Sunday, March 10, 2019

Eight Cool Artifacts With Ties To 18th Century Newburyport

When the nerds aren’t salivating over all things Lexington and Concord, we’re usually exploring the history of 18th and early 19th Century Newburyport. The seaside community has a unique and special history that includes shipbuilding, rum, privateers, Benedict Arnold and the very eccentric Lord Timothy Dexter.

Recently, we decided that we wanted to share eight cool artifacts from the 18th century that have direct or indirect ties to Newburyport. While a couple of these items bore witness to the American Revolution, the remainder are local in nature and provide a snapshot of life in the seaport town.

Without further delay, here are eight very cool, but little known, artifacts from the Newburyport area!

Wedding Dress (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA). This wedding dress was worn by Newbury’s Mary Beck in her marriage to Nathaniel Carter on September 1, 1742. The dress is made of silk and has various floral patterns in green, blue, yellow, pink and violet colors. 


The Becks were a prominent merchant family from the Waterside District of Newbury and in the early 1760s advocated for the district to form a separate town. Ultimately the movement was successful and Newburyport was created. On January 28, 1764, the General Court of Massachusetts permitted the separation and passed "An act for erecting part of the town of Newbury into a new town by the name of Newburyport." According to the resolution “Whereas the town of Newbury is very large, and the inhabitants of that part of it who dwell by the water-side there, as it is commonly called, are mostly merchants, traders, and artificers, and the inhabitants of the other parts of the town are chiefly husbandmen; by means whereof many difficulties and disputes have arisen in managing their public affairs – Be it enacted ... That that part of the said town of Newbury ... be and hereby are constituted and made a separate and distinct town.”




Nichols and Coffin Fire Buckets (Custom House Maritime Museum, Newburyport, MA and Private Collection). A fire bucket was typically made of leather and used to fight fires. Pursuant to Massachusetts colonial and state laws well into the 19th Century, every home was required to have one fire bucket per occupant. If there was a fire, all town residents were required to turn out with their buckets and form human chains between a water source and the fire. Residents would then toss water from the buckets onto the fire until it was extinguished. Afterward, it was common for residents to simply toss the buckets into a large pile. Fire buckets, like modern lobster trap buoys, were often decorated with unique colors, patterns, and designs so that could owners identify and claim their buckets. 

These particular fire buckets belonged to a pair of prominent Newburyport families and date to the 1770s.




Portrait of a Man in a Blue Jacket (Private Collection). "Portrait of a Man in a Blue Jacket, a Member of the Perkins Family, Newburyport, Massachusetts" by Benjamin Blyth (1746–1787). Benjamin Blyth was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1746 and was one of the best known and most successful portraitists on the Massachusetts North Shore from the mid-1760s through the early 1780s. He found a ready clientele amongst wealthy shipowners and merchants and his depiction of Captain John Somes and his wife Anna, currently at the Cape Ann Museum, is typical of his work. 

This particular item depicts a member of the Perkins Family from Newburyport. It was auctioned by Skinner, Inc. on November 3, 2018 and sold for $1046.00. 



Painting of the Thorn (Private Collection). The HMS Thorn was built in Mistley, England and launched on February 17, 1779. She weighed over 305 tons, had eighteen guns, was coppered along the hull bottom and pierced for eighteen guns. Unfortunately, service in the Royal Navy was short lived as the ship and crew were captured by two American naval frigates on August 25,1779. She was towed back to Boston and sold as a prize to Isiah Doane. The vessel was quickly outfitted and re-launched as the Privateer Thorn on November 11, 1779. On April 5, 1780, Newburyport’s Nathaniel Tracey purchased the Thorn. While serving as a Newburyport privateer, the Thorn was very successful in disrupting British supply lines. Unfortunately, she was re-captured in August of 1782. The Thorn remained in the service of the Royal Navy until 1816. Afterward, the ship was sold to the Marine Society of London to serve as a training vessel.

In 1797, British artist George Owen created a series of watercolors, including one of the Thorn, for a naval publication. Although this image was drawn a little over a decade after the American Revolution, it is the only known drawing of a Newburyport privateer from the American Revolution. This image, as well as three companion drawings, were sold at auction 
on January 26, 2017, to a private collector.




