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