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

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Soldiers and the King’s Half-Penny

Last month Alex Burns, currently doing doctoral work on the Seven Years’ War at West Virginia University, shared his research on how well—or how poorly—ordinary soldiers were paid in the eighteenth century.

Some extracts:
Their pay certainly ranked in the lower strata of eighteenth-century incomes but was above or roughly the same as other groups in a similar social class: such day laborers or husbandmen. Pay varied between states. For example: the Austrians paid their common soldiers 5 or 6 creutzer, British paid their men six-pence a day, when adjusted for stoppages [i.e., deductions to pay for uniforms and other goods supplied to the soldiers], while the Prussian army paid their men 8 groschen a day. Yearly pay ranged from 12-14 Pounds a year in the British army to 24 Thaler a year in the Prussian Army. Soldiers in the Continental Army were promised a bit more, around $29 per year, but in practice, this was the equivalent of a few Spanish milled dollars. The average soldier earned around $1,500 per year, when adjusted to today's currency. . . .

Indeed, when measuring these sums, it may be easier to understand eighteenth-century wages through the lens of purchasing power, or labor value. When measured in these ways, the £12 is more like a yearly wage of around £20,000 in 2018 currency. So, while not rich by any standard of measure, these soldiers were not exactly destitute either. . . .

It may be more illuminating to see what a daily soldier’s wage could purchase. 1 pence could purchase a measure of gin, enough coal to heat a room for a day, or a enough firewood to heat a home for a day. 1.5 pence could purchase a pound of soap. For half of day’s wages (3 pence), you could purchase a dinner of bread, cheese and beer. Items priced about sixpence in eighteenth-century London included: a pound of cheese, a pound of hair powder, a lower-class dinner out consisting of meat, bread, and alcohol. Amenities available for 8 pence included:, a middle-class dinner out and a pound of butter. If able to save for five days, a soldier could afford to buy a pig.
Understandably, soldiers complained that they were paid very little. However, unless they had some sort of lucrative skill or pension, civilian life paid even less.

[The photograph above shows a half-penny coin issued in Britain in 1770, courtesy of Tony Clayton’s Coins of the U.K.]

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Call for Papers on “Women Waging War”

The Sons of the American Revolution’s annual scholarly conference to be held on 14-16 June 2019 in Philadelphia will be on the topic of “Women Waging War in the American Revolution.”

The lead organizer, Prof. Holly Mayer, has just issued this call for papers:
The conference will examine women’s words, actions, and influence in the War for American Independence. The SAR, as part of its Congressional mandate to encourage historical research, is sponsoring this conference in alliance with the Museum of the American Revolution, which invites people to engage with the Revolution’s ideas, stories, and artifacts.

Mary Silliman wrote in 1776 that she had “acted the heroine as well as my dear Husband [General Gold Selleck Silliman] the hero.” Not all women—or men—acted heroically in the war, but they did act, not just react, and their agency informs this conference. How did women fight the Revolution: that is, fight for it, fight against it, and fight in it?

Proposals for Women Waging War in the American Revolution should introduce how the authors will explore women’s involvement with armies and militias or their actions in defense of persons and property on the home front. The conference intends to examine women warriors, followers, and activists with American, French, British, German, Loyalist, and Native American forces. It also invites comparisons to women’s martial engagements in the broader revolutionary Atlantic World between 1750 and 1800.
Proposals should include a 250-word abstract and a curriculum vitae no more than two pages long. The deadline for proposals is 1 Oct 2018. Send proposals to Holly Mayer in the Department of History at Duquesne University by email at mayer@duq.edu with the subject line “2019 SAR Conference Proposal.”

History scholars of all sorts are invited to submit proposals. For those selected to present their work, the S.A.R. will provide a $500 honorarium plus travel and lodging expenses. There will be an edited volume of the papers, and for that reason the organizers will ask participants to submit versions of their work 5,000-6,000 words long by 10 May 2019.

