Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Was Lexington's John Parker a Veteran of the French and Indian War?

Captain John Parker was the commanding officer of the American militia at the Battle of Lexington.  Family tradition credits John Parker with considerable military experience prior to the Revolution. It is claimed that he was present at the capture of Louisbourg, served during the French and Indian War, fought in Quebec in 1759, and was a member of  Roger’s Rangers.  

So, did John Parker actually have military combat experience before April 19, 1775?  The answer is a resounding NO.

The first time someone claimed John Parker was a veteran of the French wars was in 1893, one hundred and eighteen years after the Battle of Lexington.  That year two separate publications were released that asserted Parker had combat experience.  The first was written by his grandson, the Reverend Theodore Parker.  In his work Genealogy and Biographical Notes of John Parker of Lexington and His Descendants: Showing His Earlier Ancestry in America from Dea. Thomas Parker of Reading, Mass., from 1635 to 1893, the Reverend Parker states “John Parker was at the capture of Louisburg in 1758 . . .was at the taking of Quebec in 1759 . . . [and was] made a sergeant in this war.”  A second publication by Captain Parker’s great granddaughter Elizabeth S. Parker alleged the militia captain “had served in the French and Indian War.”  

Neither account provided actual documentation to support the argument John Parker served in the French Wars.  Nevertheless, over the next several decades, historians were quick to promote these questionable claims.  Worse, many expanded Parker’s service record to include being present at the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg and patrolling the New York frontier with Roger’s Rangers.

Unfortunately, there are no official records, journals or surviving artifacts to support the proposition John Parker enlisted in the war effort against the French, let alone saw combat.  

One claim occasionally advanced by 20th century historians is that Parker’s father Josiah served at the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg as an officer.  In turn, he must have brought his then fifteen year old son John along as a servant.  This assertion is nothing more than bunk.  There are no records that Josiah Parker enlisted in the Louisbourg expedition.  In fact, town records from the period clearly establish that Josiah Parker was in Lexington and actively serving as a selectman in 1745.

Likewise, a review of marriage, baptismal, personal, town and military records all demonstrate that John Parker was also present in Lexington during the French and Indian Warl.  On May 25, 1755 Parker married Lydia Moore in Lexington.  In early Spring of 1756, Lydia became pregnant.  She gave birth to a baby girl on November 8th.  According to Parker’s own account book, he was satisfying woodworking orders in Lexington during the month of August, 1757.  In the summer of 1758, Lydia became pregnant for the second time and gave birth to a baby girl on January 11, 1759.  

Each of these events occurred after the commencement of a seasonal military campaign.   If Parker enlisted with a Massachusetts provincial regiment, he would have embarked in April or May with his regiment to either New York or Nova Scotia.  He would not have returned to Lexington until late November.  Thus, John Parker could not have been in two places at once.

Of course, one of the more common claims of Parker’s alleged military service is he was present at the fall of Quebec in 1759.  This is simply not true.  While Provincial and Regular troops were laying siege to Quebec, Parker was in Lexington. In June, 1759, Benjamin Reed noted  that he assembled his militia company and issued bayonets to some of his men.  John Parker was one of them.  “The following names are a full and Just account of those to whom I the Subscriber delivered Bayonets in the company under my command in Lexington, Benjamin Reed, Captain, June 5, 1759… [49 militiamen listed including John Parker].”  

However, the fact that John Parker lacked military experience should not take away from his accomplishments immediately following his defeat at the Battle of Lexington.  Parker successfully rallied his company and mobilized them for war.  Less than twelve hours later, he successfully staged a devastating ambush against a retreating British column.  This action alone should put to rest any doubt regarding the military skills of John Parker.   

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Antient Loyalists" - A Warning to the United States from the People of Upper Canada

In the years following the American Revolution, the threat of a second armed conflict between the United States and England loomed. When war finally erupted in 1812, many Loyalists were fearful that the United States would invade Upper Canada and drive them from their homes.

In response to this threat, the residents drafted "From the Inhabitants of Upper Canada to the People of the American States." Although most of the document details the brutality and violence the average Loyalist refugee faced during the American Revolution, it also disavows American principles of liberty and government.

The statement appeared in the Kingston Gazette on October 31, 1812.


 











Monday, October 24, 2016

"The Town will Fetch Two Small Pieces of Cannon" - Artillery in Lexington before April 19, 1775



We at Historical Nerdery were recently granted access to the 18th Century town meeting notes of Lexington, Massachusetts. Admittedly, we were reviewing the documents to reconstruct missing pieces of information about Captain John Parker’s Company. During our search, however, we found a couple of entries that peaked our interest….especially in light of the recent publication of J.L. Bell’s outstanding work “The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War”.

Lexington apparently owned two cannons on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

In his book, Mr. Bell discusses how Massachusetts residents were scrambling in late 1774 to obtain artillery pieces. Some of the guns, mostly iron cannons, were taken from coastal defenses around Boston and sent to Watertown. While there, two of the guns caught the attention of Lexington. Its residents quickly pressed the selectmen to acquire a pair of cannons for the town.

On November 3, 1774, the town selectmen relented and announced the issue would be addressed at the next town meeting. Specifically, “Upon a request of a numbre of Inhabitants to see if the Town will fetch two small pieces of cannon from Watertown, offered by said Town for the use of the Company in this Towne.”

A week later, the town approved the purchase of two guns. “Voted. . . to bring the two pieces of Cannon (mentioned in the warrant) from Watertown & mount them, at the at the Town charge.”

After approving the purchase of two cannons, in true Yankee fashion, the residents voted to create a committee to explore the cheapest methods of mounting of the guns on carriages and building of ammunition boxes. “That a Comtee of three persons go to Watertown & see what the cost of mounting sd pieces will be & whether the carriages cannot be made by work men in this town” It should be noted that the committee included Jonas Parker, an experienced woodworker and carpenter. Parker was later killed at the Battle of Lexington.







