Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mein Wars - Part Four

   The struggle between John Mein and the Boston merchants continued into October, 1769. Charges and denials flowed back and forth as Mein continued to publish ships manifests and questioned the imports of various merchants, including John Rowe. These charges were met either by flat denials by the merchants involved or responses from the Committee on Non-importation. But the merchants were gradually winning since more and more merchants agreed to abide by the Non-Importation Agreement. By early October even the Hutchinsons had been exposed and surrendered to the boycott. The October 9th issue of the Boston Gazette listed only four individuals - John Bernard, Nathaniel Rogers, James McMasters & Company, and John Mein as "non-compliers." Bernard, Rogers, and McMasters appeared before the committee and insolently refused to subscribe to the agreement. Within a week, Rogers changed his mind and then there were three. Mein didn't even receive an invitation to appear before the committee.
   Starting with the October 9th edition of the Boston Chronicle, Mein took the gloves off and started making personal attacks on his enemies. He already had been called a number of things to include a "mushroom judge" and a "conceited empty noodle of a most profound blockhead" by merchants whose manifests he had questioned. Mein printed brief caricatures and gave nicknames  to key popular leaders. Although he disguised their names, it was obvious who Mein was lampooning. John Hancock was "Johnny Dupe alias the Mich-Cow"; James Otis was "Counsellor Muddlehead, alias Jemmy with the Maiden Nose"; and Samuel Adams, "Samuel the Publican, alias The Psalm Singer, with the gifted face."

John Hancock
   Hancock was "Johnny Dupe, esq., alias the milch cow" for the way the Patriots were milking him. The Tories often said that Samuel Adams might write the letters but John Hancock paid the postage. Mein pilloried Hancock as "a very vain man- a good natured man with long ears- a fool's cap on his head- a silly conceited grin on his countenance- a bandage tied over his eyes- richly dressed and surrounded by a crowd of people some of whom are stroking his ears, others tickling his nose with straws, while the rest are employed in rifling his pockets." This often quoted poison-pen treatment of Hancock contains just enough truth to be devastating.
   Meanwhile tensions had continued to rise in a Boston that had endured British army occupation for a year and found it increasingly difficult to contain its rage. In one incident in late October, an attempt to serve a warrant to a British Ensign of the 14th Regiment almost resulted in a bloody riot between civilians and soldiers when a British soldier fired his musket in warning  and others thrust their bayonets in the face of a crowd that had gathered to witness the events. The Ensign and his Captain were indicted for ordering the troops to fire on civilians, but neither was convicted.
   Mein, declared an outlaw by the town, and his partner John Fleeming took to carrying weapons.
   At the same time Mein was facing a lawsuit that could be his ruin and he was thus under extreme pressure from two sides. John Hancock and John Adams were involved in an attempt to secure repayment of Mein's London debts. The details of that lawsuit will be presented in another installment.
   In the October 26th issue of the Chronicle, Mein, in his infuriatingly sarcastic manner, placed, in the upper left corner of the first page, the names of six men he believed to be the merchants steering committee, mimicking the Boston Gazette's list of non-compliers. In this issue he also placed his now infamous caricatures of the popular readers.
   In the afternoon of October 28th, the day the Chronicle appeared apparently having been delayed for two days, Mein and John Fleeming left their store, with each carrying a loaded pistol, and ventured into King Street. Their path was immediately blocked by a group of 10 to 12 persons of considerable stature, including the merchant Edward Davis, Captain Francis Dashwood, William Molineaux*, a leader of the non-importation movement and the leader of the Boston mob, and a tailor, Thomas Marshall, who also the Lt Colonel of the Boston Militia Regiment. Several of the men, to include Dashwood, believed themselves to be ill treated in the Chronicle. After exchanging angry words with the men, Mein pulled his pistol, cocked it, threatened to fire if they didn't stand off, and with Fleeming, who also pulled his pistol sometime during this confrontation, at his side backed up King Street continuing to shout that he would shoot the first man that touched him.

   Sometime during this initial confrontation, a crowd, estimated by some to be over one thousand strong who had gathered earlier to tar and feather a suspected customs informer, arrived at the scene.
   The crowd continued to stalk Mein and Fleeming as they backed their way towards the British Guard House near Town House; but the crowd  kept out of range of the two printers' weapons. Cries of "Knock him down," and "kill him" reverberated through the streets and, with bits of brick flying, Mein and Fleeming finally reached the Guardhouse.There the soldiers let the two men slip to safety behind them. Mein would have escaped injury except  for Thomas Marshall, the tailor and Lt Col of militia, who picked up a heavy iron shovel during the flight up King Street and swung it at Mein who received an ugly gash.
  In the melee, either Mein or Fleeming discharged his pistol as they "retreated into the building" but no one was injured. The crowd believed it to be Mein, perhaps willing it to be so, but the evidence points to Fleeming.

   As a crowd of 200 or so remained outside the guardhouse, Mein sent several messages to Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson, demanding that the law come to his aid. Hutchinson did nothing, cautioning Mein to be careful since he realized that it would be suicidal for the volatile Scotsman to be seen again on the streets of Boston. Meanwhile Molineaux and Samuel Adams went to a justice of the peace and applied for a warrant to arrest Mein for firing a pistol during a peaceful assembly. They were accusing the wrong man but they got their warrant. When they showed up at the guardhouse with the warrant, Mein hid in the attic while Adams and others searched for him. After they left, Mein borrowed a British uniform and escaped to a Colonel Dalyrymple's house. He kept on sending messages prodding Hutchinson to provide protection but Hutchinson and his Council refused to use British troops to protect him or put down another disturbance.

Thomas Hutchinson
   On Pope's Day, Sunday, November 5th 1769, aided by friends, John Mein snuck aboard a British ship in Boston harbor and sailed for London 10 days later, never to return to Boston.**

* William Molineaux's importance as a leader at this time should not be underestimated. But for his death in October 1774 , he would be remembered rather than forgotten.
** For a time, it was believed that Mein returned to Boston but it has been sufficiently established that he did not.

   We are not through with Mr Mein, there are severall loose ends that must be wrapped up. In Part Five we will discuss the Pope's Day celebration in Boston.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mein Wars - Part Three

