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Posts Tagged ‘lexington’

A Mystery Button from “Parker’s Revenge”

Last week I showed this photo of an artifact found during the archeological study of the “Parker’s Revenge” area in Lexington. On Saturday I attended Dr. Meg Watters’s progress report on that work, which included a better photo of this item, and I was quite intrigued.

I flipped the available photo upside-down to make it a little easier to interpret. It’s a cast-copper button of the size that might be used on the front of a man’s waistcoat or at the knees of his breeches.

On the lower half of the button, apparently in the foreground, is what looks like a fox running from right to left. Above that shape is a horizontal ridge; the right light reveals that to be a bridge. On either side are a series of oval blobs, getting smaller as they rise; those are stylized trees. And in the top rear, the starry shape is a windmill with a vertical tower and four sails.

The mystery is that no one has been able to identify similar iconography on any other artifact, or identify what this scene or collection of symbols might mean. Fox, bridge, windmill, trees. Does that scene represent a family, a military unit, a hunting club?

The Latest Update on Parker’s Revenge, 3 Oct.

On Saturday, 3 October, archeologist Meg Watters will speak at the Concord public library on “Parker’s Revenge Revealed: Notes from the Field.”

This is the latest public update about the re-exploration of part of Battle Road in west Lexington where Capt. John Parker reportedly led his militia company in a counterattack on the British column making its way back from Concord.

The Parker’s Revenge Project is in the last months of its archeological stage, and the Friends of Minute Man Park just issued a press release that says:

Today, the 44-acre site of Parker’s Revenge is on a heavily wooded hillside within the confines of Minute Man National Historical Park. Utilizing a suite of technologies, the Parker’s Revenge project is reconstructing the historic 1775 landscape.

“What we have found to date is very significant. Due to the location and spatial patterning of the musket balls recovered, we now know the exact place where individuals were standing during the battle, allowing us to begin to paint a much clearer picture about what happened that day,” said Dr. Meg Watters, project archaeologist.

A dropped musket ball indicates the geographical position of a combatant. In addition, since the effective range of a 1775 musket was only approximately 100 yards, a fired musket ball also provides clues to combatant positioning. Archaeological investigations have discovered British and colonial musket balls, and a 1775-era copper button from a waistcoat. These findings are significant because they are located within 80 yards of each other. The small cluster is the only occurrence of battle related artifacts over the 44-acre site, clearly identifying the position of individuals fighting that day. Continued archaeological excavations and metallic surveys will complete the historic landscape investigation.

Dr. Watters’s talk, sponsored by the Friends of Minute Man, will start at 7:00 P.M.

Two Talks by Ray and Marie Raphael

Ray Raphael has a new history of the American founding, written with his wife Marie, and they’re coming to Massachusetts to talk about it in the next week.

The book is The Spirit of ’74: How the American Revolution Began. It builds on Ray’s The First American Revolution, published in 2002, filling out the argument that America’s political shift to republican rule was well under way in New England before the actual shooting started in 1775 and well before independence in 1776.

On Wednesday, 30 September, at 7:00 P.M., Ray and Marie Raphael will speak and sign books at the Worcester Historical Museum. This free event is sponsored by the Worcester Revolution of 1774, the consortium commemorating the local events that played a big role in the Spirit of ’74 story. The museum is at 30 Elm Street in Worcester, and there’s free parking off Chestnut Street.

On the next night, Thursday, 1 October, at 7:30 P.M., the Raphaels will speak at the Minute Man National Historical Park visitor center in Lexington. That park is of course where the war began in earnest, but also the site of crucial Massachusetts Provincial Congress sessions earlier. Again, there will be a book-signing after the talk.

Saturday Events at Minute Man Park and the Wayside Inn

On this Saturday, 26 September, Minute Man National Historical Park is hosting open houses at its Battle Road Homes in Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord.

At the Captain William Smith House, the Lincoln Minute Men will conduct drill and musket-firing programs between 10:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. As I noted a year ago, the group helped to refurnish the house in genteel fashion.

At Hartwell Tavern, members of the Hive will demonstrate methods of food preservation: pickling; making relishes and ketchups; stringing beans; and potting, brining, and smoking meats. And of course, they’ll review of what every housewife knew about using her root cellar.

Other open-house sites in the park will include the Whittemore House in Lexington, the Merriam House in Concord, and the Col. James Barrett House in Concord.

Meanwhile, Saturday is also the date of the Sudbury Colonial Faire & Muster at the field across from Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. As sponsored by the Sudbury Companies of Militia & Minute and the Sudbury Ancient Fyfe & Drum Companie, this event will feature dozens of fife & drum bands, demonstrations of musket fire and contra-dance, farm animals, and games for kids. Admission is $2 for adults.

(I’ll be at the Wayside myself, speaking to a private group about the events of 1774.)

Escape from Connecticut?

The further the British officer’s story printed in the United Service Journal in 1835 goes on, the more melodramatic and less credible it becomes.

At first the narrative sticks pretty closely to the documented experiences of the officers of the 71st Regiment. They were still prisoners in Boston at the end of 1776. But with the Continental Army suffering reverses and rumors that Gen. Charles Lee was being treated badly in Crown custody (he wasn’t), their conditions changed. Instead of letting Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell walk around Boston on parole, the Massachusetts authorities sent him out to the county jail in Concord—conditions he complained about to Gen. George Washington.

The experiences of Campbell’s subalterns are less well documented. This account says that the narrator and a fellow captured officer, “Captain Menzies,” were marched out to Lexington, ”a pretty village, built round a large green or common, in which were a church, an inn, and a blacksmith’s forge.” The two men had already started to talk about escaping.

We had…gone so far as to provide ourselves with disguises; with sailors’ dresses, rough jackets and trousers, such as were worn by the fishermen along the coast, and would therefore, we trusted, some day or another, do us good service. Havresacks also had been procured, in which a change of linen and provisions might be stowed away; and, above all, we had purchased, with a view of guarding against the worst, clasp-knives, with blades six inches in length.

Confined upstairs in that Lexington inn (we know there was more than one tavern in the town, but let’s assume it was Buckman’s Tavern, shown above), the officers got the lieutenant, sergeant, and corporal in their guard drunk over dinner.

It was now past midnight; and the silence which prevailed elsewhere gave notice that the people of the house, and probably the troops on duty, were all fast asleep. . . . Menzies passed on tiptoe towards the door, into the staple of which, so as to keep the latch from being lifted, he quietly thrust a knife. Meanwhile I stole to the window, and threw it open.