At some point after November 28, 1774, it received the two guns from Watertown. “Voted . . . that the Selectmen receive the two pieces of cannon with their beds [from] the Towne of Watertowne and give receipts for the same on behalf of the Towne.” By late February, 1775, Thomas Robbins of Lexington was already making ammunition cartridges for the guns. On February 27th, the town “Granted an ordere to pay Mr. Tho Robbins 1/9 in full for his trimming the (balls) & providing baggs to put them in.”

Unfortunately, what became of the guns after February 1775 is unknown. Lexington’s town meeting minutes from the Spring of 1775 were stolen years ago. Records from December 1775 through the remainder of the war do not mention the cannons. Shortly after the War for Independence, Lexington formed an artillery company. Whether the guns used were the same ones acquired from Watertown in 1774 remains a mystery.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The 1776 Probate Inventory Of Nathaniel Mulliken of Lexington

Lexington resident Nathaniel Mulliken Jr. was a member of Captain John Parker's Company and a participant of the Battle of Lexington.  Early 19th Century accounts of the Battle of Lexington suggest Mulliken, upon seeing the size of the approaching British column, uttered "There are so few of us! It is folly to stand here!"   A clock maker by trade, Mulliken's shop and the house were burned to the ground on April 17, 1775 by British troops while retreating back to Boston.

On April 25, 1775, Nathaniel along with thirty three other fellow militiamen submitted sworn depositions detailing the American version of the battle. After the battle, Nathaniel joined the Massachusetts army surrounding Boston.  In early 1776 he passed away of unknown causes.

The following is an inventory of Mulliken's estate.  The document is important because it provides a snapshot of the clothing and other items common to Lexington and Massachusetts residents in the early years of the American Revolution.



Historical Nerdery is working on transcribing the document.  Once we do, we'll post it on our blog.

Mulliken's probate inventory can be found at the Massachusetts Archives in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Skunk Waltzes, Nude Art and Poodle Dogs - Examples of Mudslinging in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Presidential Elections

Today we will be reviewing some examples of mudslinging in presidential election campaigns between the Reconstruction Era and the eve of the Great Depression.

The election of 1884 shook up politics in the United States as it brought a Democrat, Grover Cleveland, to the White House for the first time since the administration of James Buchanan a quarter-century earlier.  Unlike his presidential predecessors, Cleveland was a confirmed bachelor.  However, during the campaign it was discovered he was having an affair with a widow in Buffalo and that he had fathered a son with the woman.  Cleveland admitted the child was his.  The Republicans seized on the paternity scandal, mocking Cleveland by chanting the rhyme, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”  In the following weeks, Republican newspapers slammed Cleveland for the transgression.  It appeared as if the Democrat was going to lose the election.



Enter Republican candidate James Blaine.  Blaine was already the target of some nasty accusations from his Democrat opponent.  He was engaged in shady dealings with a railroad company. The accusations were confirmed when a letter was found in which Blaine pretty much admitted that he was involved in a corrupt business - he signed the letter, “My regards to Mrs. Fisher. Burn this letter!” Cleveland's Democrats made up their own chant based on his writings - “Burn this letter! Burn this letter!”  

However, it was one of Blaine’s supporters who helped the candidate snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  With the election only one week away, Blaine was campaigning in New York City.  He was hoping to win over the vital Irish Catholic vote to secure New York State.  Everything was going his way until the Rev. Samuel Burchard, speaking at a pro-Blaine event, denounced the Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”  In short, the minister had told Blaine supporters the Democratic party was controlled by alcoholics (“rum”), Catholics (“Romanism”), and ex-Confederates (“rebellion”). When Democratic newspapers across the country ran the phrase as a headline the next day, Blaine’s campaign suffered a mortal blow from which it could not recover.

Anti-Catholic sentiment reared its ugly head again in the 1928 election contest between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith.  Smith, the Democratic candidate, was a Roman Catholic.  Hoover raised the issue on multiple occasions during the campaign.  Hoover’s supporters were even worse.  They argued that if Smith was elected, the United States would be subjected to “Romanism and Ruin.”  Protestant ministers told their congregations that if Smith became president, all non-Catholic marriages would be annulled and all children of these marriages declared illegitimate. Preachers even warned their congregations that if they voted for Al Smith, they would go straight to hell.  

In Daytona Beach, Florida, the school board instructed that a note be placed in every child's lunch pail that read: “We must prevent the election of Alfred E. Smith to the presidency. If he is chosen president, you will not be allowed to read or have a bible.”  On the eve of the election, the Holland Tunnel in New York was just about completed. Republicans leveled allegations that Smith had commissioned a secret tunnel 3,500 miles long, from the Holland Tunnel to the Vatican in Rome, and that the Pope would have say in all presidential matters should Smith be elected.  

Even Hoover’s wife, Lou, got in on the action.  She and other Republicans spread vicious rumors of Smith's alleged alcoholism because he favored the repeal of Prohibition. Republicans sneeringly referred to him as “Alcoholic Smith,” told of outrageous drunken public behavior, and claimed that he had secretly promised to appoint a bootlegger as secretary of the treasury.  

Others went as far as to lash out at Smith’s wife Kate and her Irish heritage.  They claimed if she became the First Lady the White House would smell of “corned beef, cabbage, and home brew.”    

As a final kick in the pants, one Protestant minister rallied against Smith for dancing and accused him of doing the “bunny hug, turkey trot, hesitation, tango, Texas Tommy, the hug-me-tight, foxtrot, shimmy-dance...and skunk-waltz.” Another claimed that Smith indulged in “card-playing, cocktail drinking, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, stuffy rooms, evolution...nude art, prize-fighting, actors, greyhound racing, and modernism.”

Hoover won the election in a landslide while Smith was forced to slink away as the press mercilessly continued to mock him.  

Poor Smith.  Hopefully after the election he had some free time to play with his poodle dogs and do the skunk waltz with Kate.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pimps, Wenches and Mommy's Boys - Mudslinging in Early American Presidential Elections

We here at Historical Nerdery prefer to be apolitical in regards to the 2016 presidential election.  That said, with the various claims that the current presidential race is the “nastiest”, “dirtiest” and “meanest” in American history, we thought it would be nice to look back at a few campaigns in American history that make the current contest look like a kindergarten dispute.