   While Mein was skirmishing with the Boston merchants, his old nemesis, James Otis became involved in an altercation with John Robinson, one of the Customs Commissioners. Otis had become more and more mentally unstable and became very agitated when letters that the Customs Commissioners had sent to England during the Liberty episode in 1768 surfaced. The letters had painted a picture of a Boston consumed by riots and bordering on insurrection, reinforced the impression that misrepresentation had prompted the sending of troops and fueled rumors that that some of the Whig leaders may be tried as rebels. Otis became desperate to find out what was in the letters and had a series of confrontations with members of the Board of Customs Commissioners. On September 2, 1769, Otis had a confrontation with Robinson in a coffee house. Over a cup of coffee, Otis tried to determine from Robinson what the commissioners had written about him. Robinson didn't believe that Otis had been mentioned in the letters but did not want to divulge the contents of what was private government correspondence. Otis complained that his character had been impugned and demanded justice. Robinson, a rather haughty individual, replied that he was "ready to give you the satisfaction you have a right to expect from a gentleman." They then parted.
  During the next few days Otis became even more agitated and the more he thought about the letters the angrier he got. He lashed out in the Boston Gazette writing that the Commissioners were "superlative blockheads" and attacking Robinson stating "I have a natural right if I can get no other satisfaction to break his head." Reading this, Robinson determined to achieve his own satisfaction.
   The next evening Otis and Robinson met at the British Coffee House, a favorite haunt of British army and navy officers, and their friends and allies, to include John Mein. (Historians, I feel, have mischaracterized the nature of coffee houses and taverns in colonial Boston, fostering the impression that individual taverns catered to certain factions and that attendance at one or another of them implied certain political leanings. My view, and I think a more historically accurate one, is that Boston society was very fluid and that individuals moved back and forth between the various coffee houses and taverns without much thought to "political affiliation.") Otis was already in the coffee house, when, sometime between 7 and 8 PM, Robinson entered. Robinson and Otis had identical walking sticks, Otis having purchased one identical to Robinson's, and both demanded satisfaction. Otis suggested that they go outside to fight, but Robinson grabbed him by the nose, an incredible indignity that had to be responded to. Immediately they struck each other with their sticks and continued to flail at each other until bystanders grabbed their sticks and encouraged them to fight with their fists. Patrons of the coffee house then encircled the two combatants and a general melee broke out. John Gridley, a young friend of Otis, came to his rescue when Robinson's friends began to push and pull Otis, thus aiding Robinson in striking Otis. Gridley grabbed Robinson's coat but he was hit in the head with sticks and someone hit him above the wrist, breaking his arm. Robinson's allies threw Gridley out of the coffee house but he returned only to be thrown out again. Gridley, not to be thrawted, entered the British Coffee House through a side door and found a stunned Otis. He got Otis to the front room and sat him down in a chair for a few minutes, after which, with the aid of some of Otis' friends who had arrived in the meantime, took Otis for medical care. Robinson, fearing prosecution or, even worse, the wrath of the Boston mob went into hiding. Despite Gridley's broken arm and a gash on Otis' forehead, neither man had been severely injured but that didn't stop the word being spread that they had survived an assassination attempt.
   William Browne, who reportedly struck Gridley and Otis, was the only one of Robinson's associates who was identified as taking part in the brawl and became a scapegoat. He was detained a day after the brawl and brought before two magistrates and two thousand angry Bostonians at Faneuil Hall that evening. Browne was bound over for trial. When he was unable to post bail, John Murray, a prominent Scottish merchant and friend of the Crown, along with John Mein, posted the surety.
   That same night, the Boston mob visited Mein's bookshop and printing office and smeared the signs on them with excrement, wine and dirt so badly that they had to be taken down.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mein Wars - Part Two

   Prior to continuing with the war between John Mein and the merchants behind the Non-Importation Agreement, we should take note that in two separate issues of the Boston Chronicle on 27 February and 2 March 1769, Mein wrote two blistering anti-slavery essays which did little to endear him to certain of the Boston merchants. Opposition to slavery was growing in Massachusetts and members of the Massachusetts House regularly attempted to to abolish slavery, but these attempts floundered as recently as 1767. The Boston town meeting regularly supported the anti-slavery measures but the council and the assembly disagreed and they were never enacted. Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis, John Rowe, and Thomas Hutchinson were among the town's slaveholders. (There is no information indicating that Dr Church owned slaves and I sincerely doubt that he did.) Boston newspapers of the period are full of advertisements about slave sales or runaway slaves.
   Part of the opposition to these anti-slavery bills came from slave traders and their allies. Since the late seventeenth century, New England had been more heavily engaged in the slave trade than any other region. By 1767, however, the slave trade was in decline but the economic facts of life were that New England relied heavily on the "triangular trade" with the home country and the West Indies for its economic prosperity; and the islands of the West Indies could not prosper without slaves to work the plantations. In 1768, New England exported goods valued at 89,000 pounds to Great Britain and imported goods valued at 441,000 pounds. It was trade with the West Indies that balanced out this trade deficit and provided the cash to maintain this very complex economy. In Boston, slaves were often sold directly off ship. Among the public taverns used, at one time or another for slaves sales since there was no public market, were The Royal Exchange, The Crown Coffee House, the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, and the Sun Tavern. It should be noted that after 1740, the importation of slaves into Boston declined dramatically.

Crown Coffee House

   The greatest obstacle to ending slavery, however, was the lingering colonists' fear of Africans. Like other British colonists, few Bostonians were free of  prejudice and their assumption that Africans were inferior and a potential danger to whites. Even John Adams resorted to racial prejudice to oppose the Stamp Act, when, writing as "Humphrey Ploughjogger" he wrote "Providence never designed us for Negroes, I know, for if it had it wou'd have given us black hides, and thick lips, and flat noses, and short wooly hair, which it han't done, and therefore never intended us for slaves." The occupying British forces challenged Boston sensibilities on slavery and race. British officers were not above prodding slaves to revolt against their masters but, most importantly, the sight of  British troops flogging soldiers for various offenses stirred the blood of Bostonians. For the the British used drummers of African-Caribbean descent to administer these floggings right in the middle of Boston Common. Bostonians were not strangers to public floggings but the occupying forces turned their world upside down with black men flogging whites. This role reversal stirred racist fears.
   It should be noted that approximately five percent of Boston's residents in the 1760s and 1770s were "Negroes and Mollatoes."

1768 Watercolor of British Troops on Boston Common
    In the August 21, 1769 issue of the Boston Chronicle, John Mein published three of John Hancock's ships' manifests and Mein identified Hancock as the importer of five bales consisting of "100 pieces [of] British Linen," - a prohibited commodity under the Non-Importation Agreement. This was another Mein attempt to point out the hypocrisy of the merchants involved in the Non-Importation Agreement, and, if true, a telling blow. Recognizing the seriousness of the accusation and unwilling to wait for the next edition of the Boston Gazette to issue a response, William Palfrey, Hancock's chief subordinate, published a response three days later in the Massachusetts Gazette. Palfrey wrote that he was taking on the responsibility of defending his employer since Hancock was "out of the Province." "The man who seeks the Welfare of his Country cannot fail to render himself obnoxious to those who are using every Artifice in their Power to enslave it," said Palfrey. Mein was perpetrating a misunderstanding and trying to mislead people who are "Ignorant of the Nature of British Manufactures." The 100 pieces of British linen were, in fact, 100 pieces of "Russian duck," an exempted textile. Further, British customs officials frequently labeled "duck" as "linen" in the cockets (custom house documents given to a shipper to certify that his goods have been entered and the duty paid) they signed. Taking no chances that readers might note that Thomas Gray's imports in the same manifest were described as "Russia Duck", Palfrey had several "gentlemen" inspect the invoice and three of the bales, and he declared, under oath before a justice of the peace, that all five bales were Russian duck.
   Mein retaliated by printing the entries of "British Linen" attested to by George Haley, Hancock's business associate in England, and customs officials in England and Boston, slyly inquiring as to whom one should believe. "This affair then at present rests between Mr Hayley, a Merchant in London of great character and extensive business, and Mr William Palfrey, clerk to Mr. Hancock," Mein rhetorically concluded. Hancock wanted no more of this. A month later, he instructed his British agents to prevent all goods "except Coals, Hemp, Duck, & Grindstones being put on board any of my vessels." With that instruction, Hancock was finally in full compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement.
   Mein had hoped to discredit his opponents, but inadvertently his disclosures strengthened the Non-Importation Agreement by forcing compliance. If he went after Hancock, no one was safe.
   In the next skirmish, Mein takes the gloves off and escalates his rhetoric.