The night was as dark as pitch; so dark indeed, as to render fruitless every endeavour to ascertain how far we were from the ground. There was not a star in the heavens; and over the village swept a low moaning wind, the sure prelude to a storm. In some respects all this was in our favour: the excessive darkness would help to baffle pursuit were we fairly in flight, and the wind would probably drown whatever noise we might make in descending. But to descend in total ignorance both of the spot which was to receive us and of the position of the sentinels, whom we could not doubt the officer had planted, was what we should have hesitated about doing had a less urgent necessity driven us on.

The author makes the jump, and in good literary fashion the narrative breaks there, to resume in the following issue.

The second installment of this account (which is the third in the magazine’s “Traditions of the American War of Independence” series) picks up from that moment with the narrator realizing he’s badly hurt his ankle. He and Menzies hide from pursuers in the woods, get separated crossing a deep stream and reunited, and overpower a suspicious rural couple. There are long passages on the narrator’s despair about his ankle and the experience of being alone in the forest. There’s a great deal of male bonding between the narrator and Menzies.

Alas, we have Lt. Col. Campbell’s letter listing all the officers who fell into the Bostonians’ hands in June 1776, and that list includes no captain named Menzies. (Maj. Robert Menzies died in the fight when the transport ships were captured.) So our author has either forgotten his companion’s name, disguised his identity, or made it all up.

Other details defy confirmation. The account quotes from a paper describing the two escapees for American pursuers: “One considerably taller than the other; dressed in frieze jackets and trowsers; supposed to pass themselves off as seafaring men.” I’ve found no runaway ad with those phrases, but the account doesn’t say that was a published advertisement, and it’s easy to excuse the author from remembering the exact words.

Likewise, the geography remains murky. The narrator apparently thought he was in Connecticut soon after escaping, yet mentions “Holleston,” “Providence River,” and “Daubeny.” Are those odd details the result of imperfect knowledge and memory, or was the writer just making things up?

And then things get really weird. The narrator and Menzies are recaptured by American “riflemen,” along with an old man named Simcoe accused of being a Loyalist. With the narrator’s ankle still painful, he’s put into a wagon for the ride back to Boston. But then Indians and the Loyalist’s son burst from the woods to rescue them, killing and scalping all the American guards. Finally, the narrator and Menzies make it to New York. By that point, it seems more clear, whoever was penning the account was simply looking to entertain a British readership.

And was that the only point of this account all along?

TOMORROW: Back to the fight in Boston harbor.

Serving Parker’s Revenge Warm

Yesterday I attended an event at Minute Man National Historical Park announcing major support for the Parker’s Revenge project from Campaign 1776.

The term “Parker’s Revenge,” which Brandeis professor David Hackett Fischer pointed out was probably coined by John Galvin in his 1967 book The Minute Men, refers to one point in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, when Capt. John Parker and his Lexington militiamen attacked the British army column as it withdrew east from Concord. By tradition, those provincials were on or behind a particular granite outcrop—probably a good choice, as that’s said to be the highest point between Boston and Concord.

Parker’s Revenge is thus an event, and an area, and an idea—the idea of the Lexington company that had been hurt that dawn picking themselves up and fighting back.

A couple of years ago, the park and the non-profit Friends of Minute Man Park convened a group to study Parker’s Revenge in more depth. As Bob Morris of the Friends explained, the project has four phases:

  • research into maps, tax and real estate records, and historic accounts to determine what land to focus on and what to look for there.
  • archeology. Project Archeologist Meg Watters didn’t dig; rather, she oversaw a careful survey of the land with lasers, ground-probing radar, metal detectors, and other technology. In addition, military experts will walk through the area to give their opinions about how the opposing armies would have reacted to the site. Watters’s report is due this summer.
  • interpretation and education with the findings and artifacts discovered during the investigation. Plans include traditional displays and signage, and also the possibility of an app depicting the 1775 terrain (as we understand it) that people could use while walking the area today.
  • land rehabilitation under the guidance of the National Park Service’s Olmsted Center. It’s unclear whether there will be a recommendation or resources to return the whole tract to a semblance of its 1775 appearance, but right now it’s wooded and unwelcomingly overgrown.

The Parker’s Revenge project caught the attention of folks at the Civil War Trust. That foundation has been around for over fifteen years, having grown out of smaller groups. Its leaders now have lots of experience in preserving battlefield land, and they’re expanding their scope to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 with an initiative called Campaign 1776. That push uses the minute man as part of its symbol, and of course its organizers are interested in the iconic Lexington and Concord battle.

Campaign 1776 has now contributed to the Parker’s Revenge project in two ways. It agreed to buy an acre of adjacent land with the plan of eventually donating that to the park. People think that British flankers moved across that area as they circled north to drive Parker’s men off their high ground. The property was owned by the town of Lincoln but not necessarily set aside for preservation.

In addition, Campaign 1776 and the Society of the Cincinnati’s American Revolution Institute helped to fund the archeology with a $25,000 grant, the Civil War Trust’s first archeology project. That donation was represented at the event by one of those symbolic oversized checks proudly held up by several people in suits.

Meanwhile, no fewer than four school groups passed by on field trips, peering with more or less curiosity at what the grownups were doing. That shows how big an attraction Minute Man Park already is. With more depth and detail in its Parker’s Revenge interpretation, just a short distance from the visitor center in Lexington, the park may soon have more solid stories to tell.

The Last Relics of Crispus Attucks

William Cooper Nell wasn’t the only Boston author researching the Boston Massacre in the nineteenth century. Another was Frederic Kidder, who published his History of the Boston Massacre in 1870. In one footnote he wrote:

Crispus Attucks is described as a mulatto; he was born in Framingham near the Chochituate lake and not far from the line of Natick. Here an old cellar hole remains where the Attucks family formerly lived.

Kidder didn’t state a source for this information, but we can hope he went out to Framingham to see for himself.

In his 1887 history of that town Josiah H. Temple cribbed language from Kidder and added some more information:

Crispus Attucks…was a mulatto, born near the Framingham town line, a short distance to the eastward of the State Arsenal. The old cellar-hole where the Attucks family lived is still visible. He was probably a descendant of John Auttuck, an Indian, who was taken prisoner and executed at the same time with Capt. Tom, in June, 1676. . . . Probably the family had intermarried with negroes who were slaves, and as the offspring of such marriages were held to be slaves, he inherited their condition, although it seems likely that the blood of three races coursed through his veins. He had been bought by Dea. William Brown of Framingham, as early as 1747. . . .

[Temple here quoted the Gazette advertisement from 1750.]