John and Dorothy Hancock’s Chariot (The Dorothy Quincy Homestead, Quincy, MA). On January 21, 1778, John Tracy and others presented to John Hancock an elegant chariot that was taken from a British vessel captured by the Newburyport based privateer “Civil Usage” the previous year. According to a newspaper account found by Boston 1775’s John Bell, the March 11th Pennsylvania Ledger, noted that “John Hancock of Boston appears in public with all the pageantry and state of an Oriental prince. He rides in an elegant chariot, which was taken in a prize to the “Civil Usage,” a pirate vessel, and by the owners presented to him. He is attended by four servants, dressed in superb livery, mounted on fine horses richly caparisoned, and escorted by fifty horsemen with drawn sabres, the one half of whom precede, and the other follow, his carriage.”

In the 19th Century, the owners of the chariot removed the vehicle's wheels and installed runners, thereby making it a horse-drawn sleigh. It is currently in the possession of the Dorothy Quincy Homestead in Quincy, Massachusetts.



Gout Stool (Museum of Old Newbury, Newburyport, MA). Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis caused by the crystallization of uric acid in joints. The joint at the base of the big toe is most commonly affected, and the pain caused can be excruciating and recurrent. A gout stool elevates the afflicted foot to provide some relief. In the 18th century, diet and a sedentary lifestyle were seen as the chief causes of the disease. Though these factors are important, today we know that others, like family history and chronic illnesses, can also be to blame. Ben Franklin suffered from gout, and in 1780 penned a comic essay of an imagined conversation between himself and “Madam Gout.”

This particular stool is hinged, allowing it to be adjusted to the most effective position. It dates to the mid-18th Century and is in the possession of the Museum of Old Newbury.



Joseph Little Hatter’s Sign (Private Collection). Joseph Little was born in 1730, married Elizabeth Hazen and worked as a hatter in Newburyport until his death in 1792. He also served as a private in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Joseph Little’s older brother was Col. Moses Little (1724-1798) a captain of the local company of Minutemen that marched in response to the Lexington-Concord Alarm of April 19, 1775.

This trade sign caused quite a stir in 2017 when it was listed for sale on eBay for a mere $25000. The rare wooden trade sign displays a cocked hat, the date 1762, Little’s name and his occupation of “hatter”.

The sign was in the custody of the Rhode Island School of Design and the Daphne Farago Collection of Americana and Folk Art until it was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 1991. It was owned by a private collector in Philadelphia until 2017 when he sold it on eBay. Its current location is unknown.




Communion Jug (Old York Museum, York, ME). This communion jug is attributed to Daniel Bayley of Newburyport and is dated to c. 1763. According to the Old York Museum, “this jug—one of the earliest dated pieces of American redware—was used to store wine for communion services at the Fifth Parish Congregational Church of Newbury, headed by Reverend Oliver Noble. It is the only documented example of eighteenth-century ecclesiastical redware produced in New England.” On one side it is inscribed with the name “Daniel Bayley”. On the other it is marked “For the use of Mr. Noble’s CHURCH July 10, 1763.” 



Know of any other cool 18th and early 19th Century artifacts from Newburyport we should be highlighting? Be sure to let us know!

In the meantime, be sure to support our friends at Untapped History and vote for them as the 2019 Best Tourist Attraction on the Massachusetts Northshore!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"A Wooden Bottle Made With One Hoop" - Why Tin Canteens Were Not Carried By Massachusetts Militia Men at Lexington and Concord

Over the past several years the nerds have received multiple inquiries regarding whether or not tin canteens were used by Massachusetts militia and minute companies at the outbreak of the American Revolution. At first, we naturally assumed that these water containers would have been readily available as they were issued to Massachusetts Provincials fighting in the French and Indian War. However, the more we examined the matter, the more we were convinced that tin canteens were most likely not utilized by Massachusetts forces on April 19, 1775.

The first thing we noticed in our research was as early as 1746, tin canteens were referred to as "flasks" and "tin flasks" rather than “canteens”.  
Of course, the tin industry was almost non-existent in mid-18th Century New England and as a result, Massachusetts officials were heavily dependent upon England to deliver tin flasks to the colony.  



During the French and Indian War, English supply lines were sporadic and occasionally non-existent. Thus, there is a gradual evolution by the Massachusetts legislature to supply only wood canteens or “wood bottles”. At first, colonial officials recommended troops be supplied with tin flasks or “wooden bottles”.  However, by 1758-1759, the Massachusetts legislature had entirely ceased recommending tin flasks and ordered provincial soldiers be supplied with “a wooden bottle made with one hoop ... or a Canteen". 