This year’s S.A.R. conference will take place on 8-10 June at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It is on the theme of “Spain and the American Revolution.” 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Trail Work at the North Bridge

Minute Man National Historical Park has begun an “extensive rehabilitation” of the North Bridge Trail on the west side of the North Bridge in Concord.

Sections of that trail are closed, meaning that there’s no pedestrian access to the North Bridge from the park’s Concord visitor center or Liberty Street. That situation is scheduled to last until 15 June.

Folks can still visit the North Bridge and its nearby monuments by approaching from the east side, which has its own parking area. And they can separately still visit the Concord visitor center, which houses the “Hancock” cannon (one of the four stolen cannon that ignited the Revolutionary War, I believe).

This phase of work on the trail is scheduled to end on 15 June. Then the contractors will begin similar rehabilitation for the trail east of the bridge, probably limiting access there. But again, people will still be able to get to the bridge from one side.

I talked about what was going on west of the bridge at midday on 19 Apr 1775 during the videotaped conversation with Lee Wright of the History List that folks can view on this page.

Friday, May 18, 2018

“Declaring Independence” Presentations Around Massachusetts

“Declaring Independence: Then and Now,” is an ongoing commemoration and exploration of the Declaration of Independence presented by Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area and the American Antiquarian Society.

Each presentation is tailored to the community where it is staged, meaning no two productions are the same. A “Declaring Independence” performance consists of a reading of the Congress’s Declaration and portrayals of people from the host community during the Revolution as drawn from first-hand accounts. A narrator explains the eighteenth-century terms and ideas, challenging the contemporary audience to consider their relevance today.

There are many different stagings scheduled between now and Independence Day.

Sunday, 20 May, 2:00-3:30 P.M.
Leominster Public Library Community Room
Partner: Leominster Public Library

Thursday, 31 May, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
American Antiquarian Society, Worcester
Followed by “Holding These Truths: A Panel Discussion about the Declaration of Independence” with David W. Blight, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Peter S. Onuf
Partner: American Antiquarian Society

Sunday, 3 June, 2:00-3:30 P.M.
Minute Man Visitor Center (Lexington)
Partner: Minute Man National Historical Park

Wednesday, 6 June, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
Westford’s First Parish Church United
Partner: Westford Historical Society

Sunday, 10 June, 3:00-4:30 P.M.
Boxborough Town Hall
Partner: Boxborough Historical Society

2-4 July, starting at 10:30 A.M. & 1:00 P.M.
Old Sturbridge Village’s Center Meetinghouse
With admission to Old Sturbridge Village

Tuesday, 3 July, starting at 11:00 A.M., 1:00 P.M., 3:00 P.M., 5:00 P.M.
Old North Church, Boston
Partners: Old North Church, Boston Harborfest

Wednesday, 4 July, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
Lexington Depot
Partner: Lexington Historical Society

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Morrison on “Exporting the Revolution” in Exeter, 22 May

On Tuesday, 22 May, the American Independence Museum in Exeter, New Hampshire, will host a lunchtime talk by Dane A. Morrison on “Exporting the Revolution: American Revolutionaries in the Indies Trade.”

Morrison, a professor of history at Salem State University, is the author of True Yankees: The South Seas and the Discovery of American Identity. Here’s what he’ll speak about:
One of the notable consequences of the American Revolution was the opening of American trade with the East, commencing with the voyage of the Empress of China, departing New York’s East River virtually at the moment when Congress was ratifying the Treaty of Paris in February 1784. Independence had freed Yankee merchants from Britain’s mercantilist regulations, confining their vessels to the waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean, and triggered the country’s entrance onto a global stage.

This talk will examine the emergence of Americans onto a global stage, raising such questions as:
  • How did early American “citizens of the world” recollect the Revolution?
  • How did they negotiate the complications of culture in their travels around the world?
  • And, how did they hope to defend the legitimacy of the new nation and champion the republican principles that they hoped would define an emergent national identity?
This “Lunch and Learn” session will take place from 12:00 noon to 1:00 P.M. at the Folsom Tavern, 164 Water Street in Exeter. Parking is available in the nearby museum’s parking lot on Spring Street and along Water Street. People are welcome to bring lunch.