                                                                    To Be Continued

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mein Wars - Part One

   The Townshend Acts of 1767 was the British Government's second attempt to raise revenue from her American colonies and were enacted after the colonies had successfully resisted the Stamp Act taxes. These acts also met with fierce opposition in the colonies and, in Boston, erupted in violence when the British authorities seized the sloop Liberty and her cargo. The Liberty was owned by John Hancock and its seizure was only prompted when the British Navy sent one of its frigates into Boston Harbor to support the authorities. In addition, General Gage, in New York sent two regiments of British troops, numbering 700 men into Boston on October 1, 1768, and six weeks later sent an additional two regiments totalling 500 men. Any colonial response to the Townshend Acts had to take into account these troops, now billeted in Boston, and drastically altering the political situation but also daily life as now there was approximately one British trained regular for roughly every thirteen men, women and children in Boston. Intimidation of of customs agents, for example, was no longer possible. Reluctantly, colonial merchants and traders agreed to stop importing British goods but limited the subsequent "Non-Importation Agreement" from January to the end of December 1769 and exempted a few commodities.

British Troops Disembark in Boston 1768

  Boston's merchants prepared in advance for the forthcoming agreement. Some stockpiled goods during late 1768 and planned to gouge customers as these goods became scarce. Some already had large inventories and intended to profit. Thirteen of the 143 Boston import businesses in Boston initially refused to sign the Non-Importation agreement. Among these were the Governor's sons and John Mien. As the agreement came into force and, as is so frequent in times of crisis, the burden of sacrifice did not fall equally on all. There was rising discontent with the provisions of the agreement and compliance with it. In response, the merchants, on April 21, 1769, formed committees to investigate the level of compliance with the agreement. The committees reported that six or seven of the 211 signers of the agreement had acknowledged infringements. The merchants association then voted to publish the agreement in Boston newspapers and to reinforce their non-importation pledge. The Sons of Liberty reinforced the merchants with an article in the Boston Gazette advocating that people cease all transactions with the violators of the agreement. Handbills were distributed throughout the town naming those who persisted in engaging in prohibited trade.
  It was at this point that John Mein, although not named as one of the violators of the agreement, entered into the fray. Precisely why he did so cannot be determined, but he proved to be a formidable force. After the incident with Edes and Gill in January 1768, the Customs Board, seizing an opportunity to enlist an ally, now gave Mein and Fleeming a contract to supply stationary, and, in the middle of Mein's war with the merchants, made him a sole supplier. The partners were paid a total of L819 down to April 1775 (this included payments to Fleeming after Mein fled Boston.). While this may have influenced Mein, what probably motivated him was an instinctive aversion to someone bullying him. He had resisted similar pressure during the crisis over the Stamp Act and though threatened that "the Crisis was now arrived, in which neutrality was criminal," he bluntly asserted his right to run his affairs as he pleased.
   John Mein leaped to the defense of the alleged culprits by challenging the integrity of the signers of the Non-Importation Agreement. Mein, who had acquired the manifests of ships from Great Britain that had docked in Boston since January 1st, reported that 190 people had imported large numbers of trunks, bales, cases, hogsheads, casks and other containers of goods on 27 different ships. He knew the identity of the importers but would not reveal them. It was a clever piece of propaganda. Mein did not state that the items were in violation of the agreement or that they were imported by the signers of the agreement but it made the people of Boston who were complying with the agreement wonder just who might be making money off of their misfortune. The success of the agreement rested on the trust of merchants and consumers. One week after Mein's article appeared, the merchants answered the charges by saying that they had already taken corrective action and Mein had distorted the facts.
   And so the matter stood for the next month and a half as half the British troops departed Boston and Gov Francis Bernard prepared to defend his position. Fewer merchants and shopkeepers had merchandise to sell but their advertisements did emphasize their compliance with the agreement. The merchants then chose to strengthen the agreement and extend it until all the Townshend Acts were repealed. Those who breached the accord would have their names published in Boston newspapers. An additional provision of the agreement would have consumers pledging not to purchase from violators. Only a few importers refused to bend and, on August 14, 1769, their names were revealed to the public. John Mein was one of them.

Boston Gazette September 4, 1769

   Believing that he had been unfairly characterized as an importer, Mein roared back his response through the pages of the Boston Chronicle. He defended his own actions, attacked the perceived hypocrisy of his attackers, and in issue after issue during the following months published the cargo manifests of ships that had arrived from Great Britain after the Non-Importation Agreement went into effect the previous January 1st. In the first article on August 17th, Mein explained that in his multiple roles as printer, bookbinder, and bookseller he employed seventeen people, "fourteen of whom live under my own roof." Whenever possible, he purchased paper from manufacturers in Milton, but they could not fully accommodate his requirements. As a result, some of the paper he acquired came from Great Britain. No more than L20 worth of materials he used in his bookbinding business came from outside of Massachusetts. A civilized people, he argued, required access to books and since books had to be imported from Great Britain, he should be praised, not condemned, for fulfilling this requirement for civilization. Mein's bottom line was that if was forced to sign the Non-Importation Agreement, he would have to layoff most of his workers, and they would become destitute and then a burden to the town.
   Mein struck a chord with struggling Bostonians and they must have resented being caught between the rock of British tax policy and the hard place of the pressure exerted by the Boston merchants and the Non-Importation Agreement. But the daily presence of the British Army as well as the detested agents of the British Customs and Excise Agencies reminded most Bostonians just who they were and whose people they were. Mein, a recent immigrant from Scotland, had not married into a Boston family like his partner John Fleeming and had not integrated himself into Boston society. He, and most of his fellow Scots in Boston, remained unswervingly loyal to the Crown.
   The manifests Mein published proved to be a great threat to non-importation. Mein detailed the cargoes of ships by importer, types of import, and quantities of goods. Three of the six members of the merchants' steering committee and five of twenty four members of other merchant committees were listed in the first two and a half weeks of published manifests alone. Before he was through, Mein printed hundreds of names, including forty-six who attended the Sons of Liberty celebration that August.
   The initial response to Mein by the merchants association was quite feeble since they failed to respond directly to the insinuations that these manifests contained illicit cargo. Their failure to directly confront Mein made them seem unconvincing to the townsmen. Yet, the merchants were having some success as Richard Clark and Son capitulated. In addition, the Boston auctioneers, all of whom had to be licensed by the town and one of whose members was Benjamin Church Sr, the good Doctor's father, agreed not to sell any goods in defiance of the agreement.
   The war between Mein and the merchants now proceeded to get even hotter as Mein and Boston's most prominent merchant, John Hancock, went after each other.

