Saturday, September 26, 2020

“Stopped But a Few Days, and Went Off Privately" - Enslaved People and Lexington

Contrary to popular belief in some circles, slavery did exist in Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution. In fact, Massachusetts was the first of the thirteen colonies to legalize slavery in 1741.

By 1775, Lexington was not immune to the institution. The largest slaveholder in 1771 was Samuel Hadley with three enslaved servants. Other slaveholders included Samuel Bridge, William Tidd, Robert Harrington, William Reed and Benjamin Estabrook.

In some Lexington households, male slaves worked side by side with their masters as coopers, blacksmiths, shoemakers and wheelwrights. In other homes, they ran errands, functioned as valets and performed heavy work for their masters. The few female slaves in Lexington were required to carry out the various household tasks their mistresses demanded.

The enrolling of enslaved men in the colony’s militia system was considered illegal on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In 1652, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted a law requiring all African-Americans and Indian servants to undergo military training and serve in the militia. However, four years later, as fears of a slave revolt grew, Massachusetts reversed the law and prohibited Blacks from entering military service. According to research conducted by Minute Man National Historical Park,  In 1709, the Massachusetts legislature slightly reversed itself and declared that “free male negro’s or molattos” would be exempt from military training but would still be required to “make their appearance” with their local militia companies “in case of alarm”. 

Nevertheless, in 1775, Lexington turned a blind eye to the law. As a result, during the War for Independence, five of Lexington’s slaves served with the town's militia. These enslaved men were Prince Estabrook, Pompey Blackman, Samuel Crafts, Cato Tuder and Jupiter Tree. 

As an aside, there was a Lexington Black freeman, Eli Burdoo, who later asserted in a pension claim that he served Captain Parker’s Company at the Battle of Lexington.

Lexington slaves were not completely without rights. Unlike slaves in the southern colonies, New England slaves could hold limited amounts of property, and testify in court against both whites and other Blacks. 

On rare occasions, Massachusetts slaves were permitted to sue for freedom. One such case involved a female mulatto slave named Margaret from Lexington. On November 20, 1770, Margaret appeared in a court in Cambridge represented by a local Boston lawyer named Jonathan Sewall. John Adams, who was currently in the midst of the Boston Massacre trial, represented her masters, the Muzzey Family of Lexington. At the end of the hearing, which lasted most of the day, the court freed Margaret. 

In 1774, several African-Americans petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to demand that they too have the right to enjoy the benefits of liberty.
Still, slavery was a degrading and inhumane institution. 

By 1667, most American colonies had recognized that a slave could not be freed from bondage by baptism, thereby discarding the Christian principle of enslaving other Christians. That same year, the penalty for killing a slave was a mere £15. In 1670, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law permitting slaveholders to sell children of slaves into bondage.

By the middle of the 17th Century, all of the New England colonies had established laws punishing runaway slaves as “fugitives”. Under these anti-fugitive laws, a slave was forbidden from leaving his master’s property without a pass or permission from his master. Travel on Sunday was explicitly prohibited. Thus, a slave could not even move in search of opportunity or even travel outside of Lexington without the master’s assent. If he or she were discovered, the enslaved person would be prosecuted. 

Finally, a slave was always subject to both actual and potential cruelty against which there was no defense.

Understandably, these horrific conditions motivated many enslaved people from New England to run away from their masters. In turn, slaveholders would publish advertisements in area newspapers describing the enslaved person, the clothing they wore when last seen and any items they carried with them. 

In the work Escaping Bondage: A Documentary History of Runaway Slaves in Eighteenth Century New England 1700 - 1789, author Antonio Bly catalogs advertisements of runaway Black slaves that appeared in Eighteenth-Century New England newspapers. 

There are four newspaper advertisements Bly identifies that are tied to Lexington. The first three were published by Captain Benjamin Reed after his slave “Sambo” or Samuel Hanks escaped. Reed was particularly determined to apprehend the runaway as he flooded Boston area newspapers with advertisements seeking his slave’s capture. 