A descendant of Dea. Brown says of him: “Crispus was well informed, and, except in the instance referred to in the advertisement, was faithful to his master. He was a good judge of cattle, and was allowed to buy and sell upon his own judgment of their value.” He was fond of a seafaring life, and probably with consent of his master, was accustomed to take coasting voyages. The account of the time says, “he lately belonged to New Providence, and was here in order to go to North Carolina.”

He was of huge bodily proportions, and brave almost to recklessness.

It’s notable that the words quoted from the Brown family descendant used some of the same phrases as in statements from 1857-1860: “well informed,” “allowed to sell and buy upon his own judgment,” and of course “faithful.” The family seems to have all been working from the same script.

Temple’s town genealogies offered this information about William Brown: He was born in Lexington in 1723 to Joseph and Ruhamah Brown, married and moved to Framingham in 1746, served in several town and church offices, and died in 1793.

Finally there’s the teapot this inquiry started with, the small pewter vessel now on display at the Boston Public Library. “Miss S. E. Kimball” donated it to the Bostonian Society about a century ago, and in 1918 that society donated it to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England. With the teapot Kimball gave a note that said:

This relic, once the property of Crispus Attucks, has been in possession of different members of the Brown family since his death. Deacon William Brown, who owned Crispus, was the younger brother of my mother’s great-grandfather, Jonas Brown.

I believe that donor was Sarah E. Kimball, born 23 Jan 1831 and living in Westboro toward the end of the century. She was a daughter of Noah Kimball (1804-1876) and Martha Warren Brown, born in 1811 in Topsham, Maine. From what I see on the internet, Martha Warren Brown was a daughter of Gardner Brown (1769-1837), granddaughter of William Brown (1746-1829), great-granddaughter of Jonas Brown (1711-1772), and great-great-granddaughter of the same Joseph Brown who fathered the Framingham slaveowner. So that checks out.

(Incidentally, Jonas Brown married a daughter of the man who built the Munroe Tavern in Lexington. So there’s a family connection between the Boston Massacre and the fighting in that town five years later: the man who had owned Attucks and the man who owned that tavern in 1775 were first cousins. Massachusetts was a much smaller place in the eighteenth century.)

Historic New England also owns a small pewter cup, “twisted and dented,” said to have belonged to Attucks (shown above thanks to this Harvard site). Presumably this is the same “pewter drinking cup” seen in 1859, which Nell displayed as a “goblet” in 1860. The previous year, C. H. Morse told the New England Historic and Genealogical Register that Attucks had “worn” that cup when he was killed. But we don’t seem to have any information about how it was preserved or how it came to the society.

The powderhorn described in the 1850s has disappeared. And the cellar-hole has no doubt been filled in.

TOMORROW: So is that really Crispus Attucks’s teapot?

“Shot“ Exhibit Now Heard Around the Internet

If you’ve enjoyed the past few days of anecdotes from the Battle of Lexington and Concord, check out the website for the Concord Museum’s “Shot Heard Round the World” exhibit.

This exhibit, mounted last year, brought together artifacts from the museum itself, local historical societies, and private collectors to create an unprecedented gathering of relics from the first day of the Revolutionary War. As the website explains, it

followed an hour-by-hour account of the actions of British Regulars and Patriots on April 19, 1775, presenting a chronological and geographical timeline of the day and representing many of the communities surrounding Boston—Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington (Menotomy), and Cambridge—whose militias played a prominent role in the day-long engagement. Organized by Concord Museum curator David Wood and militaria expert Joel Bohy, the exhibition explored the objects on view and the part they played in the events of the fateful day that began an eight-year fight for independence.

The online exhibit not only preserves images of many of those artifacts but also ancillary videos and outside links. Plus, there’s a page for teachers and students.

Mansplaining about Dr. Joseph Warren

The first book devoted to Dr. Joseph Warren was Stories about General Warren: in Relation to the Fifth of March Massacre, and the Battle of Bunker Hill, a biography for young readers published in 1835. The anonymous author was the doctor’s niece Rebecca Brown (1789-1855), shown here courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Stories about General Warren took the form of a dialogue between a mother and two children named William and Mary, who say things like, “Did not all the boys like him, mamma? I am sure I should have liked him.”

The book was reviewed that year in the Southern Literary Messenger, mainly to give the reviewer a chance to write about Warren. He (and the tone almost requires one to assume the anonymous reviewer was a he) devotes a long column to “the book’s childishness of style” and “many offences far more atrocious in a critic’s eyes—sins against grammar, idiom, and good taste.” That part of the essay ended:

Let the author be entreated to get the aid of some friend who is master (if she is not mistress) of grammar and taste enough, to reform these and the other errors of her little work, and then give us a new edition, calling in all the copies of the first, that are within her reach.

Not the type of notice an author wishes to receive.

The reviewer then launched into his own version of Warren’s life. Many points of that biography are unreliable, as when it gives Warren the rank of a general months before the Massachusetts Provincial Congress did. Here’s his telling of Warren’s activity during the Battle of Lexington and Concord:

Scouts of his had notified him on the 18th of April, that a detachment of troops was to march that night towards Concord: and then, remaining himself upon the watch, he saw Colonel [Francis] Smith and 8 or 900 men embark for Charlestown [sic]. Knowing the stores and ammunition at Concord to be their object [he didn’t really], he instantly sent messengers over the surrounding country, to give the alarm; and himself rode all night [no, Warren left Boston near dawn]—passing so near the enemy, as to be more than once in great danger of capture. . . .

Warren, sleepless and in motion throughout the night, hurried to the scene of action: and, when the enemy were retreating from Concord, he was among the foremost in hanging upon their rear, and assailing their flanks. By pressing them too closely, he once narrowly escaped death. A musket ball took off a lock of hair, which curled close to his head, in the fashion of that time.

When his mother first saw him after the battle, and heard of this escape, she entreated him with tears not again to risk a life so precious. “Where danger is, dear mother,” he answered, “there must your son be. Now is no time for any of America’s children to shrink from any hazard. I will see her free, or die.”

Rebecca Brown had written something similar, but not the same:

When his mother first saw him after this escape, she entreated him, with tears in her eyes, not again to risk a life so dear to her, and so necessary to his country. “Wherever danger is, dear mother,” was his reply, “there must your son be, now is no time for one of America’s children to shrink from the most hazardous duty. I will either see my country free, or shed my last drop of blood to make her so.”

Presumably the reviewer rewrote Brown’s quote to minimize the “sins against grammar, idiom, and good taste.” He did not indicate having any better source of information.

Not that either version of the quote is probably accurate. But at least there’s a chance that Rebecca Brown had heard about that meeting from her grandmother Mary Warren, who lived until 1803.