Front page of Boston Chronicle, August 21, 1769 with ships' manifests
                                                                  To Be Continued.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mein Streets

 The first issue of the Boston Chronicle, December 21, 1767 ( a month after the Townshend Duties went into effect)  reprinted an English article that had attacked William Pitt, a favorite of the Boston Whigs. An author who used the allonym "Americus" in the Boston Gazette edition for January 18, 1768, published by Edes and Gill, countered that Pitt was a defender of American freedom, should not be disparaged, and questioned the Chronicle's statement in its prospectus, that it would be politically neutral. In addition, the author, whom Mein believed was James Otis (still in his prime), suggested that the Chronicle had a "Jacobite" cast. Historians have tended to dismiss this insult and Mein's response to it as an overreaction. However, to call a Scot, loyal to the Crown, as a Jacobite when the memory of Culloden and the expanded meaning that the term "Jacobite" had taken in British politics at this time was certainly a very provocative act and Mein's reaction to it more understandable, if hardly justifiable.
    The Boston Gazette (not the first Boston newspaper to be so called) was founded by Edes and Gill in 1755 and it had become the principal Patriot newspaper for which many of the prominent  Boston Whigs of the day, to include Dr Benjamin Church Jr, wrote. Edes was the principal publisher and ardent patriot while Gill attended more to the printing side of the business. But the newspaper was the principal enterprise and source of income for Edes and Gill.
   As soon as Mein read the attack in the Gazette, he stormed into the Gazette's office, also on King Street, demanding to know the author's name. Benjamin Edes admonished him saying that, as a printer, he should know better than to ask "such an unpertinent, improper question." Mein was too angry to worry about "journalistic ethics" and responded that if Edes didn't divulge the author, he would assume that Edes was responsible "and the affair shall be decided in three minutes." Edes told him he was too busy and that Mein should return the following morning. Edes was either stalling for time or he may have been wishing to seek the author's permission to reveal his identity; but, in either case, when Mein returned the next day, Edes told him that he would not reveal the name. Mein challenged him to a fight and, after Edes declined, left the building. That evening, Mein encountered Edes' partner, John Gill, on the street and struck him with his cane, rather brutally. Gill retaliated with a lawsuit.
   In the February 1st edition of the Gazette, Samuel Adams, writing under the name "Populus" stated the affair was in no sense a private one, but a "Spaniard-like Attempt" on the freedom of the press; and at Mein's trial, so did James Otis, as Gill's counsel. Mein was fined L130, and though, on appeal, he got the amount reduced to L75 plus court costs, he still suffered a severe penalty.

James Otis, Jr

   Next - John Mein battles the Boston merchants.

Friday, October 29, 2010

John Mein - Background

   Thirty year old John Mein arrived in Boston from Glasgow in October, 1764 in the company of a Mr. Robert Sandeman. Mein had previously visited Boston in the company of several other Scotsmen with the idea of settling there. Mein had been born in Edinburgh, where he received a good education, was apprenticed to a bookseller, and then went into business for himself. Mein arrived with a good assortment of books, a quantity of Irish linens and other goods to include "excellent bottl'd Bristol beer near two years old", and opened a shop in an old wooden building on Marlborough Street with the aforementioned Mr Sandeman or one of his relatives. Their firm was called Mein and Sandeman.
   The partnership lasted only a few months before it was dissolved. Before the arrival of Mein, the leading bookshop in Boston had been "The London Bookstore", owned by Messrs Rivington and Miller and located in King Street. Mr Miller had been ill ( he died in November 1765)  and, in the autumn of 1765, Mein was able to take over the shop, newly redecorated and enlarged by the former owners. He then established a lending library, the first one of its kind in Boston, where patrons could, for a fee, borrow books from a 1200 book library. (Only one book could be charged at a time.) Mein had connections with a bookseller in Scotland who provided him with the latest editions, in English, of the most saleable books. Among his patrons was John Adams. Given his education, interests, and intellect, one could assume that Dr Church was also one of the Library's patrons.
   Mein then decided that he would expand into the printing business. Mein had been using the firm of McAlpine and Fleeming to print his books. He had labeled himself a "printer" but he was, in modern terms, a publisher and had been using McAlpine and Fleeming to print his books. John Fleeming, a fellow Scot and the future brother-in-law of Dr Church, had arrived in Boston three months prior to Mein also aboard a ship from Glasgow. Fleeming left McAlpine and formed a partnership with Mein (Mein and Fleeming).  Fleeming then returned to Scotland where he procured a press, printing materials, and hired three or four journeymen printers. Fleeming returned to Boston on the last day of October, 1766, and the partners opened a printing business in a house in Wing's Lane. Further expansion came in 1767 when the firm moved to Newbury Street . The printing shop, where some books might also be bought, was on the ground floor and Mein, Fleeming and some of their employees had quarters on the floor above. A March 1770 inventory of the establishment taken in connection with a lawsuit against Mein gives a glimpse into the shop:

                          "Seven Frames on which are Sixty Five Cases with the Types, etc.
                           Two Printing Presses with all the Materials Thereto
                           One large Iron Stove
                           One composing Stone, two cutting presses, one grind Stone
                           Two Stoles [stalls?] with a number of small articles in Said Room"

Printing Press of Isiah Thomas, Publisher of Massachusetts Spy, rival of the Boston Chronicle

   Within four years, John Mein, along with his partner John Fleeming, had established himself as the outstanding American publisher of the day both in the number and quality of the books he published.
   Mein and Fleming further expanded their business when, on the 21st of December 1767, they started publication of the The Boston Chronicle. John Mein was the publisher of the Chronicle which was printed by Fleeming, on a whole sheet, in quarto, on a new and handsome type and, in mechanical execution, far surpassed any newspaper that had appeared before it in New England. The price was very low, six shillings and eight pence a year, for a paper containing such an amount of news and articles. The paper had few advertisements and it contents consisted chiefly of articles from the foreign press and from the works of popular English authors, including numerous extracts from the writings of John Wilkes and the celebrated "Farmer's Letters" of Pennsylvania. It was designed to emulate "The London Chronicle." For the first year, it was published weekly, on Mondays. It grew daily in reputation and had a very handsome list of subscribers. At the beginning of the second year, the size of the paper was altered to the size of a crown folio (15" x 10" in size) and published every Monday and Thursday with no increase in price, thus becoming the first newspaper to be published twice a week in New England.
   Before the end of the second year of publication of the Chronicle, however, John  Mein, a Scot with a fiery temperament, was engaged in a fierce war with the Whigs who were opposed to the British Government's tax laws and Mein inserted himself right in the middle of  the struggle over the Non-Importation agreements.
 The story of the volatile John Mein and his fight with the Whigs will be told in Part II of  John Mein.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Scots