In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams engaged in a very nasty smear campaign against each other to win over American voters.  Jefferson hired a writer to draft insults rather than dirty his own hands (at least at first). One of his more interesting smears asserted Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In response, Adams' Federalist Party raised it up a notch and asked, “Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames... female chastity violated... children writhing on the pike? GREAT GOD OF COMPASSION AND JUSTICE, SHIELD MY COUNTRY FROM DESTRUCTION.”  Jefferson prevailed over Adams and became the third president of the United States.


John Quincy Adams must have been inspired by his father, for during the 1828 election he hurled a string of insults and accusations at his political opponent Andrew Jackson that would make many modern politicians run to their safe spaces.  He and his handlers argued Jackson had the personality of a dictator, was too uneducated to be president and his wife, Rachel was a “dirty black wench”, a "convicted adulteress" and “open and notorious [to] lewdness”.  Adams’s supporters even went as far to say Jackson’s mother was “a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers . . . [she] married a MULATTO MAN, with whom she had several children of which number General JACKSON IS ONE!!!”  


In response, Jackson and his backers literally accused Adams of being a “pimp” and procuring young girls for Czar Alexander I while he was minister to Russia.  Jackson also argued his opponent was a government hack who fed “at the public trough”.  Worse, Adams was a “lordly, purse-proud” aristocrat who decorated the White House with fancy furniture and a “gambling den.” The biggest critique was that the president had made a “corrupt bargain” with House Speaker Henry Clay to garner the necessary votes to become president in 1824.  


Naturally, Jackson bristled at the attacks against his wife.  He easily won the election, but his wife died before he took office.  At her funeral, Jackson allegedly said “In the presence of this dear saint . . . I can and do forgive all my enemies. But those vile wretches who have slandered her must look to God for mercy.”


On the eve of the American Civil War, Americans were subjected to the mud slinging of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.  Douglas undertook an unpopular tactic for the era by visiting various towns around the country to speak to voters.  However, to deflect criticism, he claimed these visits were made because they were along the train route he was taking to visit his mother.  In response, Lincoln announced via a “lost child” pamphlet that Douglas was a missing mommy’s boy.  “Left Washington, D.C. some time in July, to go home to his mother... who is very anxious about him. Seen in Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, Conn., and at a clambake in Rhode Island. Answers to the name Little Giant. Talks a great deal, very loud, always about himself.” Of course, “Little Giant” was a dig at Douglas' height (he was a mere 5'4").   Lincoln even attacked his opponent’s weight. A description in the pamphlet alleged Douglas was “about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way.”


Of course, Douglas fired back at Lincoln, saying he was a "horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the nightman." Have to be careful of those nutmeg dealers! Another swipe claimed “Lincoln is the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs and arms and hatchet face ever strung on a single frame.”  The Democrat even went as far to stoke racial fears if his opponent were elected.  “Lincoln wants whites to be able to marry blacks, blacks to serve on juries, blacks to have equal rights, blacks to have the vote, blacks to have white servants and all these things that are supposed to send shivers of horror into the white community.”


Lincoln would rout his opponent, winning the presidency with 1.87 million votes, nearly 500,000 better than the runner-up Douglas. But less than two months after the election, South Carolina voted to secede from the union. Six more states would follow before Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president of a rapidly dissolving United States on March 4, 1861.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss some of the nastiness of the post Civil War and early 20th Century elections.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"As If It Came From the Very Suburbs of Hell" - Military Abuse of Civilians in Boston and A Loyalist Reaction to Bunker Hill

For our final post on the Siege of Boston's impact on the civilian population, we will be focusing on two separate accounts.  The first details the abuse residents received at the hands of British soldiers and their female counterparts.  The second addresses the psychological effects of the Battle of Bunker Hill on the Loyalist population of Boston.

The combination of British troops, Loyalist refugees and Boston residents all occupying a small amount of space only exacerbated a very dangerous situation.  Many of the soldiers and camp followers abused the inhabitants, stole from them and plundered their property.  John Andrews complained that the “Soldiery think they have a license to plunder evry ones house & Store who leaves the town, of which they have given convincing proofs already.”  Following his capture at the Battle of Bunker Hill, militiaman Peter Edes was brought into Boston.  According to Edes, Boston was a complicated “scene of oaths, curses, debauchery, and the most horrid plasphemy committed by the provost martial, his deputy and Soldiers who were our guard, Soldier prisoners, and Sundry Soldier women confin'd for theft, etc. We had Some of the vilest women for our neighbours ever known, Some placed over our heads, and Some in rooms each Side of us . . . Such Scenes as was Shocking to nature, and they used language horrible to hear, as if it came from the very Suburbs of Hell.”       

Of course, Loyalists were not immune from the negative impact of the siege either. Dorothea Gamsby was ten years old when the war broke out.  In a letter written years later to her granddaughter, Gamsby accurately described how tenuous situation inside Boston had become by the eve of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Loyalists trapped inside Boston were also under constant stress.  Most believed that the town would be invaded and its inhabitants slaughtered at any moment.  As Gamsby recalled “then came a night when there was bastle, anxiety, and watching. Aunt and her maid, walked from room to room sometimes weeping. I crept after them trying to understand the cause of their uneasiness, full of curiosity, and unable to sleep when everybody seemed wide awake, and the streets full of people. It was scarcely daylight when the booming of the cannon on board the ships in the harbour shook every house in the city . . . My aunt fainted. Poor Abby looked on like one distracted. I screamed with all my might.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Its Hard to Stay Coop'd Up Here" - Attempts to Flee Boston

Today we’ll continue our discussion on the conditions inside Boston in the days after Lexington and Concord and the attempts by residents to flee from the town.  

Understandably, with Boston surrounded by the American army, the situation grew even worse as residents attempted to flee but were turned away by the British army.  General Gage had issued orders that barred the residents from withdrawing from the town.  The general was fearful that if the residents were permitted to leave, they would provide assistance the American army during the evacuation.  