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.

“Shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous”

On 19 Apr 1775, two companies of militiamen marched from Andover. Anticipating that the British column was headed to Concord, where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had collected supplies, they marched toward that town, but kept adjusting their course as they received more news.

Here’s the account of Sgt. Thomas Boynton from Capt. Benjamin Ames’s company:

This morning, being Wednesday, about the sun’s rising the town was alarmed with the news that the Regulars was on their march to Concord. Upon which the town mustered and about 10 o’clock marched onward for Concord. In Tewksbury news came that the Regulars had fired on our men in Lexington, and had killed 8. In Bilricke news came that the enemy were killing and slaying our men in Concord. Bedford we had the news that the enemy had killed 2 of our men and had retreated back; we shifted our course and persued after them as fast as possible, but all in vain; the enemy had the start 3 or 4 miles. It is said that their number was about 1500 men. They were persued as far as Charlestown that night; the next day they passed Charles River. The loss they sustained as we hear were 500; our men about 40. To return, after we came into Concord road we saw houses burning and others plundered and dead bodies of the enemy lying by the way, others taken prisoners. About eight at night our regiment came to a halt in notime. The next morning we came into Cambridge and there abode.

The Andover men never made contact with the enemy that day, but they did become part of the army besieging Boston.

Another man on that march was James Stevens, a carpenter born in 1749 who was in Capt. Thomas Poor’s company. His diary was published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections in 1912, offering a vivid picture of the aftermath of battle:

April ye 19 1775 this morning a bout seven aclok we had alarum that the Reegerlers was gon to Conkord we getherd to the meting hous & then started for Concord we went throu Tukesbary & in to Bilrica we stopt to Polords [Solomon Pollard’s tavern, burned in 1977] & eat some bisket & Ches on the comon. we started & wen into Bedford & we herd that the regerlers was gon back to Boston

we went through Bedford, we went in to Lecentown. we went to the metinghous & there we come to the distraction of the Reegerlers thay cild eight of our men & shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous. we went a long through Lecintown & we saw severel regerlers ded on the rod & som of our men & three or fore housen was Burnt & som hoses & hogs was cild thay plaindered in every hous thay could git in to thay stove in windows & broke in tops of desks we met the men a coming back very fast we went through Notemy & got into Cambridg we stopt about eight acloke for thay say that the regerlers was got to Chalstown on to Bunkers hil & intrenstion we stopt about two miles back from the college

Thursday ye 20 this morning we had alarum about day we imbodied as son as posable & marcht into the comon we herd that the regrelers was gon to Boston we staid on the Comon a spel & then retreted back to the hils & exspected them out on us we herd severl small canons & one or two swevels from a tender we staid while ten or a leven aClok & then come down & got some refreshment & men come in very fast

Stevens’s idiosyncratic spelling probably gives a good sense of what he sounded like. It’s also clear that even then people had trouble spelling “Billerica.”

(The picture of the Lexington meetinghouse above comes courtesy of the First Shot! smartphone tour, created by Rick and Marilyn Rea Beyer and the Lexington Historical Society.)

Reuben Brown, the Link Between Lexington and Concord

Reuben Brown was born in Sudbury in 1748. In 1770, soon after coming of age, he moved to Concord and established himself as a saddler. Three years later, on 12 May 1773, he married a girl from his old town, Mary (Polly) How. Their daughter Hepzibath arrived four months later on 15 September, and their second daughter Sally on 9 Mar 1775.

Also in early 1775, according to Concord historian Lemuel Shattuck, Brown made “cartouch-boxes, holsters, belts, and other articles of saddlery” for local militiamen. The town’s Liberty Pole stood in a field behind his shop.

But those weren’t Brown’s most significant contributions to the Battle of Lexington and Concord. He had a unique perspective on the action, as described in his highly wrought obituary in the 3 Oct 1832 The New England Farmer (reprinted from the Boston Courier):

Died at Concord, Mass. on the 25th ult. [i.e., of last month] Mr Reuben Brown, a rare specimen of that hardy, industrious, intelligent and fearless yeomanry which, fifty years ago, was the glory of the Commonwealth and the bulwark of the Union.

Mr Brown, who was a native of Sudbury and a grandson of the first minister of that ancient settlement, removed to Concord about the year 1771, and was of course just in season to witness the earliest scenes of the great Drama of the Age. He did witness them literally, indeed, for on the eventful morning of the 19th of April, long before day-break, he was on his way, alone, at the request of some of the Concord authorities, to reconnoitre the advance of the British to Lexington.

He reached the “Common” just as they were seen marching up the Boston road. He advised the American officers, who were wholly unprepared to meet an enemy, to withdraw; but they declined, chiefly from the firm belief, which their men shared with them, that the British would never think of firing upon them at all events.

Mr Brown waited to see the issue of the meeting—the blood of the first martyrs of American liberty—and he then returned rapidly to Concord and reported progress.

His work had now but commenced. His shop was closed—a large saddler’s establishment in which he had already fitted out several companies of cavalry and infantry—and then his house—standing on the main road in the village—and his wife with her infant children instructed to manage for herself in the woods north of the town, with many other females and infirm people of the place—

Mr. Brown then mounted his horse again, it being now about day-break, and commenced the task of alarming the neighboring country. And his efforts will need no comment when we say that he rode that day about 120 miles in the performance of this noble duty. The result of the exertions in which no single man probably bore so active a part as himself, is well known to all readers of a history which “the world has by heart.” On many other occasions he was equally efficient, though he did not happen to be at any time engaged in fighting the enemy in the field. Two of his brothers were at Bunker Hill.

Universally respected by his fellow citizens for his sound judgment, his energy, his industry, his public spirit, his cordial benevolence, and, above all, for that staunch old fashioned honesty which knew no shadow of turning—his gray hairs were crowned with the praise of a Patriot, and his death with the peace of a Christian. He came to his grave at the venerable age of 84.

Brown was thus the communication link between Lexington and Concord at the start of the fight. His report that the British troops were willing to shoot warned his own neighbors to be cautious about confronting those soldiers, putting off the confrontation in Concord for a few hours until more militia units arrived.

Reportedly, before leaving town the regulars took a chaise from Brown’s shop, perhaps to transport a wounded man. That man might well have been Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould—at least, men in Cambridge later took control of both Gould and Brown’s chaise. Reuben Brown also had a connection to another prisoner, Lt. Richard Potter of the Marines: the provincials held him for a while in Brown’s house.

Here is an old photograph of that house from the collection of the Boston Public Library. Brown’s account books from a couple of decades later are at the Concord library.

