J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Monday, January 15, 2018

“Hearts of oak are we still”

In 1759 the British Empire enjoyed a string of military victories, including the Royal Navy’s triumph over the French in the Battle of Quiberon Bay.

At the end of that year the theatrical star and empresario David Garrick celebrated those wins in a new show titled Harlequin’s Invasion: A Christmas Gambol. The play featured a bunch of British clowns, some outrageous French stereotypes, and the pantomime hero Harlequin speaking for the first time.

In the story, Harlequin tries to get into Parnassus but doesn’t come up to the standard of Garrick’s hero, Shakespeare. A handwritten script is in the collection of the Boston Public Library.

Among the play’s new songs was one that Garrick composed with William Boyce (1710-1779, shown above), sometimes referred to as Dr. Boyce since he received an honorary doctorate in music from Cambridge in 1749. That song was known as either “Come, Cheer Up, My Lads” for its first line or “Heart of Oak” for its chorus.

It begins:
Come, cheer up, my lads, ’tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

Chorus:
Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.
As “Heart of Oak” this tune eventually became the anthem of the Royal Navy. It was soon published in Britain’s American colonies and became a popular patriotic singalong.

On 3 April 1766 those colonies were celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act and a new ministry in London. The Pennsylvania Journal published new lyrics to “Heart of Oak” supplied by “S.P.R.” They began:
Sure never was picture drawn more to the life
Or affectionate husband more fond of his wife,
Than AMERICA copies and loves BRITAINS sons,
Who, conscious of freedom, are bold as great guns.

Chorus:
Hearts of oak are we still,
for we’re sons of those men,
Who always are ready, steady, boys, steady,
To fight for their FREEDOM again and again.

Tho’ we feast and grow fat on America’s soil,
Yet we own ourselves subjects of Britain’s fair isle.
And who’s so absurd to deny us the name?
Since true British blood flows in ev’ry vein.
“S.P.R.” asked “the Sons of Liberty in the several American provinces to sing it with all the spirit of patriotism.” The lyrics were reprinted as far north as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and as far south as Williamsburg, Virginia.

TOMORROW: The more famous American rewrite of “Heart of Oak.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Kitchen for James Hemings

Yet another story of a recent rediscovery comes from Monticello, where archeologists dug under a part of Thomas Jefferson’s estate where bathrooms had been built for visitors during the Bicentennial.

Megan Gannon of Live Science reports on the deep history of what they found:
And, finally, underneath the dirt, the team found the original brick floor of the kitchen where enslaved cooks working in the cellar would have made food to be delivered to the Jeffersons in the top story. The remains of a fireplace and the foundations of four stew stoves were also intact. . . .

Those four foundational compartments of the stew stoves would have been the clean-out, where the ash would have fallen. The actual stoves would have been about waist-high, Ptacek said. Each stove would have had a small hole for hot coals from the fireplace. An iron trivet would have gone above the coals to hold pans. Stew stoves were essential for making dishes that required slow heating and multiple pans. The setup was the equivalent of a modern stovetop, but it was uncommon in North America at the time because it required special training to use.

Stew stoves first became popular in 17th-century France, Neiman said. Previously, during the Renaissance, the cuisine of the rich in Europe involved heavy use of spices imported from far-flung parts of the world. But that changed when spice prices plummeted after European powers took control of resources and trade routes during colonial expansion across the Atlantic and into Asia.

“All the sudden, highly spiced foods are no longer the way you signal you’re wealthy,” Neiman said.

The new type of cuisine perfected by French aristocrats as a form of status competition was extremely labor intensive. Their “sumptuous multicourse meals,” Neiman, said, involved fresh veggies, fresh meats and slowly heated sauces based on cream, butter and eggs, without a lot of spice so that the natural flavors of the food could shine through.

Jefferson had an affinity for French cooking, and he likely first encountered stew stoves during his education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was a frequent guest at the colonial governor’s palace in Williamsburg, which was one of the few places to have stew stoves at the time.