Understandably, some researchers will argue the legislative term “canteen” is a continued reference to tin canteens. Respectfully we disagree. Given the legislature’s shift to wood water vessels in 1758, we believe the term “canteen” was a possible reference to wooden staved canteens.


That said, we do want to mention that a limited amount of tin flasks were issued to Massachusetts provincial troops during the French and Indian War. At least 1000 tin flasks (ie canteens) from England were disbursed to Colonel Thomas Doty's Regiment in May 1758. According to the "Account of Warlike Stores deliver'd Col., Thomas Doty's Regiment" the unit received "...1000 flasks, 183 Tin Kettles." It should be noted that this report of equipment issued surfaced in a Boston newspaper after Colonel Doty publicly claimed his regiment never received weapons, canteens, and accoutrements.

So assuming that at least 1000 tin canteens were in the hands of provincials in 1758, the next question is whether they remained in serviceable condition to be of any use in 1775?


During the French and Indian War, the British government was not sending its best arms and equipment to the American colonies. Many provincial soldiers and colonial officials repeatedly complained about the quality of supplies they received. In 1756, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie complained about a shipment of arms and equipment that was received and slated to be shared amongst the American colonies, including Massachusetts. According to Dinwiddie, the stands of arms were “in a very rusty condition, and it w’d appear they had been underwater for months.”

The previous year, on September 28, 1755, Governor Shirley and Major General William Pepperrell both received correspondence highlighting the inadequacies of weapons and equipment sent to Massachusetts provincials. “The locks being wore out and the hammers so soft, that notwithstanding repeated repairs they are most unfit for service, particularly Sir William Pepperrell’s Regiment being old Dutch arms. The holes of the pouches and boxes are so small that they cannot receive the Cartridge, nor is there substance of the wood, to widen them sufficiently. The leather scanty and bad likewise.”

Given the above, we suspect tin canteens issued from England were also of poor quality and would not have survived a hard military campaign season, let alone twelve to seventeen years of service on a New England farm before being used on April 19th.

However, to cover all bases, we returned to the Massachusetts legislative records and examined petitions for compensation for property, destroyed or lost at the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill. There are NO claim or request for compensation for lost tin flasks or tin canteens. We also examined available returns and orders for Massachusetts minute and militia companies immediately before or after Lexington and Concord. While we have uncovered references to "wooden bottles" we have not found a specific reference to “tin flasks”.

Finally, we examined merchant advertisements from Boston, Salem and Newburyport between 1770 and 1776. Unfortunately, we could not find a single advertisement for tin flasks or tin canteens.

As a result, we’re of the opinion tin canteens were not utilized by Massachusetts militia and minute companies at Lexington and Concord.

Of course, if you know of any available documentation that challenges our theory, please let us know! We’d love to get your thoughts on the issue!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Naked Weddings, Kidnappings and Running the Bottle - Weird Wedding Practices in 18th Century New England

Admittedly, the Nerds might have had one beer too many during a recent visit to Brewery Silvaticus as we started talking about unusual wedding customs in 18th and early 19th Century New England. Here’s what we found.

In Newburyport and other Massachusetts seaport communities, there was the tame tradition of the bridal party walking in procession through the town following the marriage ceremony. (The bride was commonly referred to as the "walking-out bride".) In other New England communities, an elaborately dressed bride and groom would occupy a prominent seat in the gallery of the meetinghouse on the Sabbath after their wedding. At some point, they would be called upon by the minister to stand up and model every side of their wedding finery. Often the bride would be allowed to select the text of the sermon preached. In 1764, Abigail Smith Adams, with the help of her father, selected the biblical text, "John came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and ye say he hath a devil."




Of course, not all wedding traditions were so mild. In Londonderry, New Hampshire, residents took the celebration of marriage one step further and introduced the British sport of "riding for the kail” or "riding for the ribbon". Period accounts suggest the wedding festivities began when the groom's friends would gather at his home, arm themselves with muskets and march towards the bride’s residence. Along the way, the party would discharge their guns at every house they passed. Eventually, they would meet up with a party of the bride’s male friends. Each group would then choose a champion to "run for the bottle" at the bride's home.

The event typically involved a horse race at breakneck speed through half-cleared roads to the home of the bride. The first to arrive would secure a beribboned bottle of whisky and race back to his companions with the prize.

Following the race, both groups, as well as the bridal party, would then proceed to the wedding venue. As they passed through certain neighborhoods, hidden groups of men would discharge blank cartridges at the party. In other neighborhoods, trees were felled or grapevines stretched across the roadway to delay the bridal festivities.