This event is free and open to the public. However, the tavern is is a historic building, and the second-floor lecture space is not handicap-accessible.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hunter on Dighton Rock in Middleboro, 19 May

On Saturday, 19 May, the Massachusetts Archaeological Society will host a special lecture by Douglas Hunter on “The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America’s Indigenous Past.”

Drawing on his book of the same name, Dr. Hunter will discuss the legacy and mythology behind a petroglyph-covered boulder found in the area that became Berkley:

First noticed by colonists in 1680, Dighton Rock in Massachusetts by the nineteenth century was one of the most famous and contested artifacts of American antiquity. This forty-ton boulder covered in petroglyphs has been the subject of endless speculation that defies its Native American origins. Hunter dissects almost four centuries of Dighton Rock’s misinterpretation, to reveal its larger role in colonization and the conceptualization of Indigenous peoples.
Among the many New England scholars who studied the rock was the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles. In 1766, while living in Newport, Rhode Island, he saw a copy of a broadside about the boulder written by the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather. (Other men who had written about the rock included Prof. John Winthrop of Harvard and Dr. William Douglass, best known for opposing smallpox inoculation and Mather’s other ideas.)

In June 1767 Stiles went to visit a man who lived half a mile from the rock. He used chalk to make the markings more distinct and then drew them in his journal, stating on 6 June: “Spent the forenoon in Decyphering about Two Thirds the Inscription, which I take to be in phoenician Letters & 3000 years old.”

Stiles returned in July for more investigation. He “washed & skrubbed the Rock with a Broom,” fighting the water level, before drawing more surfaces. The next month, two local men did the minister the favor of going out and collecting more drawings, measurements, and even what seems to be a casting of the scrapes in “the Phœnitian rock.”

Here’s one of Stiles’s drawings, courtesy of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.
In 1768 the Swiss artist Pierre Eugène du Simitière visited Stiles on his way to settle in Philadelphia. He studied the material that the minister had collected. He looked at the characters on Mather’s broadside and and observed, “They are also totally different from the copy taken by Dr. Stiles.” Indeed, most or all of those researchers were seeing what they wanted to see.

Hunter’s talk about this history and what it shows about colonial New Englanders’ attitude toward the Natives around them will take place at the Robbins Museum of Archaeology, 17 Jackson Street in Middleboro, starting at 1:00 P.M. The program is free, but the society suggests a donation of $5 per person.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

May Events at the Lee Mansion in Marblehead

Jeremiah Lee was a significant figure in the arming of the Massachusetts militia before the Revolutionary War. The wealthy Marblehead merchant was a member of the Patriots’ Committee of Supplies. He paid David Mason of Salem to prepare cannon for battlefield use.

Lee died on 10 May 1775 of an illness that his family believed he’d contracted in the early hours of 19 April from cold and fright. I discussed that here and in The Road to Concord. So May was not a good month for Lee.

This May, however, the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, which he had built for him in 1768, has some interesting talks on tap.

Thursday, 17 May, 7:00-9:00 P.M.
Saving the Lee Mansion
Local historian Stanley Goodwin will share the remarkably dramatic story of how the Marblehead Historical Society bought the Lee Mansion in 1909 and turned it into the building and grounds that we know today.

Thursday, 24 May, 7:00-9:00 P.M.
Jeremiah Lee and the Colonial Masons of Marblehead
Join Town Historian Don Doliber as he discusses the Masonic ties that drew Jeremiah Lee, the town’s leading citizens, and the middling classes together in colonial Marblehead.

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion is at 161 Washington Street in Marblehead. Admission to each lecture is $15, or $10 for Marblehead Museum & Historical Society members.

Monday, May 14, 2018

American Harmony Concert in Worcester, 15 May

On Tuesday, 15 May, the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will host a concert titled “‘Slices of Time Past’: Choral Music from Eighteenth-Century America.”