But Jefferson must have become much more familiar with this style of cooking when he served as the U.S. minister to France from 1784 to 1789. As soon as Jefferson took this diplomatic position, he wrote to his future secretary that he wanted to take then-19-year-old [James] Hemings to France “for a particular purpose,” which turned out to be having him trained in the art of French cooking. The archaeologists at Monticello think the stew stoves were likely part of a kitchen upgrade Jefferson made when he returned from Paris.
Jefferson liked Hemings’s cooking so much that he took the younger man to Philadelphia when he started to work in the federal government, and even to New England when he and James Madison went on a sightseeing and party-building tour.

In 1793 Jefferson and Hemings made an unusual deal: the cook would keep working at Monticello until he had trained his younger brother in that kitchen, and then become free. Peter Hemings in turn was the Monticello chef from 1796 to 1809 before becoming the estate’s brewer after President Jefferson brought Edith Fossett home from Washington, D.C. to those stew stoves.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Alexander Hamilton’s Love Letter Revealed!

Julie Miller of the Library of Congress recently wrote at Medium about the effort to read crossed-out lines in one of its Alexander Hamilton letters.

This is a 6 Sept 1780 letter from Hamilton to his fiancée Elizabeth Schuyler (“Betsey” in real life, “Eliza” in the musical), two months before they married. Most of the letter is about the American loss at the Battle of Camden (Gen. Horatio Gates “seems to know very little what has become of his army”). That material was first published in John Church Hamilton’s 1850 edition of his father’s writings.

In the twentieth-century edition of Hamilton’s papers, which make up part of Founders Online, editor Harold C. Syrett added a new detail about that document: fourteen lines of the first paragraph had been heavily crossed out and illegible.

Miller tells the next stage of the story:
When the Library of Congress recently digitized the Alexander Hamilton Papers, that letter, unedited, with its 14 obliterated lines, became visible to all for the first time. However, the lines were still unreadable.

To find out what lay beneath the scratchings-out, Fenella France, chief of the Preservation Research and Testing Division, and preservation staff Meghan Wilson and Chris Bolser used hyperspectral imaging. A noninvasive analysis that employs light at different wavelengths to capture information not visible to the eye, hyperspectral imaging can determine the composition of inks and pigments, track changes in documents over time and reveal faded, erased or covered writing.
The article shows that process and what Library of Congress scholars now believe those crossed-out lines say. Most likely John C. Hamilton deleted them himself out of familial and Victorian embarrassment at his father writing to his mother about the couple anticipating “the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love.”

As Miller points out, that’s far from the biggest deletion from Alexander Hamilton’s correspondence. All the letters that Elizabeth Hamilton wrote to her fiancé and husband are gone, most likely destroyed by her own choice.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Saved by the Potato

Last year I got out of my comfort zone and looked into the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s for a public-history project. So I was primed when I saw a mention of this paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

It’s titled “The Long-run Effects of Agricultural Productivity on Conflict, 1400-1900,” and is written by Murat Iyigun of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Nathan Nunn of Harvard, Nancy Qian of the Kellogg School of Management.

The abstract says:
We construct a newly digitized and geo-referenced dataset of battles in Europe, the Near East and North Africa covering the period between 1400 and 1900 CE. For variation in permanent improvements in agricultural productivity, we exploit the introduction of potatoes from the Americas to the Old World after the Columbian Exchange. We find that the introduction of potatoes permanently reduced conflict for roughly two centuries. The results are driven by a reduction in civil conflicts.
In bold strokes, the potato staved off a lot of wars.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

“I will come and help you a second time.”

Yesterday I shared a story that the Continental Army veteran Jacob Francis told about Gen. Israel Putnam helping to build a fortification on Lechmere’s Point during the siege of Boston.

It’s a terrific story—compact, offering insight into Putnam’s character, and providing a neat little moral. Francis told that tale to the government in 1832 as he applied for a pension from his home in Flemington, New Jersey.