Here is Reed’s advertisement from the September 17, 1753 edition of the Boston Gazette

“Ran-away from his Master Capt. Benjamin Reed, of Lexington, on the 14th of this Instant September, a Negro Man Servant, named Sambo, but calls himself Samuel Hank’s, and pretends to be a Doctor, about 30 Years of Age, of a middling Stature, speaks good English: Had on when he went away, a brown homespun Coat with brass Buttons, a brown Holland Jacket, new Leather Breeches, a pair a blue clouded seam’d Stockings, a new course Linnen Shirt, and a Holland one, Trowsers, and an old Castor Hat: has lost some of his fore Teeth. He carry’d with him a Bible, with (Samuel Reed) wrote in it, with some other Books. Whoever shall take up said Runaway Servant, and convey him to his abovesaid Master in Lexington, shall have Four Dollars Reward, and all necessary Charges paid. And all Masters of Vessels and others are hereby caution’d against concealing or carrying off said Servant on Penalty of the Law. Lexington.”

Bly’s book also identifies an incident that involved Lexington tavern owner John Buckman. The account appeared in the January 18, 1776 edition of the New England Chronicle. According to the newspaper account, an eighteen-year-old male slave named Cato had escaped from Hampton, New Hampshire in the Fall of 1775. Surprisingly, Cato did not flee to Portsmouth or Newburyport to join a sailing vessel (18th century New England sailing vessels were notorious for taking on escaped Black slaves). Instead, he traveled into the Massachusetts interior and by November 1775, arrived in Lexington.

According to the New England Chronicle, Cato approached John Buckman seeking work. “He offered his service to Mr. John Buckman, innholder in that town, and called himself Elijah Bartlet, and said that he was free born.” Buckman was suspicious of the young man and believed Cato was “a runaway”. Aware that the tavern keeper was on to him, Cato “stopped but a few days [in Lexington], and went off privately.” It appears after Cato fled, the Buckman reported the runaway to the authorities, who in turn relayed the information to Cato’s owner.

As far as the Nerds can tell, Cato was never apprehended.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

“A Plan of Military Exercise, Proposed by Capt. Pickering” - The Pickering Drill on the Eve of Lexington and Concord

It is commonly known that the Nerds are fascinated with Massachusetts’ wartime buildup on the eve of the American Revolution. One of the topics that consistently draws our attention is the various drill manuals that minute and militia companies utilized in preparation for war with England.

Recently, we had the opportunity to review a 2004 research paper that analyzed the development of the Massachusetts Grand Army during the early weeks of the Siege of Boston. While the overall premise of the paper was excellent, there was an error that caught our attention. Specifically, the author argued that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress adopted the “Pickering Drill” in late 1774 as the preferred drill manual for its minute and militia companies. In support of this argument, the author pointed to a December 8, 1774, order that referenced “a plan of military exercise, proposed by Capt. Pickering”.

So, did the Massachusetts Provincial Congress recommend militia and minute companies adopt the Pickering Drill?

In the Fall of 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress correctly surmised war with England was inevitable. As a result it had to “consider what is necessary to be done for the defence and safety of the province.” 

On October 26, 1774, the delegates set into motion the formation of minute companies within Massachusetts. As part of its resolution, it declared “[The] field officers, so elected, forthwith [shall] endeavor to enlist one quarter, at the least, of the number of the respective companies, and form them into companies of fifty privates . . . who shall equip and hold themselves in readiness, on the shortest notice from the said Committee of Safety, to march to the place of rendezvous . . . said companies into battalions, to consist of nine companies each.”

Emphasis on proper military skill and logistical supply was strongly emphasized by the delegates. On the same day as the creation of minute companies, the Provincial Congress resolved “That, as the security of the lives, liberties and properties of the inhabitants of this province, depends under Providence, on their knowledge and skill in the art of military, and in their being properly and effectually armed and equipped, it is therefore recommended, that they immediately provide themselves therewith; that they use their utmost diligence to perfect themselves in military skill; and that, if any of the inhabitants are not provided with arms and ammunition according to law, and that if any town or district within the province is not provided with the full town stock of arms and ammunition . . . that the selectmen of such town or district take effectual care, without delay, to provide the same.”

Three days later, on October 29, 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress addressed what appropriate military exercise the various militia and minute companies should adopt. The delegates considered the “Norfolk Exercise”. Developed in England in 1757, the Norfolk Exercise, or A Plan of Discipline, Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk, had been adopted by many New England militia companies and was declared the official drill of the colony in the early 1770’s. 

However, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ultimately ordered that “it be recommended to the inhabitants of this Province that in order to their perfecting themselves in the Military Art, they proceed in the method ordered by his Majesty in the year 1764, it being, in the opinion of this Congress, best calculated for appearance and defence.” Known informally as the 1764 Crown Manual of Arms, this was the drill used by the British troops stationed in Boston in 1775.

The adoption of the 1764 Crown Manual of Arms was not universally accepted by Massachusetts communities, especially those in northwestern Worcester County. In the weeks following the resolution, multiple militia officers from that region joined together to draft and submit a petition requesting that “the Provincial Congress ... establish the Norfolk exercise, with such alterations as they shall think proper, instead of the exercise of 1764.” Not surprisingly, the petition was ultimately rejected.

At the same time as Worcester was petitioning the Provincial Congress, a Salem, Massachusetts lawyer named Timothy Pickering was quietly promoting a drill manual he had drafted. Entitled An Easy Plan for Discipline for a Militia, Pickering's drill manual borrowed heavily from the Norfolk Drill. By early December, Pickering had drawn enough attention to his proposed manual that on December 8, 1774, the Provincial Congress ordered  “That Col. Heath, Col. Gerrish, Col, Gardner, Capt. Fuller, Col. Thomas, Col. Oriio, and Col. Barnes, be a committee to take into consideration a plan of military exercise, proposed by Capt. Timothy Pickering.”

Unfortunately for Pickering, the proposal died in committee. When the Provincial Congress reconvened the following month, it never again discussed his drill manual. 

If Pickering attempted to build support for his manual by privately selling it to the public in early 1775, he was equally unsuccessful. According to research conducted by Dr. Niels Hobbs* in his work “There is now such a Martial Spirit running through the Country…” The Evolution and Revolution of Manual Exercises in Massachusetts and the New England Colonies, over the years 1764-1776, there were approximately 203 advertisements, news articles, or editorials released between 1774 and 1776 that addressed drill manual exercises. The majority of these were either promoting the adoption of the 1764 Crown Manual or were advertisements selling copies of the same manual. Even in Pickering’s own Essex County, advertisements and editorials in support of the Crown Manual dominated. 

There is no reference to Pickering’s work being promoted or offered for sale on the even of Lexington and Concord.

Nevertheless, Pickering still continued to quietly promote his manual. During the Siege of Boston, the Salem resident wrote directly to General George Washington and unsuccessfully encouraged the Continental Army to embrace his work.

“Sir, Convinced of the utility, the necessity, at all times, of a well disciplined militia, to every free state; when the united wisdom of the continent, referring to the contest with the parent kingdom, called on every colony to prepare for the most unhappy events; and the more immediate recommendations of our provincial congress demanded a diligent application to the military art; deeming the plans of discipline then extant, inadequate to the instruction of men unused to this kind of study, & destitute of living instructors: I gladly embraced the opportunity which then presented, of applying to the service of my country the little knowledge & experience an office in the militia had led me to acquire, by writing the following plain rudiments of the military art. They were designed, as their title imports, merely for the militia; & chiefly written before the predicted unhappy events had called my fellow citizens to arms. This call, & the various avocations & interruptions consequent thereon, greatly retarded the completion of the work; & perhaps have rendered it less useful than it might otherwise have been: Some parts of it, & those perhaps the most essential, I imagine may well prove advantageous in an army hastily assembled, & frequently called from the exercise of arms to the other equally necessary but more laborious occupations of war. This army being, to the joy of every American, committed to your excellency’s care & direction, both duty & inclination lead me to present you the ensuing plan of discipline for a militia, & to Submit to your decision the expediency of recommending or permitting its use among the officers & soldiers under your command. I am, your Excellencys most obedient & humble Servant Tm. Pickering jr.”

Of course, credit should be given when it is due. Pickering did not give up and continued to promote An Easy Plan for Discipline for a Militia. By 1776, the drill manual started to become popular with Massachusetts militia officers and shortly thereafter, the legislature ordered that the drill replace the 1764 Crown Manual as the official drill for militia companies in the Commonwealth. 

*Dr. Hobbs is a historian who holds his PhD in Biology. He is also trained to kill only using a pair of lobsters as his choice of weapons. ;-)