Upon reaching the wedding venue, the bridegroom and his party of friends entered a room and remained there until the best man escorted the bride to the gathering. The best man and a male bridesmaid would then station themselves behind the bridal couple. Afterwards, the ceremony would start.

And yes - at the end of the ceremony, the beribboned bottle of whiskey was usually consumed.

In other New England towns, a common custom was to kidnap the bride in the midst of the wedding ceremony. Typically, a group of young men who had not been invited to the ceremony would crash the party and drag away the bride. In turn, the groom and his companions would pursue the kidnappers and rescue the bride by providing dinner to the culprits. In the town of Charlestown, Rhode Island, one account describes how a group of young men went to the home of a bride in the middle of the night, pulled her out of bed, and carried her downstairs. When the raiders found the front door locked, they beat it down with an axe and disappeared into the night with her.

A similar custom existed in Connecticut but involved the groom trying to escape from the wedding. According to a 1704 account by Sarah Kemble Knights, “They generally marry very young; the males oftener, as I am told, under twenty than above, they generally make public Weddings, and have a way something Singular (as they say) in some of them, viz., just before joining hands the Bridegroom quits the place, who is soon followed by the Bridesmen, and, as it were, dragged back to duty - being the reverse to the former practice among us to steal Mistress Bride.”



Yet another unique New England wedding custom was the “smock marriage”. Colonial legal scholars often argued that if a widow only wore a shift at her wedding, then her new husband would escape liability for any debts owed by her or by her deceased husband.

In 1724, the Town of Westerly, Rhode Island recorded several smock weddings. In 1789, Moses Joy married the widow Hannah Ward in Newfane, Vermont. According to one witness, the bride stood inside a closet naked and extended her hand to her husband through a hole in the door. An early 19th-century account from Westminster, Vermont, noted that the “widow Lovejoy married Asa Averill” while nude and standing in a chimney recess behind a curtain. In York, Maine the widow Mary Bradley met the bridegroom on the highway, “halfway from her home in February while only clad only in a shift”. When the minister arrived, he quickly threw his coat over the shivering bride and performed the ceremony.

We’ll keep our eyes open for any other period accounts of unusual wedding practices. If we come across any additional information, we’ll be sure to post it here.

In the meantime, be sure to support our friends at Untapped History and vote for them as the 2019 Best Tourist Attraction on the Northshore!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

"MURDERED By The King’s Troops" - The Looting of Lexington Dead and Wounded After the Battle

Last week, we discussed the lack of haversacks amongst Massachusetts militia in 1775.  During our discussion, we referenced the Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Massachusetts Bay. These legislative records are available online and are a treasure trove of information. 

Not surprisingly, the records contain claims submitted in 1775 and 1776 for arms and equipment lost or damaged during the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

As we reviewed the legislature’s response to these petitions, we discovered several claims from Lexington militia men or their family asserting that in the aftermath of the battle, British troops looted the dead and wounded of their arms and equipment.

For example, John Tidd asserted “on the 19th of April he received a wound in the head (by a Cutlass) from the enemy, which brought him (senceless) to the ground at wch time they took from him his gun, cartridge box, powder horn &c.” Thomas Winship, who was wounded in the engagement, sought compensation for a “sum of one pound for shilling sinfull for a gun lost in the Battle of Lexington.” 



Lucy Parker submitted a claim on behalf of her deceased husband, Jonas Parker. In her appeal, she listed “a musquet, &c. Taken from her husband.” 
Jonathan Muzzy submitted a petition on behalf of his son who was killed in the engagement. In his application, he listed “a gun, powder horn, &c. Taken from his son.” Another father, Moses Harrington, noted that “his son Caleb Harrington was MURDERED by the King’s troops, had his gun taken by said troops, valued at £3.” 

Of course, it should be noted that the claims we found were not limited to the dead and wounded. Fifty-four-year-old militiaman Marrett Munroe asserted he had “a gun & hat taken from him.” Munroe was not injured during the battle so we suspect he may have lost or discarded these items as he fled off the town common. 

Lieutenant William Tidd, who also escaped the engagement unharmed, submitted a petition asserting his “losses by the Kings troops on the 19th of April 1775 … [included] ... a musket cut as under &c.” In a deposition years later, Tidd recalled being chased from the green by an officer on horseback. He claimed “I found I could not escape him, unless I left the road. Therefore I sprang over a pair of bars, made a stand and discharged my gun at him; upon which he immediately turned to the main body, which shortly after took up their march for Concord.” 