In response, the residents of Boston gathered at a town meeting on April 22, 1775 to address their declining situation.  One of the resolutions of the meeting highlighted the level of desperation the residents felt with Boston being shut off from the outside world.  “Inhabitants cannot be Supplied with provisions, sewell & other Necessarys of Life by which means the Sick & all Invalids must Suffer greatly, & Imediatly & the Inhabitants in general be distressed espesically Such which is by much the greatest party as have not had the means of laying in a Stock of provisions, but depend for daily Supplies from the Country for their daily Support & may be in danger of perishing unless the Communication be opened.”

Representatives from the town approached Gage to negotiate permission for Americans to evacuate the town. Gage ultimately agreed that residents could withdraw to the countryside on the condition they surrender their weapons.  Reluctantly the representatives agreed.  Boston minister Andrew Eliot recalled the state of Boston on the eve of the first approved evacuation.  “I not impelled by the unhappy Situation of this Town . . . all communication with the Country is cut off, & we wholly deprived of the necessaries of Life, & this principal mart of America is become a poor garrison Town . . . almost all are leaving their pleasant habitations & going they know not whither-- The most are obliged to leave their furniture & effects of every kind, & indeed their all to the uncertain chance of war or rather to certain ruin & destruction--- The last Week I thot myself in comfortable circumstances had a convenient dwelling well furnished, a fine Library made so very much by the munificence of our late most worthy Friend, attended by a large, affectionate, & generous Congregation, happy in a Consort one of the best of Women, & surrounded by a large Number of desirable Children; now I am by a cruel Necessity turned out of my House must leave my Books & all I possess, perhaps to be destroyed by a licentious Soldiery; my beloved Congregation dispersed, my dear Wife retreating to a distant part of the Country, my Children wandering not knowing whither to go, perhaps left to perish for Want, myself soon to leave this devoted Capital, happy if I can find some obscure Corner wch will afford me a bare Subsistence. I wish to God the authors of our Misery could be Witnesses of it. They must have Hearts harder than an adamant if they did not relent & pity us”

Those who chose to leave Boston made their way to Boston Neck.  At least four checkpoints were set up by the army.  Residents were searched for weapons and carriages and chaises were prohibited from leaving Boston.  Some pleaded with family and friends not to leave the “safety” of Boston.  However, most pleas were rebuffed as many believed the town would become a killing field once British reinforcements arrived.  As the throngs of residents waited to leave, rumors of atrocities committed by soldiers spread.  “I  saw, & spoke with several fri[ends] near as unhappy as myself . . . while we were waiting . . . there was a constant coming & going; each hinder'd ye other; some new piece of soldiary barbarity, that had been perpetrated the day before, was in quick succession brought in.”  Once again panic set in and those residents on the neck pressed harder to get “out of ye city of destruction.”  At the height of confusion, many were actually turned away and directed back into the town.

On April 27, 1775, General Gage once again indicated residents who wished to leave Boston could do so.  However, in the days after the order, British authorities made difficult for Bostonians who remained behind to actually leave.  Passes were now required to cross over Boston Neck and those were handed out sparingly.  “Near half the inhabitants have left the town already, & another quarter, at least, have been waiting for a week past with earnest expectation of geting Passes, which have been dealt out very Sparingly of late, not above two or three procur'd of a day, & those with the greatest difficulty. its a fortnight yesterday Since the communication between the town & country was Stop'd, of concequence our eyes have not been bless'd with either vegetables or fresh provisions, how long we Shall continue in this wretched State.”

On May 5th, Gage, for a third time, permitted civilians to evacuate Boston. A large number of passes were issued and residents again attempted to flee en masse.  However, the following day General Gage reversed himself, ordered that no more passes were to be issued and those residents who wished to leave were now prohibited from doing so. Once again, civilians were trapped and essentially hostages to British authorities.

By the end of May, Boston more closely resembled a post apocalyptic site than a bustling seaport town.  While many had abandoned the town, others barricaded themselves inside their homes and had private guards watching over their property.  The Reverend Eliot accurately described the state of Boston on the eve of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  “I have remained in this Town much ag: my inclination . . . Most of the Ministers being gone I have been prevailed with to officiate to those who are still left to tarry . . . Much the greater parts of the inhabitants gone out of the town . . . Grass growing in the public walks & streets of this once populous & flourishing place - Shops & warehouses shut up - business at an end every one in anxiety & distress.”  Fresh provisions were increasingly scarce and trapped occupants were often forced to survive on food of questionable quality.  “Its hard to Stay coop'd up here & feed upon Salt provissions . . . We have now & then a carcase offerd for Sale in the market, which formerly we would no thave pickd up in the Street, but bad as it is, it readily Sells.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"My Sleep Was Much Broken, As It Had Been for Many Nights Before" - Civilian Accounts of the First Days of the Siege of Boston



With multiple news accounts describing the current status of Siege of Aleppo and the sufferings of the civilians trapped inside, I thought it was important to discuss the sufferings of Americans during a similar siege in 1775. . . the Siege of Boston.
Over the years, historians have devoted countless works to the military and political aspects of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the aftermath known as the Siege of Boston. Unfortunately, little attention has been given to the impact the military engagement had on the residents of Boston. As British military and political authorities attempted to recover from the disaster of April 19, 1775, the residents of Boston found themselves trapped inside a town that was on the verge of social and economic collapse. Of course, with a lack of support from the surrounding countryside many residents were forced to fend for themselves.

Following the departure of Lieutenant Colonel Smith’s expedition on April 19, 1775, a sense of despair and anxiety set into Boston. Many of residents believed in the days leading up to April 19th that British authorities would be making an attempt to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. They did not know that authorities were instead plotting to seize and destroy a supply depot located in Concord, Massachusetts. As Sarah Winslow Deming recalled “the main was to take possession of the bodies of Mesrs Adams & Handock, whom they & we knew where were lodg'd. We had no doubt of the truth of all this. And, that express's were sent forth both over the neck & Charlestown Ferry to give our Friends timely notice that they might escape.”

On the evening of April 18, 1775, many of the residents knew an operation was imminent and thus, got little sleep. “I did not git to bed this night till after 12 o'clock, nor to sleep till long after that, & then my sleep was much broken, as it had been for many nights before.” Shortly after dawn, word reached Boston residents of the Battle of Lexington. Predictably, fear set into the populace. “ Early on Wednesday the fatal 19th April, before I had quited my chamber, one after another came runing up to tell me that the kings troops had fired upon & killed 8 of our neighbors at Lexington in their way to Concord. All the intelligence of this day was dreadfull. Almost every countenance expressing anxiety & distress.”