Seven years later, on 22 Oct 1839, the North American published in Philadelphia printed this story:
THE CORPORAL.—During the American revolution, an officer not habited in the military costume, was passing by where a small company of soldiers were at work, making some repairs upon a small redoubt.

The commander of the little squad was giving orders to those who were under him, relative to a stick of timber, which they were endeavouring to raise to the top of the works. The timber went up hard, and on this account the voice of the little great man was often heard in his regular vociferations of “Heave away! There she goes! Heave ho!” etc. The officer before spoken of stopped his horse when arrived at the place, and seeing the timber sometimes scarcely move, asked the commander why he did not take hold and render a little aid.

The latter appeared to be somewhat astonished, turning to the officer with the pomp of an Emperor, said, “Sir, I am a corporal![”]

‘You are not though, are you?’ said the officer; ‘I was not aware of it.’ And taking off his hat and bowing, ‘I ask your pardon, Mr. corporal.” Upon this he dismounted his elegant steed, flung the bridle over the post, and lifted till the sweat stood in drops on his forehead.

When the timber was elevated to its proper station, turning to the man clothed in brief authority, “Mr. Corporal,” said he, “when you have another such job, and have not men enough, send to your Commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you a second time.”

The corporal was thunderstruck! It was Washington.
The same story appeared in the Norwich Courier up in Connecticut the next day, which makes me think both those newspapers had picked it up from a common source without credit, as printers often did. But the North American is the earliest appearance I’ve found.

Many other newspapers reprinted the same story in the following months. It appeared in the Rural Repository magazine in 1850 and continued to pop up in publications through the end of the century. At some point an artist illustrated it, as shown above. I just found a few examples of blogs retelling the same tale and deriving valuable lessons about life from it.

Now this is obviously the same story that Jacob Francis had told in 1832, except the general is Washington instead of Putnam. Other details have changed, and the specified place and time have disappeared entirely. But the lines “Sir, I am a corporal!” and “I beg/ask your pardon, sir” appear in both Francis’s anecdote and in the newspapers, so the stories definitely seem to be related.

Given Gen. Washington’s emphasis on hierarchy, discipline, and military appearances, the anecdote doesn’t seem authentic to him at all. But it does fit what else we know about Gen. Putnam.

Jacob Francis told that tale as part of proving to the government that he really did serve under Putnam. It was therefore framed as a memorable anecdote revealing that general’s personality. I don’t think Francis would have made it up or adopted some anecdote that was floating around because the account of his military service he swore to had to be convincing or he wouldn’t get a pension. Francis’s tale went into a file in Washington, D.C., and wasn’t published until 1980.

Meanwhile, it appears that someone heard Francis’s story—perhaps while he was applying for the pension, perhaps at a Revolutionary War commemoration, perhaps while he was just telling stories. And that person recast it with a more famous general, restructured it to have a twist ending, and reinforced the moral to remove all subtlety.

In doing so, that storyteller not only replaced Putnam but also erased Pvt. Jacob Francis. (No African-Americans in the picture above, are there?) But now, with the publication of Francis’s pension application in John Dann’s The Revolution Remembered, his story is circulating as well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Putnam and the Pretty Large Stone

In 1832, Jacob Francis told a story that’s been retold in many places since John C. Dann published Francis’s pension application in The Revolution Remembered.

The story isn’t about Francis. It’s about Israel Putnam during the siege of Boston:

I recollect General Putnam more particularly from a circumstance that occurred when the troops were engaged in throwing up a breastwork at Lechmere Point across the river, opposite Boston, between that and Cambridge.

The men were at work digging, about five hundred men on the fatigue at once. I was at work among them. They were divided into small bands of eight or ten together and a noncommissioned officer to oversee them.

General Putnam came riding along in uniform as an officer to look at the work. They had dug up a pretty large stone which lay on the side of the ditch. The general spoke to the corporal who was standing looking at the men at work and said to him, “My lad, throw that stone up on the middle of the breastwork.”