It is possible Tidd lost his possessions as he hurdled over the fence. As for the “musket cut as under”, this appears to be a reference to a damaged gun.  Whether this occurred at the battle or later in the day is unknown. 



Benjamin Wellington, who was captured by an advance British patrol prior to the Battle of Lexington, also submitted a claim for property taken from him. As the milita man reported, a “gun, bayonet, &c.” were stolen from him after he was detained.

So why were British soldiers seizing Lexington arms and equipment? Lieutenant Colonel Smith in his official report to General Gage noted one of the purposes of the light infantry advancing on Captain Parker’s Company was “to have secured their arms.” Similarly, Major Pitcairn ordered his troops to “not to fire, but surround and disarm them.” So it is likely the soldiers were simply following orders to disarm the militiamen they encountered.

A more plausible explanation is that the light infantry wanted to remove any potential threat by disarming those militiamen, dead or alive, who remained on the field and collecting any weapons and accoutrements that were abandoned during the fight.

Of course, on a slightly related note, the nerds are excited to have found these claims as they collectively represent yet another snapshot of Captain Parker’s Company at the Battle of Lexington. For several years we have asserted that the town's militia was not sparsely armed and equipped and took the field prepared for a military campaign. 



These legislative records are yet another step closer to proving this theory.


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

“Bread and Provisions on a March" - Why Massachusetts Militia Companies Did Not Carry Haversacks on the Eve of the American Revolution


Since 2000, the nerds have repeatedly witnessed individuals assert that haversacks were commonly worn by Massachusetts militia and minute companies when they fielded against British forces on April 19, 1775. The two most common arguments advanced have been militia and minutemen were in possession of haversacks because they were previously issued to Massachusetts troops during the French and Indian War and the item was acquired on the eve of the American Revolution from a third party source.

Unfortunately, neither argument is valid.

To begin with, what was a haversack? According to Bennet Cuthbertson, author of Cuthbertson’s System for the Complete Interior Management and Economy of a Battalion of Infantry, a haversack was made of “strong, coarÅ¿e, grey linen” and carried a soldier’s “bread and provisions on a March.”

During King George’s War and the French and Indian War, Massachusetts troops received a variety of military supplies from both His Majesty as well as the colony itself. While British supply records are silent on the issue, a search of the Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Massachusetts Bay, between 1741 and 1764 reveals a single instance in which the Massachusetts legislature authorized the colony to issue haversacks to provincial troops. Specifically, in 1761, the colony ordered “the commissary general … to provide for each of said soldiers one haversack and one wooden bottle containing about three pints, also a large hatchet to every ten men, and a tin kettle containing about two gallons to every six men in each of said regiments.” 



Cuthbertson noted that this item was “always issued as part of the Camp-equipage” and was considered regimental and not individual property. Thus, at the end of a campaign season, it would have been returned to the regimental or government stores. While in storage it was likely the bags would have rotted, been eaten by rats or other vermin, or been disposed of at the end of the campaign season

We asked noted historian and expert tailor Henry Cooke about his thoughts on the issue. As Mr. Cooke noted, haversacks were typically issued on an as-needed basis. He also pointed out that haversacks were only issued to troops who were on the move. If a soldier was located at a fixed position, for example as part of a garrison, there would be no need for a haversack to be issued.

Interestingly enough, in 1761 the theater of war had shifted from North America to the Caribbean. As a result, most, if not all Massachusetts provincial troops were stationed at fortifications in Nova Scotia and New York and did not participate in military campaigns. As a result, it is unlikely haversacks ever made their way into soldiers’ hands and instead remained in storage.



However, for argument’s sake, assuming haversacks were brought home by provincial soldiers at the conclusion of military service, why does the item not appear in Massachusetts estate inventories between 1761 and 1783?