Musical scholar Nym Cooke will direct the performance by the chorus American Harmony and offer commentary on the pieces. The songs will be ”psalm tunes, fuging tunes, and anthems” available in Cooke’s new choral collection American Harmony. The concert will thus recreate the sounds that the first generation of American citizens sang and heard.

Nym Cooke’s publications include an edition of the complete music of the Worcester-born hatter and composer Timothy Swan, a chapter in The Cambridge History of American Music, and two volumes of carols and part-songs, Awake to Joy! He has taught at the College of the Holy Cross and Brandeis University and now teaches at Eagle Hill School in Hardwick.

In connection to this concert, the A.A.S. will exhibit some of the early tune books, both printed and handwritten, in its collection.

This concert will take place in Antiquarian Hall, 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester. There is on-street parking on Regent Street, and the A.A.S. has a parking lot at 90 Park Avenue. This event is open to the public free of charge. Copies of the American Harmony anthology will be available for purchase.

(The image above shows the music and words for the song “Ally Croker,” as published in London in 1788. It comes courtesy of the A.A.S.’s online collection of early American broadsides because it was a forerunner of this version, published in America in the 1810s. This satiric love song is probably not one of the more serious compositions to be performed on Tuesday evening.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Talk, a Video, and Signed Copies of The Road to Concord

On the evening of Thursday, 17 May, I’ll speak at the Bunker Hill Museum on the topic “Meet the New Neighbors: The British Army in Boston, 1768.”

This is a Revolution 250 event organized by Boston National Historical Park. Here’s our teaser:

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the first military occupation of Boston as army regiments disembarked in October 1768 to assert the London government’s control over the port. That move only escalated social and political tensions. How did Boston residents respond to the sudden arrival of hundreds of soldiers? How did those soldiers find their new American home? What individual stories do the sources hold for us?
That talk will start at 7:00 P.M. in the museum’s lower level at 43 Monument Square in Charlestown. It is free and open to the public.

Folks who can’t come to that event can hear me chat with Lee Wright of the History List about the fighting at the North Bridge in Concord through the video in the middle of this page. We were out walking on and around the actual bridge, with wind and tourists whistling by, on a lovely spring day.

Some folks have asked about how to obtain autographed copies of The Road to Concord if they can’t come to my talks. I’ve signed a bunch of copies for the History List, and Lee can ship those signed copies anywhere. Thanks!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Souvenir of Harvard College in 1767

We have a good idea of what Massachusetts Hall and the rest of Harvard College looked like just before the Revolutionary War thanks to a surveyor named Joseph Chadwick and our busy friend Paul Revere. They collaborated to issue the engraving shown above.

On 4 July 1767, Revere entered into his account book a charge of £4 “To one half of Engraving a Plate for a Perspective View of the Colleges” and “To Printing.” Evidently Chadwick and Revere split the cost of publishing this image, and presumably the proceeds.

Harvard held its commencement every year in July. It was a public holiday, bringing big, festive crowds to Cambridge, some people because they had links to the college and others because they wanted to watch or sell things to the first group. In 1767 commencement was on Wednesday, 15 July, and I suspect Revere and/or Chadwick were in Cambridge selling their print to those who would want it most.

That might explain why Revere never advertised this image for sale in newspapers. Advertising might have been much less cost-effective at reaching reach the target audience of Harvard graduates.

Revere may also not have printed many copies. The scholar of his engravings, Clarence S. Brigham, reported in 1954 that he had found only four surviving examples, owned by the Essex Institute, the American Antiquarian Society, Harvard itself, and an individual. However, the image has been reproduced many times, so there are lots of later copies of this view hanging on walls.

In May 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress commissioned Revere to engrave and print currency. His wife Rachel and most their children got out of besieged Boston early that month, and they must have brought the old engraving plates. Revere cut the image of Harvard College in half and used the reverse side to make money. That piece of copper is now at the Massachusetts Archives.

Also at the state archives is Chadwick’s journal of a surveying expedition in Maine in 1764, as recounted and transcribed (with maps) in this article.