honors of the preceding night.

I can’t help but think the punch being served at that party had a significant alcohol content.

And let’s think about how the events of that night were first reported, in one of the Williamsburg newspapers:

On Monday the 22d instant a very elegant entertainment was given at the Raleigh tavern by the inhabitants of this city, to celebrate the anniversary of that date which gave birth to GENERAL GEORGE WASHINGTON, Commander in Chief of the United States, the saviour of his country, and the brave asserter of the rights and liberties of mankind.

Given the private recounting by a participant, that newspaper item looks like an attempt to sweep the whole thing under the rug.

Finally, let’s think of how Gen. Washington would have reacted if he’d heard the story of this behavior in his honor. Wouldn’t he have been proud?

Tomatoes and Poison: Humanity’s Innate Conservatism

Tomatoes are one of the fundamentals of modern cuisine in all continents. Yet just five hundred years ago they were a practically unknown Andean plant of the nightshade family that, when grown in New England or French or Italian gardens, were labelled as ‘ornamentals’: i.e. no one put a tomato near their mouth. Why were […]

“A young female coming out from the city”

This month’s discussion about the Deborah Champion legend expressed more than a little skepticism about that story of a young woman carrying important military information on horseback.

That tale, and similar stories of riders like Abigail Smith, Sybil Ludington, and Emily Geiger, have strong narrative and cultural appeal. Each offers an individual protagonist and a beginning, middle, and end. Such adventures show young women being active for America—though not, heavens forbid, using weapons themselves.

But just because those particular stories have little evidence to support them doesn’t mean that no young women were active during the war. In fact, there’s good evidence that some were, but, alas, that evidence doesn’t necessarily come neatly packaged as a story.

Here’s a first-person account from Benjamin Tallmadge (1754-1835), an officer in the Continental Army light dragoons from Long Island, New York. It was published first in Jeptha R. Simms’s History of Schoharie County and Border Wars of New York (1845) and then in the Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge (1858). In December 1777 Tallmadge (shown above in a portrait based on a sketch by John Trumbull) was a twenty-three-year-old major attached to the Continental Army at Valley Forge. His mounted unit received an assignment that called on their ability to travel fast and light. Tallmadge wrote:

being informed that a country girl had gone into Philadelphia, with eggs, instructed to obtain some information respecting the enemy, I moved my detachment to Germantown, where they halted, while, with a small detachment, I advanced several miles towards the British lines, and dismounted at a tavern called the Rising Sun, in full view of their out-posts.

Very soon I saw a young female coming out from the city, who also came to the same tavern. After we had made ourselves known to each other, and while she was communicating some intelligence to me, I was informed that the British light horse were advancing. Stepping to the door, I saw them at full speed chasing in my patrols, one of whom they took.

I immediately mounted, when I found the young damsel close by my side, entreating that I would protect her. Having not a moment to reflect, I desired her to mount behind me, and in this way I brought her off more than three miles up to Germantown, where she dismounted.

During the whole ride, although there was considerable firing of pistols, and not a little wheeling and charging, she remained unmoved, and never once complained of fear after she mounted my horse.

I was delighted with this transaction, and received many compliments from those who became acquainted with it.

That was apparently Tallmadge’s introduction to the world of intelligence. Eventually Gen. George Washington asked him to run the spy ring inside New York. Tallmadge was extremely circumspect about those activities when he composed that memoir for his children. Though his other papers include documents revealing his intelligence activities, including a codebook, in his memoir he wrote only that Gen. Washington “requested me to take charge of a particular part of his private correspondence.”

The Rising Sun tavern between Philadelphia and Germantown may have been a regular rendezvous point for exchanging intelligence in the winter of 1777-78. Commissary of prisoners Elias Boudinot wrote in his journal about going there to meet “a little poor looking insignificant Old Woman” who passed him important news hidden in “a dirty old needle book, with various small pockets in it.” John Nagy’s Spies in the Continental Capital offers strong evidence to support the family tradition that woman was Lydia Darragh, born in Ireland in 1729.

As for the young woman Tallmadge met, we don’t know her name. We don’t know the information she provided. At that stage in his career, Tallmadge probably wasn’t privy to the details, and later he learned to keep his mouth shut.

Since we don’t know that young woman’s name or her mission or the results, we don’t have quite enough information make a compelling true story out of her three-mile ride with “considerable firing of pistols, and not a little wheeling and charging.” Which is a pity, because it seems to have really happened.

[This is an updated version of the posting that appeared on 1 Dec 2006.]