Probate records comprise all materials related to a deceased’s estate. Documents often found in probate records include wills, administration accounts, and estate inventories. Of these documents, estate inventories are often the most significant as it lists a person’s possessions at death and their rated or fair market value. Interestingly, estate inventories from 18th Century Middlesex, Essex and Norfolk Counties reveals extensive information about male clothing and their worldly possessions, but yield no information about haversacks. For example, the inventory of the estate of Samuel Jones describes in detail a wide array of personal items, including one hat, three coats, five breeches, over eight shirts and seven pairs of stockings. However, a haversack was noticeably absent from the inventory list. Similarly, a review of William Wilson estate details a wide array of personal items and belongings, including “one staffe….one gun”, but fails to reference a haversack. The inventory list of Job Brooks went to great length to identify his worldly belongings and included references to insignificant items such as a hat case and garters. Unfortunately, a haversack was never identified amongst his personal clothing. Finally, the estate inventory of Captain John Parker of Lexington describes several military items, including a knapsack and powder horns but makes no reference to haversacks.

A second common argument advanced is that haversacks could have been acquired from a commercial vendor or a third party. Unfortunately, this argument is not supported by existing documentation. A review of Boston, Salem and Newburyport newspaper advertisements on the eve of the American Revolution yields no examples of haversacks being offered by commercial merchants. Furthermore,, Massachusetts runaway descriptions that appeared in colonial newspapers between 1760 and 1776 make no reference to males wearing or carrying haversacks.

Is it possible that local towns or the Committee of Supplies provided its militia and minute companies with haversacks? Between October 1774 and April 1775, Massachusetts was in full wartime preparation mode. Towns and villages, as well as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, scrambled to supply its minute and militia companies with muskets, cartridge boxes, bayonets, belting, blankets and canteens. Conspicuously absent from this list of supplies were haversacks.

The strongest evidence demonstrating that haversacks were not utilized by Massachusetts minute and militia companies in 1775 are the claims for lost property following the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Militiamen submitted a wide array of compensation claims for items lost during both of these engagements. The list of discarded property included knapsacks, guns, shirts, coats, canteens, neckerchiefs and even shoe buckles. To date, we have not encountered a single claim for a lost haversack.

Given the above, it is fair to conclude that haversacks never made their way into the ranks of Massachusetts militia and minute companies on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"I am as you are" - Newburyport Street Justice During the Stamp Act Crisis

Following the conclusion of the French and Indian War, England recognized the harsh realities of its post-war debt. By January 5, 1763, Britain’s funded debt was a staggering £122,603,336 with an annual interest of £4,409,797. A year later, the debt was almost £7,000,000 larger and by January of 1767, it had increased yet another £7,000,000.

After reviewing the state of Britain’s finances, Chancellor of Exchequer, George Grenville, concluded that the American colonies had benefited greatly from the protection of the Crown while contributing very little in taxes. At the same time, Grenville pointed out, an active smuggling trade coupled with massive colonial customs mismanagement, particularly in the New England region, had led to an annual £6,000 deficit in duties collected in American ports. Accordingly, he suggested that a direct tax be levied on the American colonies in order to generate additional revenue.

The first two revenue-raising measures that Great Britain imposed on her American colonies were the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765. The Sugar Act established tariffs on colonial trading and also attempted to curb the American practice of smuggling sugar and molasses from the West Indies by placing a three pence per gallon tax on foreign molasses. The act established a list of “enumerated goods” that could be shipped only to England, including lumber, and set forth procedures for the accounting, loading and unloading of cargo in port. Violations of the act were prosecuted in a vice-admiralty court, where defendants would be denied the right to a jury trial and where the presumption was of guilt rather than innocence.

The second revenue-raising measure was the Stamp Act, which levied an unprecedented direct tax on almost every piece of public paper in the colonies. Newspapers, almanacs, deeds, wills, custom documents, even playing cards were among the many papers subjected to the tax. The Stamp Act went so far as to impose a tax upon tax receipts.

The Sugar and Stamp acts brought on an explosion of riots, boycotts and protests throughout the colonies, particularly in Massachusetts. At first, the colony’s response was peaceful, with the inhabitants merely boycotting certain goods. However, resistance soon became violent. It began on August 14, 1765 with an effigy of Andrew Oliver, an appointed stamp distributor, being hung from a “liberty tree” in plain view by the “sons of liberty.” That evening, the Oliver’s luxurious home was burned to the ground. The following evening, incited by a rumor that he supported the Stamp Act, the home of Thomas Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor of the colony, was surrounded by an unruly mob. When Hutchinson refused to accede to the demand that he come out and explain his position, the mob broke several windows and then dispersed. Two weeks later, on August 28, 1765, an even larger mob assembled and descended upon the homes of several individuals suspected of favoring the Stamp Act, including again that of the Lieutenant Governor. As Hutchinson later described it, “the hellish crew fell upon my house with the rage of divels and in a moment with axes split down the door and entered. My son heard them cry ‘damn him he is upstairs we’ll have him.’ Some ran immediately as high as the top of the house, others filled the rooms below and cellars and others remained without the house to be employed there. I was obliged to retire thro yards and gardens to a house more remote where I remained until 4 o’clock by which time one of the best finished houses in the Province had nothing remaining but the bare walls and floors.”