   Scots constituted the second major non-English European immigrant population in colonial America, coming from Scotland itself and from northern Ireland (Ulster) where they had been part of an English effort to "protestantize" Ireland. Scots emigrated to many places in Europe long before they moved to America. Before 1700, Scots had settled in England, Ireland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and even Poland where some 30,000 Scots lived by the 1620s.
   Scottish emigration to America was long-lived and massive. Scots began arriving in the colonies in small numbers in the early seventeenth century, and their numbers rose slowly after 1670, then exploded after 1730. Only about 4,000 Scots-Irish emigrated to America from Ulster between 1700 and 1730; but more than 60,000 arrived between 1730 and 1770. Immigrants from Scotland itself likely numbered only 1,500 between 1700 and 1730, but then rose to perhaps 35,000 between 1730 and 1775.
   Complex, interrelated causes brought the Scots to America. The Scots and Scots-Irish were overwhelmingly agricultural people, suffering at home from scarce farmland, intense poverty, and resilient fecundity. The climate in northern Scotland was cold, the soil poor, and the available acreage small and usually rented or leased, and not owned. The lowlands, in the South of Scotland, were more diverse and prosperous but poverty prevailed, nonetheless.
   The Scots in Northern Ireland fared little better. Parliament restricted exports from Ireland to prevent competition with English manufactured goods, principally woolens. The Anglican Church in Ireland won restrictions on Presbyterian political activity, thus ironically oppressing men and women sent to curb Irish Catholicism. Major famines in 1727 and 1740 also contributed to Scottish emigration which proved particularly strong at four points: 1717-1718, 1727-1728, 1740-1741, and 1771-1773. And, about 40% of the immigrants were women. By the Revolution, Scots could be found in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. 
   Prior to 1740, Scots emigrating to America came from a wide variety of Protestant religious backgrounds; but by the 1740s most Scots were uniquely and narrowly Presbyterian. The contrast with the Huguenots could not have been stronger. The Scots possessed a numerical superiority Huguenots could never have enjoyed, since 100,000 Scots arrived by the Revolution compared with only 2,000-2500 Huguenots. Scots could easily turn to other Scots for marriage and appear to have done so down to the Revolution. Those who married non-Scots married English settlers.
   Two Scots who emigrated to Boston in 1764 from Glasgow, the printers John Mein and John Fleeming, were to play significant roles in Dr Benjamin Church Jr's life. Mein and Fleeming became partners. Mein became a major thorn in the side of the Whigs through his newspaper, and John Fleeming would marry Dr Church's sister Alice. It was to John Fleeming that Church addressed the infamous cyphered letter.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


   The observation that both the Revere and Vassall family were of French Huguenot ancestry reveals a little known and long forgotten fact about immigration into the English colonies that became the United States. The Huguenots - French Protestants- were the first substantial continental European immigrants to arrive in British America, the first to form identifiable "immigrant" communities within the English colonies, and the first to assimilate thoroughly. Although the Huguenots' experience ultimately proved atypical, it spoke to the special openness of America to European immigrants in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
   The Huguenots came to America in a second, unanticipated stage of a bitter and forced exile from France. The first stage occurred between 1675 and 1690 as 100,000 French Protestants fled France when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes that had guaranteed limited Protestant worship in Catholic France since 1592. This stream of emigrants, called "le refuge" by Protestant historians, sent French Protestants streaming into Prussia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England.
   The second stage emerged as refugee Huguenots decided to emigrate to America to escape their miserable exile in Europe. The Huguenot exodus occurred just as a late seventeenth century colonization push was beginning in America and colonial entrepreneurs advertised extensively among the Huguenot refugees. Huguenots settled in some surprising places in America. Pennsylvania, that refuge for the religious persecuted, received almost no Huguenots despite William Penn's advertising. Instead, most of the 2,000 to 2,500 Huguenots who arrived in America between 1680 and 1700 headed for South Carolina and New York, with smaller numbers going to New England. In New England, most congregated in Boston, and like New York City, most of Boston's Huguenots were merchants and tradesmen. The Huguenots quickly disappeared as a cohesive religious and ethnic group in America. By the third generation, most Huguenots had long since become Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists and even Quakers. The two remaining active Huguenot congregations in New York and Charleston closed during the Revolution.
   Intermarriage speeded the religious fissure and, as early as 1700, fewer than twenty years after most Huguenots arrived in the colonies, almost half of New York and Boston Huguenots, men and women alike, took English, Dutch, and Scots-Irish spouses. Apollos Rivoire, Paul Revere's father, married  Deborah Hitchborn, a member of a fourth generation New England family so that Paul was one half French Huguenot and one-half old Yankee.
   Through much of the eighteenth century, refugee Huguenots dominated London's silver trade, producing baroque pieces with heavy ornamentation. Colonial silversmiths, however, produced pieces with a cleanness of line and simplicity of content that set it far from the work of London's Huguenot silversmiths. Part of this difference was due to an autonomous apprenticeship system employed by silversmiths throughout the colonies. Colonial silversmiths regularly trained their own apprentices, so that by the mid eighteenth century, a substantial number of colonial silversmiths were third generation silversmiths. Apollos Rivoire learned his silver crafts from Boston silversmith John Coney, and Paul Revere apprenticed to his own father. Paul Revere became widely acknowledged, both in his own time and since, as the single finest silversmith of the colonial period.

Silver tankard by Apollos Rivoire, circa 1750

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another Vassall Home

Faneuil-Phillips House

   This home was located on the east side of Pemberton Hill, the same hill on which the Vassall-Greene Home was located. It was built in 1709 by Andrew Faneuil, a rich Boston merchant, who, like Paul Revere's father was a French Huguenot by birth. At his death, this seven acre estate passed to his nephew, Peter Faneuil, who, in 1742, gave Faneuil Hall to the town of Boston, After his death in 1743, the house had several owners. At the time of the Revolution, it was owned by one of the Vassall family. After the Vassall family fled, the house was confiscated and sold. It was torn down at the same time the Vassall-Greene mansion was torn down and Pemberton Hill leveled by a real estate speculator.

   One can discern by the opulence of their homes, just how wealthy and prominent the Vassall family were in New England. As a matter of interest, John Vassall, the man from whom the New England Vassall line is descended, was also a French Hugenot who moved to England in the mid-sixteenth century at the time of the religious wars in France. The family was friendly with the Puritans and one of the Vassalls came to New England on the Arabella. The family's fortune was founded on massive slave plantations in Jamaica and the West Indies, as well as extensive involvement in the slave trade.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Vassall-Greene Mansion

The Gardiner Greene Mansion

   In my post on Dr Church's Boston home, I mentioned that the home of Samuel Sewall, the only judge who apologized for his role in the Salem witch trials was also located in the area. It turns out that the source upon which I based that statement was not totally accurate. On Sewall's death in 1729, his home and its estate was occupied by his daughter. Based upon some excavation conducted in 1733, it appears that the estate, located on Pemberton Hill, then one of the hills of Boston, was previously a burial ground as workmen dug up numerous bones, and denizens recalled that the hill had previously been referred to as Golgotha. About 1758, the Sewall heirs divided the property and sold it to William Vassall, another of the Vassall brothers who built the houses on "Tory Row" in Cambridge. William Vassall tore down the three dwellings that were on the land and built the house shown above. William Vassall, like all of the extended Vassall family in New England were loyalists, and, after he fled Boston,  the estate passed through several hands until in 1803 it came into the possession of Gardiner Greene. Greene occupied the mansion and  improved and expanded the gardens, making them into the finest in Boston. A contemporary wrote that "The house had no remarkable architectural pretensions of any kind, but the natural beauties of the site, improved by taste and art, made it altogether the most splendid private residence in the city." After Greene's death in 1832, the estate was sold to a speculator who tore down the dwellings and leveled the hill hauling away over 100,000 yards of gravel.