Almost instantly, the residents of Boston broke into a state of panic and societal structure collapsed. Many were unsure if the town would be attacked by the British army or the American Provincials. Others wandered the town aimlessly, unsure of what the future held in store for them. In a letter to his son, the Reverend Andrew Elliot stated “I know not what to do, not where to go . . . poor Boston, May God sanctify our distresses which are greater than you can conceive - Such a Sabbath of melancholy and darkness I never knew . . . every face gathering paleness - all hurry & confusion - one going this way & another that - others not knowing where to go - What to do with our poor maid I cannot tell - in short after the melancholy exercises of the day - I am unable to write anything with propriety or connection . . . Everything distressing.” Upon discovery that she was trapped inside Boston, Sarah Winslow Deming despaired “I was Genl Gage's prisoner -- all egress, & regress being cut off between the town & country. Here again description fails. No words can paint my distress.” According to merchant John Rowe, Boston’s economy immediately collapsed. Businesses stopped operating and fresh provisions for market stopped coming into town. “Boston is in the most distressed condition.”

In the following days, the situation grew even worse as residents attempted to flee Boston but were turned away by the British army. This was due to the fact General Gage had issued orders that barred the residents from fleeing the town. The general was fearful that the residents, if permitted to leave, would provide assistance the American army. In response, the residents of Boston gathered at a town meeting on April 22, 1775 to address their declining situation. One of the resolutions of the meeting highlighted the level of desperation the residents felt with Boston being shut off from the outside world. “Inhabitants cannot be Supplied with provisions, fewell & other Necessarys of Life by which means the Sick & all Invalids must Suffer greatly, & Imediatly & the Inhabitants in general be distressed espesically Such (which is by much the greatest party as have not had the means of laying in a Stock of provisions, but depend for daily Supplies from the Country for their daily Support & may be in danger of perishing unless the Communication be opened.”
Representatives from the town agreed to approach General Gage to secure permissions for Americans to evacuate the town. Gage ultimately agreed to let the residents vacate to the countryside on the condition they surrender their weapons. Reluctantly the Bostonians agreed and prepared to evacuate. A Boston minister recalled the state of Boston on the eve of the evacuation. “ I not impelled by the unhappy Situation of this Town . . . all communication with the Country is cut off, & we wholly deprived of the necessaries of Life, & this principal mart of America is become a poor garrison Town . . . almost all are leaving their pleasant habitations & going they know not whither-- The most are obliged to leave their furniture & effects of every kind, & indeed their all to the uncertain chance of war or rather to certain ruin & destruction--- The last Week I thot myself in comfortable circumstances had a convenient dwelling well furnished, a fine Library made so very much by the munificence of our late most worthy Friend, attended by a large, affectionate, & generous Congregation, happy in a Consort one of the best of Women, & surrounded by a large Number of desirable Children; now I am by a cruel Necessity turned out of my House must leave my Books & all I possess, perhaps to be destroyed by a licentious Soldiery; my beloved Congregation dispersed, my dear Wife retreating to a distant part of the Country, my Children wandering not knowing whither to go, perhaps left to perish for Want, myself soon to leave this devoted Capital, happy if I can find some obscure Corner wch will afford me a bare Subsistence. I wish to God the authors of our Misery could be Witnesses of it. They must have Hearts harder than an adamant if they did not relent & pity us”

Friday, October 7, 2016

"As a Result of the Excessive Hardships They Underwent" - The Flight of Loyalist Families to Canada

Be sure to check out Historical Nerdery next week as we review the blogs and websites you absolutely need to visit and discuss the panic that consumed Boston residents in the hours and days after the Battles of Lexington and Concord!

Today we conclude with our discussion on the experience of female Loyalists during the American Revolution and will focus on the flight to Canada.  As violence, imprisonment and looting continued to mount, many loyalist women in the new York and New England regions recognized their situation was becoming desperate. In a letter to her husband John, Mary Munro described just how dangerous her situation was.  “For heavens sake, my dear Mr. Munro, send me some relief by the first safe hand. Is there no possibility of your sending for us? If there is no method fallen upon we shall perish, for you can have no idea of our sufferings here; Let me once more intreat you to try every method to save your family; my heart is so full it is ready to break; adieu my Dearest John, may God Almighty bless pre serve and protect you, that we may live to see each other is the constant prayer of your affectionate tho' afflicted wife ... P.S. The Childer's kind love to you.”

With the threat of financial and physical ruin, many loyalist women petitioned local patriot authorities regarding their dire situation. Ultimately, many loyalist women concluded they and their families would be safer by withdrawing to British held territory north in Canada or south in New York City. In a second letter, Mary confirmed this conclusion when she declared “My dear John I hope when you receive these few lines they may find you in good health. Your Dear Children are all well. As for myself, I am in a poor state of health and very much distresst. I must leave my house in a very short time and God knows where I shall get a place to put my head in, for my own relations are my greatest enemies, the mills they have had a long time in their possession - likewise all their tenants' houses and lands. They have distresst me beyond expression. I have scarcely a mouthful of bread for myself or children.”

Despite popular misconception, loyalist women and their families generally did not gather their belongings and flee into the night.  Instead, many appeared before local Committee of Safety and other similar organizations and requested permission to leave the community to join their husbands. At first, many committees were reluctant to release loyalist families as they served a useful purpose as hostages. From the patriot perspective, the continued presence of loyalist families under their careful guard could deter future attacks, stem the flow of potential young male recruits into Canada and encourage the release of American prisoners held by British authorities.  However, following Burgoyne’s invasion of 1777, many local committees recognized that hostages would not prevent British raids and agreed to release women and their families.

Officials carefully scrutinized petitions of loyalist women and set forth the terms of their departure. Often the decision to allow women to leave was prompted by concern about the financial cost involved in permitting them to stay. As the Albany County Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies declared in 1778, “it having appeared to us that those Women are become chargeable to the Districts in which they severally reside and that they together with their Families are subsisted at public Expence.” Thus, patriot officials did not want communities to take on the burden of caring for indigent loyalist families and were frequently quite willing to grant permission to such families to leave.