Places to Go, People to Read

Greater Boston’s Patriots Day season has already started. For information about reenactments and commemorations in Middlesex County, check out the Battle Road site.

And don’t forget about next week’s Colonial Comics events, which got some ink from the Boston Globe yesterday.

Looking back, the “So Sudden an Alteration” conference last Thursday through Saturday benefited from excellent wi-fi at the Massachusetts Historical Society, so there was a lot of tweeting during the sessions. That produced a parallel discussion that brought in resources and voices from outside the room, as well as the usual strictly limited paraphrases of what people said and snarky comments about it.

Two members of the Junto have collected the tweets marked #RevReborn2 in separate formats. Joe Adelman used the experimental tool at Hawksey.info to create this archive of #RevReborn2 tweets. The site also produced graphs and an unintelligible map.

Michael Hattem fed tweets and photos into the established Storify site:

If you want to comment back on Twitter, use the #RevReborn2 label, and your remark may appear in a future update.

What’s Up with Minute Man Park This Month

Today the North Bridge Visitor Center of Minute Man National Historical Park is scheduled to reopen for the season.

It will be open through the end of the month on Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. In April, with the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord coming up, the park’s facilities will surely open for longer hours.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Minute Man Park is sponsoring two lectures this month.

Sunday, 15 March
“Parker’s Revenge Project: Notes from the Field”
Principal investigator Margaret Watters, Ph.D., will give an update on the Friends initiative to study and interpret the site traditionally associated with the afternoon assault on the withdrawing British army column by Capt. John Parker and his Lexington militiamen.

Sunday, 29 March
“War and Slavery in Revolutionary Massachusetts, 1775-1783”
John Hannigan, Rose and Irving Crown Fellow in the History Department at Brandeis, will share his research on how men of color participated in the opening of the American Revolution, and the effects of their activity on the institution of slavery in Massachusetts.

Both talks will take place in Bemis Hall, 15 Bedford Road in Lincoln. They will start at 3:00 P.M., and are free and open to the public.

The Roots of the “Black Robed Regiment” in 2010

Yesterday’s look at Oklahoma legislator and minister Dan Fisher showed how he’s active in the “Black Robed Regiment,” a movement among some Christian pastors to be more militantly involved in politics.

I’m sure the “Black Robe(d) Regiment” phenomenon is worthy of deeper study. The short version, as summarized at Media Matters and at Wikipedia, is that it arose from a conversation between author David Barton and broadcaster Glenn Beck (shown here) in 2010 and was quickly picked up by like-minded ministers eager to become more involved in political affairs.

Barton’s Wallbuilders site includes an page promoting the movement while the National Black Robe Regiment website includes an article by Barton it titles “The Original Black Robe Regiment.” This being the internet, there are other domains using the “Black Robe” trope and no way to tell if some are more “official” than others.

Barton has become notorious for distorting historical evidence to support his Christianist view of the American Revolution and early republic. Given the place of religion in eighteenth-century society, especially in New England, it should be hard to overstate its importance, but Barton has done so habitually. He’s also ventured into topics unrelated to Christianity but embedded in modern right-wing politics, such as gun ownership, and proved equally unreliable.

Barton’s article on the “Original Black Robe Regiment” appears to be typical of his approach. It proffers an impressive number of footnotes—101 in all. On closer examination, however, those citations don’t add up to so much.

Footnote 66, for example, is simply a repetition of footnote 1 when Barton returns to the phrase “black regiment.” But that set of sources doesn’t actually offer evidence for the essay’s first sentence:

The Black Robed Regiment was the name that the British placed on the courageous and patriotic American clergy during the Founding Era (a backhanded reference to the black robes they wore). [1]

In fact, Google Books can’t find the phrase “black robed regiment” from any source prior to this century. It appears that Barton made it up, inadvertently or on purpose, based on the actual period phrase “Black Regiment,” which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

My favorite footnote in the article is attached to this passage:

When Paul Revere set off on his famous ride, it was to the home of the Rev. [Jonas] Clark in Lexington that he rode. Patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams were lodging (as they often did) with the Rev. Clark. After learning of the approaching British forces, Hancock and Adams turned to Pastor Clark and inquired of him whether the people were ready to fight. Clark unhesitatingly replied, “I have trained them for this very hour!” [47]

The note:

[47] Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 34. Only source we can locate is Cole’s.

I doubt that second sentence was meant to be left for us to see. It indicates that Barton and his research team had enough questions about whether “Pastor Clark” really said those words to look for a better source than a book published by a Christian evangelical press 166 years after the event. But they failed to find any other source to support Cole’s quotation, despite the many accounts and histories of the Lexington alarm—which should have made them skeptical about that book. Instead, Barton cited it in this essay seven more times.

In those hundred footnotes I count seven primary sources from the eighteenth century: Peter Oliver’s account of the Revolution from shortly after the war, two citations of 1770s Boston newspapers taken from a note in the 1961 edition of Oliver, letters of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, a 1789 newspaper report, and a collection of sermons.

Some other contemporaneous writing no doubt appears in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century books that provide the bulk of the citations and quotations, but those books also contain unsupported traditions and fables like the one quoted above. That’s why I think it’s important to go back to the earliest documents, consider them fully and skeptically, and not just quote what I like uncritically because I can’t find anything more solid.

It’s easy to find primary sources on eighteenth-century American religion. The problem is that those sources present a much more complex, multi-faceted, and unfamiliar picture of religious life and thought than the Black Robe(d) Regiment would apparently like.

COMING UP: What Peter Oliver really wrote.

CFP: Return to Sender: American Evangelical Missions in Europe, 1830-2010

Below is a call for papers received by RiAH. Details about submitting proposals can be found after the jump. Proposals are due March 16, 2015.

Return to Sender:
American Evangelical Missions in Europe, 1830-2010

Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg, July 15-16, 2015

In 1830 American agencies sent out the first missionaries to continental Europe to establish new churches. This act signaled the beginning of a reverse movement of missionary activities. After two centuries of European efforts to take care of the souls of North America peoples, missionaries in North Americans began to return out of concern for Europe. These trips inaugurated the first stage of reverse mission in the modern era. Studies such as Ian Tyrrell’s Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire (2010), Mark Hutchinson and John Wolffe’s A Short History of Global Evangelicalism (2012), Brian Stanley’s, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott (2013), revealed the growing global network of Anglo-American evangelicalism. These books are more interested in the impressive list of engagements in the “global south” than in Europe. However, despite the modest investment in Europe, this return movement signaled and previewed the eventual global and multidirectional missionary movement of evangelicals. The central question of this conference is how the experiences of American evangelical missionaries in Europe helped or failed to bridge the contrasts between the two continents.