The corporal, touching his hat with his hand, said to the general, “Sir, I am a corporal.”

“Oh,” said the general, “I ask your pardon, sir,” and immediately got off his horse and took up the stone and threw it up on the breastwork himself and then mounted his horse and rode on, giving directions, etc.
It’s a great story. It fits with what we know from other sources about Putnam. And it’s set at a specific place and time, when we know Putnam’s division of the Continental Army was building fortifications.

TOMORROW: But that wasn’t the story that appeared in the press.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Pvt. Jacob Gulick and Pvt. Jacob Francis

Jacob Francis (1754-1836) was a Continental Army soldier known almost entirely through his pension application, filed in 1832.

In this document Francis testified that he was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to a black woman. It’s not clear whether he was ever legally enslaved, but as a child he was definitely in some form of bondage. Jacob described serving in turn Henry Wambaugh [a German immigrant, 1720-1787], Michael Hatt, Minner Gulick [documented elsewhere as Minnie Gulick, 1731-1804], and Joseph Saxton. He took the surname Gulick from his third master.

Starting in May 1768, Saxton took his servant boy to Long Island, New York; the Caribbean island of St. John; and Salem, Massachusetts. There in 1769, Jacob recalled, a man named Benjamin Deacon bought the time remaining until he turned twenty-one. So at least at that point Jacob’s masters were treating him as an indentured apprentice rather than a slave.

In January 1775 Jacob Gulick became free. That October, he enlisted in the Continental Army regiment of Col. Paul Dudley Sargent. He recalled his captain’s name as “Wooley, or Worley, or Whorley,” and that other men from the same family served as officers and a drummer. That captain was therefore John Wiley (d. 1805), who served from early 1775 through January 1781, ending as a major.

Gulick’s enlistment is interesting because at that time the Continental Congress, steered by Gen. George Washington and most of his generals, had barred all men of African ancestry from enlisting in the army. We know, however, that officers were anxious to fill their companies with anyone willing to serve for the full year of 1776. Some of Washington’s officers helped to convince him to change his mind about the army policy at the end of December 1775.

Pvt. Gulick served with Col. Sargent’s regiment at the Battle of Brooklyn and the Battle of Trenton and the retreats in between. At the end of his enlistment in January 1777 he was in New Jersey, so he went back to Hunterdon County and found his mother. She told him about his father, and thereafter he went by Jacob Francis.

Pvt. Francis served several short tours in New Jersey regiments across the remainder of the war. One of his captains was Philip Snook (1745-1816), whose older sister Ann was the wife of Francis’s first master, Henry Wambaugh.

In 1789 Jacob Francis married “Mary, a servant of Nathaniel Hunt.” He bought her freedom, and they had several children. By 1800, the family was settled in the Hunterdon County village of Flemington. For the fiftieth anniversary of U.S. independence, Francis participated in a parade of local Revolutionary veterans. He and another “colored” man, Lewis English, were listed separately from the white soldiers in an 1880 description of the event.

In 1832, at the age of seventy-eight, Jacob Francis applied for a pension as a Revolutionary soldier, narrating his service. It was approved, and he received payments for four more years. Mary Francis applied for a widow’s pension after that.

The 5 Aug 1839 Newark Daily Advertiser picked up this death notice from the Flemington Gazette:
Another Hero of the Revolution.—In this village, on Tuesday the 26th of July, JACOB FRANCIS, a colored man, in the 83d year of his age. He has resided in this place thirty-five years; has been an orderly member of the Baptist Church for thirty years; he has raised a large family, in a manner creditable to his judgement and his Christian character, and lived to see them doing well; and has left the scenes of this mortal existence, deservedly respected by all who knew him.

Jacob Francis was a soldier of the Revolution—he served a long tour of duty in the Massachusetts militia, and was some time in the regular army in New Jersey; and we have learned from those who knew him in those days of privation of peril, that his fidelity and good conduct as a soldier were the object of remark, and received the approbation of his officers.