Of course, mob violence was not limited to just Boston. Weeks after the riots, the violence spread northward to Newburyport and as Joshua Coffin described in his work A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury, from 1635 to 1845, the seaport community instituted its own brand of street justice.

In late September, Newburyport officials declared “the late act of parliament is very grievous, and that this town as much as in them lies endeavour the repeal of the same in all lawful ways, and that it is the desire of the town that no man in it will accept of the office of distributing the stampt papers, as he regards the displeasure of the town and that they will deem the person accepting of such office an enemy to his country.” However, when an unknown Newburyport resident disregarded the town’s warning and accepted an appointment as a “stamp distributor”, an angry mob quickly mobilized.

According to Coffin, the crowd immediately started a campaign of intimidation against the stamp distributor. “In Newburyport, the effigy a Mr. I— B—, who had accepted the office of stamp distributor, was suspended, September twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth, from a large elm tree which stood in Mr. Jonathan Greenleaf's yard, at the foot of King street, [now Federal street], a collection of tar barrels set on fire, the rope cut, and the image dropped into the flames. At ten o'clock, P. M., all the bells in town were rung. ‘I am sorry to see that substitute,’ said a distinguished citizen of Newburyport, ‘I wish it had been the original.’”


Not satisfied that their message had been properly conveyed, members of the mob then armed themselves with clubs and patrolled the town questioning strangers and residents alike about their position on the crisis. “Companies of men, armed with clubs, were accustomed to parade the streets of Newbury and Newburyport, at night, and, to every man they met, put the laconic question, “stamp or no stamp”. The consequences of an affirmative reply, were anything but pleasant.”

As Coffin noted, when one stranger was unable to answer the mob’s questions, they beat him severely. “In one instance, a stranger, having arrived in town, was seized by the mob, at the foot of Green street, and, not knowing what answer to make to the question, stood mute. As the mob allow no neutrals, and as silence with them is a crime, he was severely beaten.” A second man fared better when he was able to provide a clever answer. “The same question was put to another stranger, who replied, with a sagacity worthy of a vicar of Bray, or a Talleyrand, ‘I am as you are.’ He was immediately cheered and applauded, as a true son of liberty, and permitted to depart in peace, wondering, no doubt, at his own sudden popularity.”

The actions of the mob had the desired effect. By November 1, 1765, “not a sheet of stamped paper was to be had throughout New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the two Carolinas.” The following March the act was repealed.

When word reached Newburyport, the town quickly celebrated. “The joy of the people, on hearing the intelligence, was as great, as their indignation had been at its passage . . . ‘Our people … were almost mad with drink and joy. A deluge of drunkenness.”

Saturday, January 12, 2019

"I Was Forced to Crawl Upon My Hands and Knees" - The Continued Adventures of the Castaway Phillip Ashton

When we last left Marblehead castaway Phillip Ashton, the young man had successfully escaped from his pirate captors, befriended a fellow castaway who later disappeared during a violent storm and struggled to overcome the challenges of Roatan Island.

However, did Ashton eventually escape from the island?

Following the disappearance of his fellow castaway, Ashton found a “canoo” and “put off for the Island of Bonacco, an Island of about 4 or 5 Leagues long, and some 5 or 6 Leagues to the Eastward of Roatan.” While paddling about the island, he observed a sloop off in the distance. For some inexplicable reason, Ashton decided to approach the ship by land rather than water. He pulled his canoe ashore and spent the next two days making the difficult overland journey. According to the castaway, “I could go but very slowly, and sometimes the Woods and Bushes were so thick that I was forced to Crawl upon my Hands and Knees for half a Mile together.” When he arrived at his destination, he discovered the sloop and its crew were gone. Exhausted from his journey, Ashton collapsed to the ground and fell asleep.