Likewise, as the war progressed, many states passed laws ordering the expulsion of loyalist families from their territories. As Burgoyne advanced south into New York, the Vermont Council of Safety became alarmed at the military roles loyalist women were assuming. In response, it declared “all such persons as have joined or may hereafter join the British Troops (& left or may hereafter leave) their wives and families within this State, Have their wives and families sent to General John Burgoins [sic] Head Quarters, or some other Branch of the Ministerial Army, as soon as may be.” The Albany County Commissioners wrote to the governor of New York in July 1780 asking that “Women whose Husbands are with the Enemy may be sent to the Enemies Lines” and again, in September 1779, requesting the removal of a Mrs Tuttle whose husband, Stephen, "has gone off to the Enemy some time ago.”

Once it was decided that the women were to be expelled or permitted to leave, the terms for their departure were also outlined. In 1780 in New York, all women whose husbands were with the enemy were ordered to leave the colony for British bases within twenty days. Patriot committees drew up lists of the women to be removed and officials were designated to inform the women of their fate and of the consequences of ignoring the order.Women were also subject to severe restrictions on what they were allowed to take when they departed from their community. In Vermont, Mrs Jeremiah French was escorted to the east side of Lake Champlain following her expulsion from the state. The notice ordering her removal specified that she could take with her only “two feather beds and bed ding not exceeding Eight Sheets, six Coverlids or blankets, 5 plates, two platters, two basons, one Quart Cup, & knives & forks if she has such things, her own & her childrens Wearing apparril . . . [the rest of the] . . . moveables belonging to sd. Estate . . . [were to be sold to] Defray the charge of Transportation.”  Loyalist Alida Van Alstine was only permitted to take with her when she fled for New York City “bedding, 2 Chests, i Trunk, 2 bbls. flour, wearing apparel and some household furniture.”

When loyalists left their communities and traveled north to Canada, they usually followed one of two routes.  Loyalists from New York typically followed an overland route through Native American territory to Lake Ontario. Because much of the travel was along forest trails, Indian guides were essential.34 Unfortunately for many refugees, the route included passage through territory held by American allies the Oneidas. Likewise, refugees had to avoid Continental and militia detachments that actively patrolled the region. Once clear of enemy territory, refugees crossed Lake Ontario at Oswego or followed the southern shore of the lake to the Niagara River. The trip along the Niagara was often difficult, especially in time of spring floods.  

Those refugees from the Hampshire Grants usually followed a combined land and water route along Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River to Montreal. The roads followed were often muddy and in poor condition. Refugees could only use pack horses, ponies, or hand and horse carts for their belongings and provisions. Securing water transportation was critical to the flight northWhile travelling on water, refugees were often forced to seek shelter on insect infested or low lying islands in the middle of Lake Champlain. Because of the difficulties of this combined land water passage, loyalists were forced to travel in groups whose members could share the burden of carrying boats and provisions.

Some loyalists might be lucky enough to make the trip in thirteen days, but most took much longer. An expedition of women and children that had to move slowly, was not lucky enough to make good connections with boats, and experienced bad weather could take from two to three months to reach the Quebec Province. The delay in travel, combined with the rugged country took its toll on the clothing of loyalist women and children. Likewise, it was not uncommon for refugees to exhaust their supplies and be forced to survive on nuts, roots and leaves.

The experience of loyalist Mary Munro highlights the hardships loyalist women encountered during the Revolutionary War. Mary Munro had been forced to flee from her home in Shaftsbury to Canada following the defeat of Burgoyne.  As they traveled towards Lake George to join others en route to Canada, they lightened their load by discarding food and “most of their wearing Apparel. . .  After much difficulty, [they] arrived at Lake George and . . .lay in the woods Six days almost perished with Cold and Hunger . . . until three other families arrived. . .  [afterwards they] prevailed on the commanding officer at Fort Edward to give them a boat and a flag, they set off across Lake George.” Unfortunately for Mary, they were “discovered by a party of Indians from Canada - which pursued them. . . as a result of the excessive hardships they underwent,” Mary and her children were “very sickly the whole Winter” after arriving in Canada. The toll the journey took on Mary was sadly announced by her husband when he declared "the children recovered [from their illnesses] but Mrs. Munro never will.”

Thursday, October 6, 2016

"Escaped at Night with Only What They Could Carry on Their Backs.” - Acts of Violence Against Female Loyalists and Their Families

In part two of our discussion on the female Loyalist experience during the War for Independence, we review some of the acts of violence directed towards Loyalist women and their families.  


As loyalist men fled to the safety of British lines, there was a theoretical belief held by men regarding the treatment of Tory women and children as innocent bystanders. As Loyalist Captain Alexander McDonald opined “surely the people [the Patriots] has not got so barberously mad as to Mollest or hurt a poor innocent woman and still more Innocent poor Children.” From the male loyalist perspective, their wives were mere appendages with no independent wills or political roles of their own. Likewise, many male loyalists assumed, under the theories of feme sole trader and deputy husbands, that if their spouses were left behind, personal and real property would be carefully protected from seizure or destruction.


Unfortunately, both views were rejected by the enemy. Patriot committees and colonial governments concluded that unless there was evidence to the contrary, the families of fleeing male loyalists shared in the guilt. From the patriot perspective, women could not act independently from the men in their lives.  The political decisions of the men also incriminated the women. By joining the enemy and participating in the often vicious raids on frontier communities, the men had tainted not only themselves but also their families. The Patriots felt justified in striking back and punishing those raiding their frontiers and participating in treason. The men, however, were in Canada, beyond the Patriots' reach. Loyalist women left behind were seen as vipers living in their midst.  Thus, it was the women and their families who bore the brunt of the Patriots' rage.


Women who had either participated in the war themselves or were married to men who had were subjected to various forms of punishment, the most common and devastating being the confiscation of their property. Looting and destruction of loyalist property were also conventional. Likewise, many women also faced imprisonment and violence at the hand of local mobs.