Friday, October 15, 2010


   Most of us are familiar with Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack and most are perhaps familiar with the fact that it was a major source of his wealth and was one of the reasons that he was able to retire from the printing business at the age of 46 with sufficient wealth to pursue his many other interests. It is believed that Poor Richard sold as many as 12,000 copies per year. Almanacs were big business in colonial America and there were differences in the different regions as to their content.
   In an era when books were imported from Britain and Scotland in huge quantities and many printers relied on government contracts, subsidized religious sermons, or political essays for their income, the almanac was one of the few local publications in colonial North America produced regularly and solely for market. Indeed, the nature of the almanac's content made it so. At its core, every almanac was a utilitarian text that conveyed such useful information as tidal predictions, lunar calculations, court and market days, and distances between towns. Because the almanac contained such a variety of information, its utility extended to almost everyone: a captain needed to know the tides; a farmer needed to know the rising and setting of the sun; a merchant needed to know market days; a lawyer needed to know when courts met. At the same time, this information was geographically specific: a farmer in Massachusetts needed to know the rising and setting of the sun in Boston, not Philadelphia or London; a circuit lawyer in Philadelphia needed to know when courts were meeting in Pennsylvania and Delaware, not Connecticut and Rhode Island; and people bringing goods to market needed to know the market days in towns near them, not in distant colonies.
   The first almanac in the colonies was printed in Cambridge in 1639 and by the 1760s a Boston printer could make L50 per year from an almanac. It became an early habit in New England to preserve the almanacs from year to year, carefully stitching them together and to annotate them frequently with family records or events. They were sometimes referred to as the family's "weekly bible."
   Bickerstaff's Boston Almanack was published by Benjamin West, born on a farm outside of Taunton Massachusetts and a resident of Providence, R.I.. West was one of the most important publishers of almanacs, publishing one in Boston from 1768 through 1793 that became known as the New England Almanack and was published until 1814, one in Providence from 1763 through 1781, and one in New York for a time. He also published a number of other works. West also ran a drygoods store and later a bookshop as well as becoming the town postmaster. Although an autodidact, West was single handedly responsible for the results of two major astronomical efforts; the first in 1769 to observe the passage of Venus across the sun, and the second in 1786 to observe the eclipse of the sun. Although collaborative efforts, modern scholarship has conclusively attributed the results to West's efforts. He was most likely acquainted with Dr Church, but the extent of their relationship cannot be determined.


  And just who is Bickerstaff?  Issac Bickerstaff was a pseudonym used by Johnathan Swift in a very famous popular hoax to predict the death of then then famous cobbler turned almanac maker and astrologer John Partridge. Swift, then employed by the Church of England, had taken offense at some attacks Partridge had made against his employer. Partridge had challenged his readers to see if they could outdo him in his prophetic abilities. Swift took up the challenge and predicted the exact day and time of Partridge's death. At the appointed time, Swift, using another name, confirmed that the prophecy had been fulfilled and Partridge was indeed dead. Partridge protested in his next almanac that he was alive but no one really believed him. And you can take it from there. This hoax became notorious all over the English speaking world and Benjamin Franklin created the "Poor Richard" (Richard Saunders) character after Issac Bickerstaff.

 * This is the front cover of the 1768 and first edition of Bickerstaff's Almanac. The cover features an "elegant plate of the giants lately discovered in South America, representing a sailor 5' 111/2 " high giving a biscuit to one of their women." The cover also informs the reader that the almanack contains an exact figure of the eclipse of the sun on January 19th.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Hymn

Most of Dr Church's poetry is much, much too long to be published in a blog. The following poem, however, was published in Bickerstaff's "Boston Almanack for the Year 1769," printed by Mein and Fleeming* and sold in John Mein's King Street bookstore.

         A Hymn

Still sing the God of Seasons, as they roll:
For me, when I forget the darling theme,
Whether the blossom blows the summer ray
Russets the plain, inspiring Autumn gleams;
Or winter rises in the blackening east:
Be my tongue mute, my fancy paint no more,
And, dead to joy, forget my heart to beat!
   Should fate command me to the furthest verge
Of the green earth, to distant barborous climes,
Rivers unknown to song; where first the sun
Gilds Indian mountains, or his setting beam
Flames on th' Atlantic isles; 'tis nought to me:
Since God is ever present, ever felt
In the void waits as in the city full;
And where He vital breathes, there must be joy.
When even at last the solemn hour shall come,
And wing thy mystic flight to future worlds.
I chearful will obey; there with new powers,
Will rising wonders sing: I cannot go
Where universal love not smiles around,
Sustaining all yon orbs and all their sons;
From seeming evil still educing good,
And better thence again, and better still,
In infinite progression. But I lose
Myself in Him, in Light Ineffable!
Come then, expressive silence, must his praise.

*John Fleeming married Dr Church's sister Alice on August 11, 1770. John Mein and Fleeming jointly published the Boston Chronicle, the best newspaper, technically, in Boston. Mein was a thorn in the side of the Whigs, publishing the names of merchants who were violating the non-importation agreements.He finally was forced to flee Boston in October 1769 after he and Fleeming were involved in a shooting incident. I will detail more about this when I publish the fascinating story of John Fleeming.

Please note that the cover of the Almanack carries a portrait of John Wilkes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Warm Place - Hell

   After repeal of the Stamp Act,  the British Government still had a need to collect revenue from her American colonies and in 1767 passed a series of measures that came to be known as The Townshend Acts. The colonists rose, once again, in protest. James Dickinson of Pennsylvania published his essays titled "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,"  and they became widely read and very influential, arguing that there was no difference between an "internal" and an "external" tax and that any tax imposed on the colonists by Parliament was unconstitutional. One of the responses to the Townshend Acts by The Massachusetts House of Representatives was to send a letter to the other colonial assemblies asking them to resist the acts. The British Ministers were so outraged by this that the King himself ordered Governor Francis Bernard to order the Massachusetts Circular letter to be rescinded. The Legislature refused by a vote of 92 to 17 to do so. The seventeen who voted to rescind the vote were labeled "Rescinders" and were treated with contempt.
   Paul Revere,  copper engraving being one of his talents, began to engrave a caricature titled  "A Warm Place - Hell" as a piece of political propaganda in defiance of the British Government. The delineation was a pair of monstrous open  jaws, resembling a shark, with flames issuing from them. Satan, with a large pitchfork, is seen driving the seventeen "Rescinders" into the flames shouting - "Now I've got you! A Fine haul by Jove!" The man first in line and making an effort to resist being forced into hell is Timothy Ruggles, ( a former Speaker of the House and delegate to the Stamp Act Congress who later became a prominent Tory and served as a Brigadier General in charge of Loyalist militia troops) who is being urged on by a flying devil uttering the words "Push on Tim!"  The man with the calf's head is Dr John Calef of Ipswich who, many years later, apologized for his vote. (I have not done the research to determine why Dr Calef was so singled out by Revere.) Over the upper jaw of the "shark" is seen the cupola of the Province House (the Indian with bow and arrow represents the arms of the Province) where the Governor resided.
   While Revere was in the process of executing this engraving, Dr Benjamin Church Jr, by Revere's own account many years later, walked into Revere's office and, seeing what Revere was about, took a pen and wrote these words to accompany the engraving:

                                  On brave Rescinders! to yon yawning cell,
                                  Seventeen such miscreants sure will startle hell.
                                  There puny villains, damned for petty sin,
                                  On such distinguished scoundrels gaze and grin;
                                  The out done Devil will resign his sway,
                                  He never curst his millions in a day

   Not a bad improvisational riff from colonial America's finest political satirist and poet!