Unfortunately, his slumber was disrupted when he was awoken by musket fire. Startled, he saw Spanish pirates rowing towards the shoreline. According to Ashton “I started up in a fright, and saw Nine … large Canooes, full of Men firing upon me. I soon turned about and ran as fost as my sore Feet would let me into the Bushes; and the Men which were Spaniards, cryed after me, ‘O Englishman, we'll give you good Quarter’ … So I made into the Woods, and they continued Firing after me, to the Number of 150 small Shot at least, many of which out off several small twigs of the Bushes along side of me as I went off. When I had got out of the reach of their Shot, into a very great Thicket, I lay close for several Hours; and perceiving they were gone by the noise of their Oars in Rowing off, I came out of my Thicket, and Travelled a Mile or two along the Water side.”

Ashton eventually paddled back to Roatan Island, where he remained for eight more months.

In June 1724, he spied a pair of long boats carefully approaching the shoreline. He “came down upon the Beech shewing my self openly to them; for their caution made me think they were no Pirates … But before I called, they, who were as full of fears as I could be, lay upon their Ors and hallooed to me, enquiring who I was, and whence I came; I told them I was an English Man, and had Runaway from the Pirates. Upon this they drew something nearer and enquired who was there besides myself; I assured them I was alone. Then I took my turn, and asked them who they were, and whence they came.”

When the sailors revealed they were English, the castaway became elated. After recounting his harrowing adventures with pirates and Spaniards, the crew brought him aboard their ship. Ashton later suggested that his rescuers may have been pirates. “They were Bad Company, and there was but little difference between them and the Pirates ... only I thought they were not now engaged in any such bad design as rendred it unlawful to Joyn with them, nor dangerous to be found in their Company … they treated me with a great deal of Civility.” 



The castaway and his new friends remained on the island for an additional six to seven months hunting, fishing and making repairs to their boats. One day, as some of the crew was on shore tarring the hulls of their long boats, Ashton heard “the report of a Gun, which we thought was much louder than a Musket … This put us into a great Consternation, and we knew not what to make of it. Within a Minute or two we heard a Volley of 18 or 20 small Arms discharged upon the shoar, and heard some Guns also fired off from the shoar. Upon which we were satisfied that some Enemy, Pirates or Spaniards were attacking our People … Then they called to us, and told us they were Pirates, and not Spaniards, and we need not fear, they would give us good Quarter; supposing this would easily move us to surrender ourselves to them.”

Ashton and a few other men were able to escape and remained hidden from the pirates. Unfortunately, the other crewmen did not fare so well. They were captured, beaten and put to sea onboard a “flat” without any supplies. To his horror, the castaway later learned the raiding party was affiliated with his former captor, the pirate Edward Low.

After the pirates left the island, the flat returned. After some discussion, the crew decided to abandon Roatan Island for the mainland. Surprisingly, Ashton and another Englishman named Symonds declined the offer to join them and remained behind. As Ashton later recalled, Symonds was desperate to get to Jamaica while he longed for New England.

Three months later, two vessels appeared off the coast of Roatan Island. “The Larger Vessels came to Anchor at a great Distance off; but a Brigantine came over the Shoals . . . I plainly saw they were Englishmen, and by their Garb & Air, and number, being but three Men in the Boat, concluded they were Friends, and shewed my self openly upon the Beech before them: as soon as they saw me they stop'd rowing, and called out to me to know who I was. I told them, and enquired who they were. They let me know they were honest Men, about their Lawful Business, I then called to them to come ashoar, for there was no Body here that would hurt them. They came ashoar, and a happy meeting it was … Mr.Symonds … came up to us and became a sharer in my joy.”

To his joy, Ashton discovered the smaller of the two vessels was the Diamond of “Salem,(within two or three Miles of my Fathers House) Capt. Dove Commander, a Gentleman whom I knew. So now I had the prospect of a Direct Passage Home. I sent off to Capt.Dove, to know if he would give me a Passage home with him, and he was very ready to comply with my desire; and upon my going on Board him, besides the great Civilities he treated me with, he took me into pay; for he had lost a hand and needed me to supply his place.”

The castaway was finally going home. “We came to Sail … and thro' the good hand of GOD upon us came safe thro' the Gulf of Florida, to Salem-Harbour, where we Arrived upon Saturday-Evening, the first of May: I went the same Evening to my Father's House, where I was received, as one coming to them from the Dead, with all Imaginable Surprise of Joy.”

Later that year, Ashton's Memorial was published with the help of his minister. Some historians have suggested that the author Daniel Defoe borrowed elements of the story for his 1726 novel The Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts.

Phillip Ashton remained in Marblehead for the remainder of his life. He married twice before passing away in 1746 at the age of forty-four.