Loyalist Sarah Mcginnis of New York enjoyed a close relationship with neighboring Mohawks. At the outbreak of the war she was offered twelve shillings York currency per day and a guard of fifteen men if she would try to influence the Mohawk on their behalf. Instead, she provided intelligence to British authorities and assisted loyalist refugees with their flight north. In retaliation, local patriot officials arrested her son in law and plundered her property. Sarah, her daughter, and her granddaughter watched as the Patriots sold all of their possessions, “except what would scantily support them in victuals and clothes,” at public auction. After this, the women were imprisoned in a local fort and so badly treated that Sarah's granddaughter later died. Sarah and her daughter "escaped at night with only what they could carry on their backs.” Sarah was forced to leave behind a son “who was out of his senses and bound in chains ... and who some time afterward was burnt alive.”


In the case of the Loyalist Empy family, Philip, husband and father of eleven children,  was subjected to “many insults and abuses from rebels.” When Philip and his three sons escaped from prison, the local Patriots turned their eyes to his wife and seven other children. Mrs Empty and her children were imprisoned and all of their real and personal property was confiscated. Mrs Empy and her family were eventually released. But when she returned to her home, she was “beat and abused” by “4 men” who left her on the road. Although she was rescued by friends and taken to Schenectady, she later died.


Elizabeth Cary Wilstee, a resident of the New Hamphshire Grants whose family had been victimized by the Green Mountain boys in the 1760s, watched helplessly as a Patriot band ransacked her home in 1776. In the middle of winter, the “outlaws” broke into her home and ordered her and her children to leave for her father's place. Although it was snowy and cold, she had no choice. “Looking back while on her way,” she saw the “outlaws moving her furniture and provisions from the house and loading them into a wagon.” Next she witnessed them “open her feather beds and shake the feathers from the ticks out of the windows and put the ticks and bed clothes into the wagon.” Finally, she watched them “pry the logs of the sides of the house out at the corners until the roof fell in.” Having finished with the Wiltsee home, the band moved on to the homes of other tenants in the neighborhood.


Shortly after his escape, Loyalist Daniel McAlpin’s property was seized and his wife and family were arrested.  Mary McAlpin described her family’s treatment at the hands of the rebels in vivid
language. “From the day her husband left to the day she was forced from her home the Captain's house was never without parties of the Rebels present. They lived at their discretion and sometimes in very large numbers. They destroyed what they could not consume.  Shortly after the capture of the fleeing loyalists a group of armed Rebels with blackened faces broke into the McAlpin's dwelling house. They threatened Mary and her children with violence and menace of instant death. They confined them to the kitchen while they stripped every valuable from the home. A few days after this, by an order of the Albany Committee, a detachment of Rebel Forces came and seized upon the remainder of McAlpin's estate both real and personal.” Mary McAlpin and her children were taken to an unheated hut located in Stillwater and locked inside “without fire, table, chairs or any other convenience.”

Hoping that the hardship would eventually break Mrs. McAlpin and induce her to beg her husband to honorably surrender, the rebels kept Mary and her children in captivity for several weeks. Mary McAlpin refused to comply and instead responded her husband “had already established his honour by a faithful service to his King and country.” Enraged, rebels seized Mary and her oldest daughter and “carted” both of them through Albany. According to the Reverend Munro, “Mrs. McAlpin was brought down to Albany in a very scandalous manner so much that the Americans themselves cried out about it.”A second account stated “when Mrs. McAlpin was brought from the hut to Albany as a prisoner with her daughter . . . they neither of them had a rag of cloaths to shift themselves.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"I have scarcely a mouthful of bread for myself or children" - Female Loyalist Refugees in the War for Independence


Now that we're back and actively blogging...Historical Nerdery will be discussing over the next couple of days the trials and tribulations experienced by female Loyalist refugees and their families in the Northern Theater of the War for Independence.

As a preliminary matter, some legal and historical background.  Prior to the war, most women were bound by the legal and moral codes of their respective communities. Life was not easy for women. From the perspective of society, women were assumed to be helpless because they were like children who could not provide the basic necessities for themselves, but had to rely on men for food, shelter, and clothing. But they were also helpless, it was thought, because they were inferior. They could not take care of themselves because they were less rational, capable, and competent than men. Not only were women treated as helpless inferiors, they were also expected to speak of themselves in these terms.1 Women in many of the colonies could not attend public schools, were often pregnant on their wedding days and received little protection from domestic violence.2 Women were often heavily dependent upon the companionship of their sisters and other female relatives.  Siblings often spent countless hours spinning, preparing food, making soap and working in the field. Females also assisted each other in the birthing and raising of children.3

Often the major decision in a woman’s life was the choice of a mate.  Although 18th century women had some say in the selection of a spouse, parents still played a significant role in the decision and their consent was required.4 Colonial era women were expected to obey their husbands, rear the children, cook and prepare meals, make and launder clothes and undertake minor household repairs.5  A married woman was seen as subordinate to her husband.  Basic to the marriage contract was the notion that the man had the power to make the important decisions for the family unit, but he also had the responsibility to ensure its well- being by providing the essentials - food, clothing, and housing.6 Colonial era women were expected to obey their husbands, rear the children, cook and prepare meals, make and launder clothes and undertake minor household repairs.7 Under the eyes of the law, a married woman could not vote, collect wages, make contracts, testify in court, serve as a juror, buy or sell property nor execute a will on her own.  As eighteenth century legal scholar Sir William Blackstone surmised:
By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover she performs every thing; and is therefore called in our law-French a feme-covert; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord
. . . [Though] our law in general considers man and wife as one person, yet there are some instances in which she is . . . considered; as inferior to him, and acting by his compulsion. And therefore all deeds executed, and acts done, by her . . . are void, or at least voidable; except it be a fine, or the like matter of record, in which case she must be solely and secretly examined, to learn if her act be voluntary. She cannot by will devise lands to her husband, unless under special circumstances; for at the time of making it she is supposed to be under his coercion. And in some felonies, and other inferior crimes, committed by her, though constraint of her husband, the law excuses her: but this extends not to treason or murder.8
Historical evidence suggests married colonial women, appeared to accept their subordinate position within the family. Rather than complaining or contemplating the unfairness of their situation, married women knew that their role was to accept their lot in life and do their duty. As loyalist Dothe Stone recalled “I was obliged and did affect cheerfulness in my behavior. . . I answered with a smile when my heart was ready to break. . . [I] must submit when it comes to open things.”9