This conference seeks to enrich existing scholarship by bringing together experts who examine the patterns of American evangelicals’ interaction with European audiences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In particular, the organizers seek to examine the intentions, implementation, and implications of American evangelical missions in the Old World. The organizers invite interdisciplinary, long-term and comparative contributions rather than strictly organizational histories of individual mission posts or agencies, The goal is to reveal the similarities and variety in evangelical missionary patterns in Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or mixed countries in Europe. Ranging from Ireland to Russia, Iceland to Sicily, these studies should help to identify the impact of levels of economic development, ethnic make-up, political order, social conventions, gender relations, etc. in the structure of transatlantic religious exchange.

Individual papers might address the following questions:

Why and when did evangelical churches and organizations identify Europe as a mission field? How did they perceive subdivisions in Europe? What did they hope to achieve? How stable and enduring (or adaptive) were their programs in the context of a changing international environment? What was the impact of military campaigns and peace operations and other political realities on the missionary enterprise? What and when did they consider the best windows of opportunities? Which competition and which support did the missionaries expect from “colleagues” or in the receiving nations? Did American church and free mission agencies differ in their approach to Europe? How did the missionary intention change over time?

How important were transnational contacts, such as immigrant connections, official denominational structures for the missionaries in Europe? How did the missionaries involve, circumvent, or challenge civic and ecclesiastical authorities at home and abroad? Which instruments did the missionaries favor: proclamation, humanitarian assistance, education? How did political, technological, and communicational developments shape and change the patterns of outreach? How did the confrontation with European Christendom and ideologies such as fascism, communism, existentialism, color the American missionary approach? Has the European scene attracted pre-selected groups, with less racial and ethnic diversity than in other receiving areas? How did mission projects in European countries intersect with similar projects in the European colonies? Did the transfer of leadership of the mission to the receiving cultures (indigenization) resemble similar processes in other parts of the world?

What did the presence of American evangelical missionaries change in the religious relations and proportions in the target areas? How did Americans understand conversion and how did European subcultures respond to that call? Did they increase pluralism or weaken the traditional religious institutions? How did they benefit or suffer from political pressures? Why did some missions succeed and others fail? How close did the recipients identify evangelicals with the broader expansion of American power in the world? Was this a positive or a negative force? Did the incorporation of Europe in the international evangelical network lead to a transfer of American concerns in Europe, such as gender relations, biblical inerrancy, charismatic religion, abortion, intelligent design, prophecy? How did returning American missionaries shape their home churches, communities, programs, and policies in their perception of Europe? Did the European experiences affect evangelical discussions and enterprises at home? Did European evangelicals as a result of these activities gain a hearing in North America?

Proposals (300 words) outlining topic, methodology, argument and significance, plus short CV, should be submitted to Dr. Hans Krabbendam at jl.krabbendam@zeeland.nl and prof. dr. Stefan Paas at spaas@tukampen.nl by March 16, 2015. Three-person panel proposals (1000 words) are also welcome.

The conference is organized by the Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg, and the Theological University in Kampen, the Netherlands in cooperation with the Centre for Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies, University of Southampton, the David Bruce Centre for American Studies, Keele University, the Institute of North American Studies, King’s College London. The steering committee comprises Dr. Kendrick Oliver (Southampton), Professor Axel Schäfer (Keele), Dr. Hans Krabbendam (RSC) and Dr. Uta Balbier (KCL). The conference organizers are Hans Krabbendam and Stefan Paas.

Another Dimension for Battle Road?

Last week the University of Pennsylvania library announced the purchase of a collection of manuscripts about the occult and alchemy.

The original collector was Charles Rainsford, a British army officer during the Revolutionary War (shown here). But he spent that period enlisting soldiers in the German states, as a ceremonial aide-de-camp to King George III, and suppressing riots in London. So ordinarily that news would hold limited interest for Boston 1775. But then I spotted a familiar name in Mitch Fraas’s announcement:

It was with excitement then that my colleagues and I read the catalog for the sale of some of the 12th Duke of Northumberland’s collection this past July. Amongst the treasures was a somewhat unassuming lot consisting of nearly 60 manuscript volumes from a single 18th century collector. These manuscripts had been left to the 2nd Duke of Northumberland by his friend Charles Rainsford (1728-1809).

Since 1809 they had sat on the shelves at Alnwick Castle, seeing only sporadic use. Rainsford was not only a British general and sometime governor of Gibraltar but an avid alchemist and occultist, fascinated by everything from the philosopher’s stone to Tarot to Rosicrucianism. The manuscript library he left to the Duke of Northumberland contained works he had collected in Gibraltar and on the continent but also a number copied out in his own hand from texts he had seen or borrowed.

The second Duke of Northumberland is better known around here as Colonel Percy, Gen. Thomas Gage’s second-in-command in Boston at the start of the war and officer in charge of the relief column and retreat from Lexington on 19 Apr 1775. As the first Duke of Northumberland’s son, he used the name and title of Earl Percy until he succeeded to the dukedom.

Now I know our Percy didn’t inherit these manuscripts from Rainsford until the early nineteenth century, and Rainsford may not have even have started to acquire them until years after the Revolutionary War. But let’s imagine that Rainsford and Percy started discussing matters of alchemy and the occult early in their careers and made some breakthroughs.

That would open up new dimensions of possibility to Percy’s withdrawal along the Battle Road. Alchemical weapons! Dead soldiers resurrected as unstoppable zombies! The ghost of General Wolfe brought back to lead the redcoats!

Hey, it’s no more outlandish than some parts of Sons of Liberty. 

The Real Story of the Fake Sarah Munroe Letter

Last week I noted a letter describing George Washington’s Presidential visit to Lexington in 1789. And I said it looked like a fake.

Polly Kienle of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum helpfully commented on that post confirming that young Sarah Munroe didn’t write that letter. Rather, it came from the pen of James Phinney Munroe (1862-1929), president of the Lexington Historical Society. And he spent years trying to live it down.