  As a result, Paul Revere was given a commission by 15 members of the Sons of Liberty, of which organization Revere was a member, to make a silver punch bowl to commemorate the activities of the "Glorious 92." This bowl has become an icon of the American Revolution and is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. One side of the bowl is dedicated to John Wilkes, the English radical to whom Church was appointed to write as a member of the Committee of Correspondence.



Friday, October 1, 2010

Dr Church's Boston Massacre Oration - Part 2

  John Adams' Diary Entry: 1773. MARCH 5TH. FRYDAY.

Heard an Oration, at Mr. Hunts Meeting House, by Dr. Benja. Church, in Commemoration of the Massacre in Kings Street, 3 Years ago. That large Church was filled and crouded in every Pew, Seat, Alley, and Gallery, by an Audience of several Thousands of People of all Ages and Characters and of both Sexes.

Old South Meeting House Interior
  So much for the fire of Dr Church's oratory, but what about the substance you ask.

   In  March 1773, Dr Church stood as one of the unquestioned leaders of the Boston Whigs. Very active in Boston politics, Church was elected to numerous committees to deal with the serious disputes between the royal government and the people of Boston and, indeed, Massachusetts. For instance, in late October 1772, Samuel Adams, Dr Joseph Warren and Church were appointed in a town meeting to serve as a committee to deal with Gov Thomas Hutchinson on the contentious subject of royal salaries for provincial judges. In November of that year, Samuel Adams received permission to start the Committee of Correspondence. Church was a member of that committee and was selected to initiate a correspondence with John Wilkes.The significance of that selection has been obscured by time, but John Wilkes was a very famous English radical and member of Parliament (when not in jail or expelled from it) who was a thorn in the side of George III and various English ministers. American colonists followed his career very closely and many became convinced that his struggles were proof that the British constitution was being subverted by corrupt ministers. When drafting the Constitution some fifteen years after this oration, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention adopted two provisions, (expulsion from Congress and the use of general warrants) specifically because of Wilkes' experience with the British monarchy and government. The day before the oration Dr Church had met again with Gov Hutchinson as a member of a committee (Boston loved its committees) to answer Hutchinson and as reported by John Adams in his diary entry:

The Governor and General Court, has been engaged for two Months upon the greatest Question ever yet agitated. I stand amazed at the Governor, for forcing on this Controversy. He will not be thanked for this. His Ruin and Destruction must spring out of it, either from the Ministry and Parliament on one Hand, or from his Countrymen, on the other. He has reduced himself to a most ridiculous State of Distress. He is closetting and soliciting Mr. Bowdoin, Mr. Dennie, Dr. Church &c. &c., and seems in the utmost Agony.

   And so Dr Church stood as tall as any of the Boston Whigs as he gave his oration. Keep in mind the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers as set forth in the Declaration of Independence as you read these excerpts from Dr Church's Boston Massacre Oration.

     We are not to obey a Prince, ruling above the limits of the power entrusted to him; for the Common-wealth by constituting a head does not deprive itself of the power of its own preservation. Government or Magistracy whether supreme or subordinate is a mere human ordinance, and the laws of every nation are the measure of magistratical power; and Kings, the servants of the state, when they degenerate into tyrants, forfeit their right to government. (italics added)....
    To enjoy life as becomes rational creatures, to possess our souls with pleasure and satisfaction, we must be careful to maintain that inestimable blessing, Liberty. By liberty I would understand, the happiness of living under laws of our own making, by our personal consent, or that of our representatives....

    The constitution of England, I revere to a degree of idolatry; but my attachment is to the common weal; the magistrate will ever command my respect, by the integrity and wisdom of his administrations....

    As in every government there must exist a power superior to the laws, viz. the power that makes those laws, and from which they derive their authority; therefore the liberty of the people is exactly proportioned to the share the body of the people have in the legislature; and the check placed in the constitution on the executive power. That state only is free, where the people are governed by laws which they have a share in making; and that country is totally enslaved where one single law can be made or repealed without the interposition or consent of the people....

    But remember my Brethren! When a people have once sold their liberties, it is no act of extraordinary generosity, to throw their lives and properties into the bargain, for they are poor indeed when enjoyed at the mercy of a master....

    Where laws are framed and assessments laid without a legal representation, and obedience to such acts urged by force, the despairing people robbed of every constitutional means of redress, and that people, brave and virtuous, must become the admiration of ages, should they not appeal to those powers, which the immutable laws of nature have lent to all mankind. Fear is a slender tye of subjection, we detest those whom we fear, and with the destruction to those we detest; but humanity, uprightness and good faith, with an apparent watchfulness for the welfare of the people, constitute the permanency, and are the firmest support of the sovereign's authority; for when violence is opposed to reason and justice, courage never wants an arm for its defence....

    But let us not forget the distressing occasion of this anniversary: The sullen ghosts of murdered fellow-citizens, haunt my imagination "and harrow up my soul,"*  methinks the tainted air is hung with the dews of death, while Ate' hot from hell, cries havock, and lets slip the dogs of war.** Hark! the wan tenants of the grave still shriek for vengeance on their remorseless butchers: Forgive us heaven! Should we mingle involuntary execrations, while hovering in idea over the guiltless dad.

   * Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5
  ** Julius Caesar - words spoken by Mark Antony regretting the actions he has taken after Caesar's murder:

                                                          Blood and destruction shall be so in use   
 And dreadful objects so familiar
                     That mothers shall but smile when they behold
                    Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
                All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
              And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
              With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
                      Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
                Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
                     That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
          With carrion men, groaning for burial.

John Wilkes

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dr Church's Boston Massacre Oration

On March 5th, 1773 Dr Church wrote and gave the third annual oration commemorating the Boston Massacre at the Boston Town Meeting held at the Old South Meeting House, the largest building in Boston at that time. The previous two addresses were given by James Lovell, now largely forgotten but a prominent Whig who later was arrested by General Gage, and Dr Joseph Warren, Church's colleague and sometime rival. So large was the crowd gathered to hear Church's oration that both he and John Hancock, the moderator, could only get into the building by climbing in through a window. Whereas the previous two orations were well recieved, they were rather sedate. Church, however, gave the crowd a very different speech, fiery being perhaps too modest a word to describe it. With references to the political solutions of Brutus, Cromwell, and Ravillac (Ravaillac, the 17th century assassin of Henry IV of France),  it was received with thunderous applause and a demand that it be published, which it immediately was. The following excerpt from the the end of the oration provides a taste of what must have had that Boston crowd so moved and energized:

         The whole soul clamors for arms, and is on fire to attack the brutal banditti; we fly agonizing to the horrid aceldama*;we gaze on the mangled corpses of our brethren and grinning furies, gloating o'er their carnage, the hostile attitude of the miscreant murders, redoubles our resentment, and makes revenge a virtue.
          By heaven they die! Thus nature spoke, and the swollen heart leap'd to execute the dreadful purpose; dire was the interval of rage, fierce was the conflict of the soul. In that important hour, did not the stalking ghosts of our stern forefathers, point us to bloody deeds of vengeance? Did not the consideration of our expiring liberties, impel us to remorseless havock? But hark! The guardian God of New England issues his awful mandate. "Peace, be Still." Hushed was the bursting war, the lowering tempest frowned its rage away. Confidence in that God, beneath whose wing we shelter all our cares, that blessed confidence released the dastard, the cowering prey. With haughty scorn we refused to become their executioners, and nobly gave them to the wrath of heaven. But words can poorly paint the horrid scene. Defenceless, prostrate, bleeding countrymen -- the piercing, agonizing groans --the mingled moan of weeping relatives and friends -- these best can speak; to rouse the luke-warm into noble zeal, to fire the zealous into manly rage; against the foul oppression of quartering troops, in populous cities, in times of peace.