For the last few years he received a pension from the government; an acknowledgement of his services to his country which, though made at a late day, came most opportunely to minister to his comfort in the decline of life, and under the infirmities of old age.
This was by far the longest death notice in that issue of the Daily Advertiser, and it was reprinted at least as far away as Cleveland.

TOMORROW: Pvt. Francis’s story of Gen. Putnam.

Monday, January 08, 2018

A Book Aboard Blackbeard’s Flagship

Here’s my favorite new archeological discovery, as reported by National Geographic and the Salisbury (N.C.) Post.

The flagship of the pirate Edward Thatch, best known as Blackbeard, ran aground off Beaufort, North Carolina, in 1718. Twelve years ago salvagers found that wreck, and state archeologists have been studying it ever since.

Among the artifacts from that ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was a breech-loading cannon or swivel gun. Inside it conservators found “a wet mass of textile scraps” that “may have served as a gasket for the wooden tampion, a plug that protected the cannon muzzle from the elements.”

Within that sludge were sixteen tiny pieces of paper. It’s rare for paper to survive on shipwrecks, for obvious reasons. The technicians carefully unfolded those papers. Some turned out to have legible words printed on them. So the next step was to identify, if possible, where those scraps had come from.

Back in 2014 I looked at a scrap of paper glued inside a picture frame and identified it as coming from a New York newspaper in 1810. So I have a sense of what such a search is like. But I had a much larger scrap of paper to work with. None of the scraps from the Blackbeard wreck was bigger than a quarter.

After “many months of research,” the researchers found a match. The legible fragments came from the 1712 first edition of Edward Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711.

The leader of Cooke’s expedition was Woodes Rogers, who in 1718 became royal governor of the Bahamas with a mandate to crack down on piracy. Blackbeard and his ships were off North Carolina that summer because they wanted to keep away from the fleet Gov. Rogers was leading from Britain.

Some reports on this discovery describe it as giving insight into what pirates read. A copy of Cook’s Voyage to the South Sea was indeed aboard Blackbeard’s ship, but it’s really hard to read a book when someone’s ripped out several pages and used the scraps for wadding in a cannon.

Clearly some Caribbean mariner or traveler was reading about Woodes Rogers’s big voyage—that makes sense. And Thatch’s crew got a hold of a copy, perhaps for reading, perhaps as loot, perhaps just because they needed paper. But Thatch had that book ripped apart to prepare his guns to stave off Rogers’s patrols.

These surviving fragments and other artifacts from Queen Anne’s Revenge will probably go on display this year in an exhibit tied to the tricentennial of Blackbeard’s demise.

(I’ve been reading about Thatch, Rogers, and the other mariners who contended for superiority and wealth in the 1710s Caribbean in Colin Woodard’s Republic of Pirates. That’s why I’m calling Blackbeard “Thatch” instead of “Teach,” an early misspelling of his name.)

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Digital Resources from Mount Vernon

Here are some digital goodies from the George Washington National Library at Mount Vernon, which I visited last year for a symposium.

Podcasts: The Conversations from the Washington’s Library podcast usually features a one-on-one chat between the library’s founding director, Douglas Bradburn, and a historian or author who is speaking or doing research at the site.

These are in-depth interviews, most lasting about an hour. Bradburn asks about people’s latest book and ongoing research from the perspective of a fellow historian with an excellent overview of research being done in the field. He often gets into a topic few history podcasts cover: his guests’ careers in and out of academia. Some of the shows are recorded more clearly than others; a couple of times I’ve given up on listening in the car because I couldn’t make out both sides of the conversation.

After a few months’ hiatus, the podcast has just returned with a conversation with Gordon Wood, one of the most influential early American historians of his generation. (During that break, Bradburn became the head of Mount Vernon overall, so he was keeping busy.)