On 5 Nov 1889, J. P. Munroe wrote, he was invited to speak about the hundredth anniversary of Washington’s visit at a public dinner. He recalled, “Wishing only to be informal, to avoid the conventions of after-dinner speaking, to relieve the solemnity of history with a touch of human nature, in an evil hour I forged the name of a great-aunt (dead these many years) to a letter that she did not write, that (kindly soul) she would not have written, that so circumstantial is it she could not have written, had she tried…”

And then he placed the letter in the inaugural issue of the Proceedings of the Lexington Historical Society. That magazine also printed his prefatory remarks:

When I was asked to assume the honorable task of representing my great-grandfather here to-night, I, naturally, searched the old Munroe tavern for memorials of him, but without success. A hunt through the garret of the old Mason house, was, however, more fortunate, as it resulted in this letter. The original, of which this is a copy, bears the date Nov. 7, 1789, and is indorsed, in a fine Italian hand, “Miss Sarah Munroe, Lexington, to Miss Mary Mason, New York.” Sarah was the second daughter of Colonel William Munroe, the other children being William, Anna, Jonas, Lucinda, and Edmund. Mary was the only daughter of Mr. Joseph Mason, a famous pedagogue, and for many years, including 1789, town clerk. Of the reason of Miss Mason’s sojourn in New York, we are not informed.

Later J. P. Munroe wrote, “the Mason house having no garret worth mentioning, the non-existence of that attic suggested a manufactured letter.”

But clearly not enough people picked up that clue. Over the next few years, Munroe saw the letter cited as an authentic source in publications like the Boston Evening Transcript. It was reprinted in the program for an 1898 banquet of the California Sons of the American Revolution (who obviously hadn’t explored deeply enough in the Mason house). Munroe insisted that “Real historians” weren’t fooled, but, as Kienle commented, he was “caught up in a ‘viral’ whirlwind before the days of instantaneous online dissemination.”

Munroe wrote at least two letters to the Transcript proclaiming that the letter was a fake. In 1900 he published a pamphlet titled A Sketch of the Munroe Clan with an appendix all about the letter. In that he wrote, “The fraud seemed to me so patent, the possibility of belief by any one that a half-educated young girl would prepare a narrative so straightforward and circumstantial appeared to me so remote, that I had no thought of the skit being taken seriously.”

Two years later, the Dedham Historical Register published the letter again as a genuine document. In 1917, the Journal of American History did the same. In 1924, it even appeared in St. Nicholas magazine for young readers. And now, will the internet bring it back?

(Hear genuine stories of President Washington’s visit to New England in 1789, and his interactions with Gov. John Hancock, when you come to the Cambridge Forum tonight.)

President Washington in Sickness and in Lexington

Having spent many autumn days outdoors meeting lots of American citizens, on 26 Oct 1789 President George Washington…got sick.

He wrote in his diary:

The day being Rainy & Stormy—myself much disordered by a Cold and inflamation in the left eye, I was prevented from visiting Lexington (where the first blood in the dispute with G. Britn.) was drawn. . . . in the Evening I drank Tea with Govr. [John] Hancock & called upon Mr. [James] Bowdoin on my return to my lodgings.

(The President’s encounters with Gov. Hancock will be the focus of T. H. Breen’s talk at the Cambridge Forum next Wednesday evening.)

According to the editors of the Washington Papers, the President might have been suffering from the “widespread epidemic of respiratory ailments” spreading in the central and southern states. In fact, Washington and his retinue may have carried the virus north. Certainly a lot of the people who had crowded onto the Boston streets to see him came down with a big, and local newspapers began to refer to the “Washington influenza.”

Washington eventually made it to Lexington, visiting the town on his swing south after seeing New Hampshire.

Thursday 5th. About Sun rise I set out, crossing the Merimack River at the Town over to the Township of Bradford and in nine Miles came to Abbots Tavern in Andover where we breakfasted, and met with much attention from Mr. [William] Philips President of the Senate of Massachusetts, who accompanied us thro’ Bellarika to Lexington, where I dined, and viewed the Spot on which the first blood was spilt in the dispute with great Britain on the 19th. of April 1775.

The President dined at William Munroe’s tavern, now a museum of the Lexington Historical Society (shown above).

In 1917, the Journal of American History published “A Young Woman’s Sprightly Account of Washington’s Visit to Lexington in 1789,” said to be written by Munroe’s daughter Sarah. It looks like a total fake. But sprightly.

“Nothing but the Horrors”

One measure of the poor reception for the American Heroes Channel’s American Revolution series among historians this week was how it drove Alex Cain to start a blog. His first post said:

…the Battle of Lexington, as depicted in “The American Revolution”, is woefully inaccurate and replete with factual inaccuracies. For the producers to say the Lexington militia were all armed with squirrel rifles, that the “minutemen” actually blockaded the Road to Concord, and that the battle took place in a random field outside of Lexington is unacceptable and grossly misleading.

Cain is the author of We Stood Our Ground: Lexington in the First Year of the Revolution, studying each soldier from Lexington, so he knows that particular patch of ground.

It looks like Cain’s second blog posting is an extract or excision from his new book, I See Nothing but the Horrors of a Civil War: The Rise, Fall and Ultimate Triumph of McAlpin’s Corps of American Volunteers, about a set of Loyalists from New York and “the Hampshire Grants,” now known as Vermont.

Here’s a bit from the blog about the wife of corps leader Daniel McAlpin, a retired British army captain who had settled near Stillwater, New York, until the war broke out:

Mary McAlpin described her family’s treatment at the hands of the rebels in vivid language. “From the day her husband left to the day she was forced from her home the Captain’s house was never without parties of the Rebels present. They lived at their discretion and sometimes in very large numbers. They destroyed what they could not consume. Shortly after the capture of the fleeing loyalists a group of armed Rebels with blackened faces broke into the McAlpins’ dwelling house. They threatened Mary and her children with violence and menace of instant death. They confined them to the kitchen while they stripped every valuable from the home. A few days after this, by an order of the Albany Committee, a detachment of Rebel Forces came and seized upon the remainder of McAlpin’s estate both real and personal.” Mary McAlpin and her children were taken to an unheated hut located in Stillwater and locked inside “without fire, table, chairs or any other convenience.”

Hoping that the hardship would eventually break Mrs. McAlpin and induce her to beg her husband to honorably surrender, the rebels kept Mary and her children in captivity for several weeks. Mary McAlpin refused to comply and instead responded her husband “had already established his honour by a faithful service to his King and country.” Enraged, rebels seized Mary and her oldest daughter and “carted” both of them through Albany. According to the Reverend [John] Munro, “Mrs. McAlpin was brought down to Albany in a very scandalous manner so much that the Americans themselves cried out about it.” A second account stated “when Mrs. McAlpin was brought from the hut to Albany as a prisoner with her daughter…they neither of them had a rag of cloaths to shift themselves.”

I See Nothing… is available in digital and print-on-demand formats.

Battlefield Archeology Lecture in Lexington, 11 Nov.

Minute Man National Historical Park and the Friends of Minute Man are proceeding with a big project to clear and interpret the portion of the park that became known as “Parker’s Revenge.”