However, not all women were subject to the strict rigors of society. An unmarried woman was considered a feme sole.  A feme sole could sign contracts, own a business, control her own wages, buy and/or sell property, and distribute personal property and chattel in her will. A feme sole could also sue or be sued in her own name in a court of law. Some feme sole loyalist women were able to establish employment as midwives, newspaper owners, successful seamstresses, tavern keepers, and shopkeepers. Such positions enabled women to work within the accepted sphere of gendered society (and/or sometimes in conjunction with family members, husbands, or business partners) and earn incomes that placed them in the middling ranks. For example, a Mrs. Cumming of Charlestown, South Carolina was a successful loyalist midwife who petitioned the British government for financial assistance following the loss of her business.10 A Mrs. Griffiths, a Connecticut milliner, supported herself and her son prior to the war.11 Unfortunately, the status of feme sole afforded women the most freedom but was publicly and socially discouraged, since women were viewed as "unproductive" if they were not wedded and having babies.12

One limited way women established their rights during marriage and controlled their own businesses was to become feme sole traders. Most often, married women needed to obtain their
husband's permission to do this. This status meant that married women could conduct business and were responsible for their own actions. If the women were sued, it would not affect their husbands' estates. Married women could even devise the property acquired through their own endeavors. Deserted women and sailors' wives could petition their colonial legislatures to acquire such status. Although not stated, it is easy to see that the legislatures granting such status acted in an effort to keep women and their dependent children off poor relief. Thus it was motivated by economic, rather than liberal, concerns. War would cause many women to support themselves because their husbands had died or were crippled as a result of their service. During most wars, women remained at home to run farms, plantations, and their families’ businesses until the men returned from battle.

Women in the eighteenth century also acted independently as deputy husbands, a term coined by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. As a deputy husband, the wife could take over her husband’s job or business in his absence. This usually occurred in family businesses such as stores, taverns, mills, and the like. Women were familiar with the business and kept it running smoothly while their husbands were incapacitated or away. This role was common and women coped adequately with their new positions. The role of deputy husband allowed married women to purchase supplies, pay bills, bank, and perform all other aspects of running their businesses. During times of war, women ran their plantations, businesses, farms, families, and managed the servants, while their husbands served in the military. Such was the case during the American Revolution and women, whether Tory or Whig, did whatever was necessary to keep the home front running.
Many colonial women, whether Loyalist or Patriot, were forced during the Revolution to act in ways inconsistent with their subordinate status within patriarchal households and to take their first tentative steps into the traditionally male-dominated worlds of politics and warfare.

Loyalist women were active participants in the Revolution. They took their first steps into the political realm by petitioning and writing pamphlets. In one such piece of literature, A Dialogue Between a Southern Delegate and His Spouse, a loyalist woman berated her husband, a delegate to the First Continental Congress, and warned of the dire con sequences of the Congress's actions:

To your mighty Congress, your members were sent To lay our complaints before Parliament, Usurpation reared its head from that fatal Hour You resolved, you enacted like a Sovereign Power.
Your non-imports, and Exports are full fraught with Ruin, Of thousands and thousands the utter undoing,
If Philadelphia or New York proposed some wise Plan From that moment on you branded the man ...
Instead of imploring their Justice or Pity, You treat Parliament like a Pack of Banditti.
Instead of Addresses fram'd on Truth or on Reason, You breathe nothing but insult, rebellion and Treason. In all the Records of the most slavish Nation,
You'll not find an instance of such usurpation, If spirits infernal for dire vengeance design'd,
Had been named Delegates to afflict humankind, And in Grand Continental Congress had resolved, Let the bonds of social bliss be henceforth dissolved. Oh! My Country! Remember that a woman unknown Cry'd aloud like Cassandra in Oracular Tone, Repent! Or you are forever, forever undone.13
1 Janice Potter McKinnon, While the Women Only Wept, (Montreal & Kingston, 1993), p. 8.
2 “The husband also (by the old law) might give his wife moderate correction. For, as he is to answer for her misbehaviour, the law thought it reasonable to intrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement, in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his servants or children; for whom the master or parent is also liable in some cases to answer. But this power of correction was confined within reasonable bounds; and the husband was prohibited to use any violence to his wife, "[here translated:] other than as licitly and reasonably pertains to the husband for the rule and correction of his wife." The civil law gave the husband the same, or a larger, authority over his wife; allowing him, for some misdemesnors, "[here translated:] with flails and cudgels to beat the wife energetically;" for others, only "[here translated:] to apply limited punishment." But, with us, in the politer reign of Charles the second, this power of correction began to be doubted: and a wife may now have security of the peace against her husband; or, in return, a husband against his wife. Yet the lower rank of people, who were always fond of the old common law, still claim and exert their ancient privilege: and the courts of law will still permit a husband to restrain a wife of her liberty, in case of any gross misbehaviour.”  Blackstone, “Commentaries .
. .”
3 While the Women, at 6.
4 While the Women at 5.
5 By comparison, a female camp follower in an 18th Century British regiment was considered an integral part of the organization. Most were gainfully employed as sutlers, nurses and laundresses, received financial compensation for their contributions and often had their own lodgings.
6 While the Women at 7.
7 By comparison, a female camp follower in an 18th Century British regiment was considered an integral part of the organization. Most were gainfully employed as sutlers, nurses and laundresses, received financial compensation for their contributions and often had their own lodgings.
8 Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Chapter XV, Book I (1765-1769).
9 Dothe Stone Diary, October 22, 1783; October 24, 1783.
10 American Loyalist Claims, reels 99-100, 130.
11  Ibid, reels 99-100, 219.
12 If a young woman did not marry, she was expected to live with her brother, or some other married male relative, and help care for his family. The male relative would assume the responsibility of caretaker and provider for the single woman.