Interactive Map: Washington’s World is one of the many digital resources that Joseph Stoltz oversees for Mount Vernon, a map tracing all of George Washington’s travels. This map shows his known location at every point in his life, pinned with G.I.S. onto a modern map of North America.

We can thus follow Washington’s various journeys, as far west as Point Pleasant on the Ohio River (1770) and as far east as Barbados (1751). One can zoom in to the neighborhood level or out to see the whole scope of his movements. Major events have descriptive explanations and links to Mount Vernon’s growing digital encyclopedia of Washington’s life.

Because the sites are mapped onto a modern map, it’s easy to approximate Washington’s routes along today’s roads. In the case of Boston, however, the city’s modern shoreline isn’t the shoreline that Washington knew and struggled with. Still, it’s interesting to see locations pegged to all three of his visits to the city: in 1756 as a young colonial officer, in 1776 as a victorious besieger, and in 1789 as the elected President.

Lectures: Finally, I just learned that the talk I went to Mount Vernon to deliver can now be watched on C-Span’s American History TV site. It’s called “George Washington’s Cambridge Headquarters.”

The theme of that symposium was “George Washington Slept Here,” and all the talks explored different places where we know Washington spent time. The speakers brought a wide range of perspectives, focusing variously on archeology, farming, politics, surveying, war, and so on. Other lectures recorded by C-Span are:
The digital and physical resources at Mount Vernon will no doubt continue to grow.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Benjamin Franklin’s Birthday (and the Washingtons’ Anniversary)

In a letter to her father, Benjamin Franklin, dated 17 Jan 1779, Sarah Bache (shown here in 1793) wrote from Philadelphia:
I have dined at the Ministers, spent an evening at Mr. Holkers, have lately been several times invited abroad with the General and Mrs Washinton, he allways enquires after you in the most afectionate manner and speaks of you highly we danced at Mr. [Samuel] Powels your Birth day or night I should say in company together and he told me it was the aniversary of his marriage it was just twenty years that night—
Franklin was born on 6 Jan 1705/06 in Boston under the Julian Calendar (17 Jan 1706 under the Gregorian Calendar). The Washingtons married on 6 Jan 1759 under the Gregorian Calendar. Thus, Franklin’s birthday and the Washingtons’ anniversary shared a date, even though fifty-three years plus eleven days passed between them.

I’ve noted before how Americans struggled to figure out when to celebrate Washington’s birthday—the O.S. date or the N.S. equivalent. Eventually we settled on the Gregorian date, as advised by the President’s private secretary, Tobias Lear.

Franklin seems to have been ambivalent about which date served as his birthday. On 6 Jan 1773, he wrote to his wife, Deborah Franklin:
I feel still some Regard for this Sixth of January, as my old nominal Birth-day, tho’ the Change of Stile has carried the real Day forward to the 17th, when I shall be, if I live till then, 67 Years of Age.
As Sarah Bache’s letter shows, she thought of her father’s birthday as 6 January, even though Pennsylvania started using the Gregorian Calendar when she was nine years old.

On 17 Jan 1781, Franklin started to write “My Birth-Day” in his journal but then crossed it off. On 6 Jan 1782 he wrote to Anne-Louise Brillon de Jouy about his challenges writing in French without a dictionary:
Il y a soixante Ans que les choses masculins & feminines (hors des Modes & des Temps) m’ont donné beaucoup d’Embarras. J’esperois, autrefois qu’à quatre vingt on peut en etre libre. Me voici à quatre fois dix-neuf, qui est bien prés: & neantmoins ces feminines francoises me tracassent encore.

[For sixty years things masculine and feminine (not to mention the modes and tenses) have given me a lot of trouble. I once hoped that at eighty I would be delivered of them. But here I am four times nineteen, which is very close to that, and nevertheless these French feminines still exasperate me.]
Under the Gregorian Calendar, Franklin was still eleven days away from being 76 years old (or 4 times 19) when he wrote. But I suppose that was close enough.