 And, of course, New England's best contemporary poet ended with this poem:

                  Thou who yon bloody walk shalt traverse, there
                  Where troops of Britain's King, on Britain's Sons,
                  Discharg'd the leaden vengeance; pass not on
                  E'er thou hast blest their memory, and paid
                  Those hallowed tears, which sooth the virtuous dead:
                  O stranger! Stay thee, and the scene around
                  Contemplate well, and if perchance thy home,
                  Salute thee with a father's honor'd name,
                  Go call thy Sons __ instruct them what a debt
                  They owe their ancestors, and make them swear
                  To pay it, by transmitting down entire
                  Those sacred rights to which themselves were born.

  * "Aceldama" refers to the field Judas Iscariot purchased with the money he received for betraying Christ and means "field of blood."

Old South Meeting House



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Vassall-Cragie-Longfellow House


 In 1759, Major John Vassall, brother of Henry Vassall, inherited land and monies from his father and built a home on the north side of Brattle Street in Cambridge. It was one of the seven houses, built by Loyalist families in Cambridge, that became known as "Tory Row." All were as fine a home as to be found in New England and served as summer homes for Loyalist families. John Vassall abandoned the house in 1774 when he, his wife, and their children had to flee to Boston because of their Loyalist sympathies. Colonel John Glover and his Marblehead Regiment (one of the most famous of Continental Army regiments who helped save Washington's Army after the battle of Long Island and who were responsible for getting Washington across the Delaware for his famous Christmas attack on Trenton) occupied the building as temporary barracks in June 1775 and General Washington made it his headquarters during the siege of Boston until the evacuation of Boston in April 1776. The house went through a couple of owners until it was purchased by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's father-in-law as a wedding present for him and his wife. Longfellow turned the house into a shrine to Washington. It is now a national historic site under the care of the National Park Service.

 Below are links to the NPS Longfellow web site and  a Bob Vila video that has a tour of the house with him and a National Park Ranger.

House as it appeared in 1775

House in 1879


Monday, September 20, 2010

Update 2

 I received another email from Anita responding to a couple of questions I had for her:

     Our former ranger does not recall now, but tends to think it was just initials, followed by "Jr." He does not have a photo, especially since he was dressed in 18th century garb at the time he saw the house. The person who showed him the room was quite elderly at the time, several years ago,and may no longer be alive.

Follow-up - Benjamin Church Jr and the Vassall House

   Recently I had a phone conversation with Anita Israel, who is an archivist specialist at the Longfellow National Historic Site, originally built by Henry Vassall's brother and located across the street from the Henry Vassall House. She mentioned to me that a retired Park Ranger, who had worked at the Longfellow House, had approached the owners of the Vassal House and had been allowed inside to check out Benjamin Church's initals for himself. She agreed to contact the Ranger and I just received an email from Anita in which she states that the Ranger advised her as follows:

    It is not scratched into a window. It is scratched into an inside door on the 2nd floor and it has a piece of glass or plastic covering it. I saw it several years ago.
  So, the Ladies of old Cambridge are right!

  Thanks Anita!!!!!

   I will follow up on the intials and will have a follow-up post on the Longfellow Historic Site.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Green Dragon Tavern

   I thought that this description, taken from an officially commissioned  1870 City of Boston work titled "A Topographical and Historical Description of Boston" by Nathaniel B Shurtleff might be of interest:

  The old tavern stood on the left side of the street, formerly called Green Dragon Lane, now the northerly portion of Union Street, leading from Hanover street to the old mill-pond, now filled up and built upon. It was built of brick, and in latter days was painted of a dingy color. In front it showed only two stories and an attic; but in the rear, from the slope of the land and the peculiar shape of the roof, three stories, with a basement, were perceptible. It covered a piece of land fifty feet in front and thirty-four in depth, and had connected with it a large stable and other out-buildings. In recent times the lower story was used as the common rooms of a tavern, while in the second, on the street front, was a large hall used for public as well as Masonic purposes. The attic story afforded ample accomodations for sleeping apartments. The chimneys were substantially built in the side walls, and were of the style usually found in homes built at the close of the seventeenth century. The attic windows on the front part of the roof, and the walk railed in on the upper part, added much to the appearance and comfort of the building, which, in its best days, must have been commodious, and comfortably arranged.                                      
          The whole estate comprised a large lot of land, the main portion being situated back of
          Green Dragon Lane, with other estates in front, and extending northerly to the mill-pond.
          The extensive yard was much used by the boys who dwelt in the neighborhood as a play-
          ground; and here it was, undoubtedly, that the youthful Franklin first essayed his
          mechanical feat of building his stone wharf, alluded to in his autobiography.* The old
          tavern-stable in its latter days a well-known convenience; and served many years as a
          livery stable kept by men well acquainted with their business.
          In front of the building there projected from the wall an iron crane, upon which was couched 
          a Green Dragon.This peculiar mark of designation was very ancient, perhaps as old as the 
          building itself. It was formed of thick sheet copper, and had a curled tail; and from its
          mouth projected a fearful looking tongue, the wonder of all the boys who dwelt in the
          neighborhood. When the building was taken down, this curious relic of the ancient
          mechanics of the town disappeared, and has never since been found.....

   It also seems that the Green Dragon Tavern was used by a hospital by the British during the siege of Boston as evidenced by a document signed by Lt Gov Thomas Oliver on February 24th, 1776 ordering the British Army to seize the Green Dragon Tavern "for the Purpose of a Hospital in which the poor -------Infirm and Aged can be lodged upon the Charity in which you are appointed Stewards..."

   The Green Dragon Tavern was demolished in October 1828 when the street was widened.

* This is the passage in Franklin's autobiography to which the author alludes:
     There was a salt-marsh that bounded part of the mill-pond, on the edge of which, at high water, we used to stand to fish for minnows. By much trampling we had made it a mere quagmire. My proposal was to build a wharf there fit for us to stand upon, and I showed my comrades a large heap of stones, which were intended for a new house near the marsh, and which would very well suit our purpose. Accordingly, in the evening, when the workmen were gone, I assembled a number of my playfellows, and working with them diligently like so many emmets, sometimes two or three to a stone, we brought them all away and built our little wharf. The next morning the workmen were surprised at missing the stones, which were found in our wharf. Inquiry was made after the removers; we were discovered and complained of; several of us were correct by our fathers; and, though I pleaded the usefulness of the work, mine convinced me that nothing was useful which was not honest.