Based on testimony from veterans of the Battle of Lexington and Concord and local traditions, that area is thought to be where the Lexington militia under Capt. John Parker rejoined the fighting in the afternoon of 19 Apr 1775.

As part of that project, battlefield archeologist Douglas D. Scott is coming to town to advise. On Tuesday, 11 November, he’ll speak on “Shot and Shell Tell the Tale: What Archaeology Can Contribute to the Study of Conflict.”

I found a description of this talk that says:

The archaeology of conflict has captured the imagination of the public and media. Site specific studies of forts and battlefields and detailed artifact analyses are the epitome of military archaeology, but we are now beginning to see broader patterns in data. I will discuss how archeological evidence can be used with historical documentation to identify command and control organization on a battlefield as well as see the loss of tactical cohesion. Examples will be presented to support how the physical evidence of battles can refine battlefield interpretation, build a more complete understanding of past events, and demonstrate the evolution of military tactics and strategy.

This event is scheduled to start at 7:30 P.M. in the Lexington Depot.

Daigler Speaks on Intelligence at Minute Man Park, 15 Oct.

On Wednesday, 15 October, Kenneth Daigler will speak on the topic of his book Spies, Patriots and Traitors: American Intelligence in the Revolutionary War at the Minute Man National Historical Park’s Visitor Center in Lexington. This event will start at 7:00 P.M. and end with a book signing.

Daigler is a retired career C.I.A. operations officer who has degrees in history from Centre College of Kentucky and the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. C-SPAN recorded one of his earlier talks.

One of our early first-hand sources on Revolutionary War espionage is a letter that Paul Revere wrote in 1798 to the founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Among many other things, he said

In the Fall of 1774 & Winter of 1775 I was one of upwards of thirty, cheifly mechanics, who formed our selves in to a Committee for the purpose of watching the Movements of the British Soldiers, and gaining every intelegence of the movements of the Tories. We held our meetings at the Green-Dragon Tavern. We were so carefull that our meetings should be kept Secret; that every time we met, every person swore upon the Bible, that they would not discover any of our transactions, But to Messrs. Hancock, Adams, Doctors Warren, Church, & one or two more. About November, when things began to grow Serious, a Gentleman who had Conections with the Tory party, but was a Whig at heart, aquainted me, that our meetings were discovered, & mentioned the identical words that were spoken among us the Night before. We did not then distrust Dr. Church, but supposed it must be some one among us. We removed to another place, which we thought was more secure: but here we found that all our transactions were communicated to Governor Gage. (This came to me through the then Secretary [Thomas] Flucker; He told it to the Gentleman mentioned above).

The M.H.S. has shared the images and text of that letter.

Some of the details of that letter have become distorted in the retelling. For example, Revere said that his group started meeting in the Green Dragon Tavern, but moved out after “About November” because it didn’t seem secure enough. He didn’t say where the group met in 1775, but we know it wasn’t the Green Dragon. Yet that tavern gets all the credit.

William Hallahan’s The Day the American Revolution Began says that Revere’s group was “called the Committee of Observation.” Boston 1775 readers may recall how little I think of that book, and that’s yet another statement with no basis in eighteenth-century documents. New York Patriots formed a “Committee of Observation” to enforce the boycott on British goods. New England Patriots talked about creating an “Army of Observation” in early 1775, which was a euphemism for not quite going to war, like “military advisors.” But neither Revere nor anyone else used that term for this self-appointed committee.

Daigler’s book refers to Revere’s group as “the Mechanics,” as if that were their formal name. That’s rather like calling a small group “the Working Class” or such. In fact, Revere’s phrase “cheifly mechanics” suggests that not all those men came from that social stratus, though whether the exceptions were genteel merchants, mariners, or something else isn’t clear. Again, Revere named no names, even fifteen years after the war ended. Such secrecy makes the topic of Revolutionary War espionage all the more intriguing.

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.

Samuel Adams’s Petition to the Legislature

Yesterday I mentioned a New England Historical and Genealogical Register obituary for Samuel “Rat-trap” Adams after his death in 1855. After giving some details about his parents it said:

At the time of the Revolution he was old enough to perform services in that cause, which he did, on the patriot side. About five years ago he applied to the General Court for remuneration for some losses which he sustained in the service. There were those in that body disposed to slight his application, but the Hon. J. T. Buckingham [a state senator from Suffolk County in 1850-51] effectually brought a majority to sustain it, and a small appropriation (probably more than was asked for) was granted for the relief of the truly deserving old citizen. In sustaining the application, Mr. Buckingham paid a well merited tribute to the honest old gentleman, whose peculiarities in matters of religion and politics, though admitted, were not allowed to debar him from his just rights.

Now that looks like a lead! A statement from Adams about his work “in the service” of the “patriot side” during the Revolution. A written statement in the most formal of circumstances, with potential legal ramifications if it were found to be exaggerated. A document that might still be on file in the state archives.

Alas, that anecdote turned out to be untrue in several respects. Adams did petition the Massachusetts legislature for support in 1850. But his claim was “for compensation for bringing a prisoner from Worcester to Boston jail, during Shays’ rebellion, 68 years ago,” according to the 25 February Daily Atlas. That would have been 1782, though the uprising in western Massachusetts actually happened in 1786-87.

Furthermore, while Buckingham may have been behind the favorable vote in the Massachusetts senate, which approved giving Adams $100, the bill aroused opposition in the Massachusetts house. An acidic letter from Boston published in the Barre Patriot on 15 February said:

If they give him money, why not vote as much more to the lady in Lexington who is now 102 years old, and needs it more than a hale man of only 90, or thereabouts. She succored the wounded in the Revolution.

So I had to look for that lady. She was Mary (Munroe) Sanderson, who died in 1852, less than a month after a private party raised $300 for her.

Back to Samuel Adams’s bill. The lower house discussed it twice before letting it die. Adams renewed his petition the next year. The committee on claims recommended paying him $100—but once again the bill died.

Newspapers in 1852 and 1853 refer to more rejected petitions from Samuel Adams. By that time Buckingham was no longer in the senate. The published journal of the Massachusetts House shows that in January 1854 yet another Adams petition “for compensation for services rendered during ‘Shay’s Rebellion’” was introduced, given leave to be withdrawn (i.e., rejected) the next month, reconsidered, and rejected again.

The Massachusetts State Library has just launched what it calls DSpace, offering digital copies of many public documents, including the Acts and Resolves for each year showing what bills did pass. And a search through those files shows that Samuel Adams never got special compensation for his work in 1782. Or 1787. Or whenever.

TOMORROW: Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty.