Wednesday, February 1, 2017

History Carnival CLXII: Double LP Edition

Mismatched buckles and shoes
http://historycarnival.org/
Welcome to History Carnival 162 at "Another Pair Not Fellows", so named because certain "runaway" advertisements from colonial American newspapers default to this archaic phrase when describing absconders wearing mismatched sleeve links, stockings or shoe buckles. To give but one example: a Dutch serving man in New Jersey took to his heels back in 1773 with

"a broad brimmed Felt Hat, Snuff coloured Jacket, old cloth coloured ditto, old Blue breeches, white shirt, coarse grey stockings, and new shoes, with Buckles not Fellows [emphasis mine]."

This is my third time at the turntable as host of the History Carnival (see HC 56 and HC 100) but it is the first time in many years.  It is also the first time at this blog, where my 18th Century historical interpretation and material culture research interests went to live after I put Walking the Berkshires on ice.  So let me be your DeeJay and I'll lay some righteous history grooves on you here at Another Pair, &c.

DISC ONE

TRACK 1: "1985" - BOWLING FOR SOUP.  You get two phat months for the price of one with History Carnival 162, covering both December of last year and January of this one.  Hipster youth, and others like me who are old enough to be their parents, will appreciate that this happy circumstance is akin to savoring the double LP of "Blonde on Blonde" or "The White Album" in all its sprawling glory.  In keeping with this musical vein, Not Another Music History Cliché unravels some Mozart Myths.  For a history of the spinning discs themselves, from the shellac era to the rebirth of vinyl, look no further than this post at Vinyl Lovers Unite.

TRACK 2: "AMERICAN PIE" - DON McLEAN.  If you prefer platters of a different sort, you might be inspired, as was Rich Halpern while at the AHA 2017 Annual Meeting this month, to investigate The Muddled History of the Denver Omlete at the AHA Blog.  Early Modern Whale is making Umble Pie, while Four Pounds of Flour makes a Chicken Country Captain from the 1850s and ponders naturalization.  A Tapster turned Highwayman is revealed at the blog Here Begynneth a Lytell Geste of Robin Hood.  At Process: a blog for american history, Mario Sifuentez makes a good case for lying to his students by offering "a class called the history of food but it’s about workers."

Photo credit: Wilson Freeman
Drifting Focus Photography
TRACK 3:  "THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED" - GIL SCOTT-HERON.  Because the era of American Independence is an old standard here at "Not Fellows", the next cuts on our Carnival relate to research and historical interpretation of this general period.  Don Hagist at British Soldiers, American Revolution continues to document the lives of otherwise anonymous enlisted men with a profile of Robert Mason of the 23rd Regiment of foot, who first appears on the battalion rolls at the tender age of seven.   Kitty Calash's post,  Occupy Princeton, describes a brilliantly conceived public history event in which a force of military occupation and its impact on the lives of local civilians (mainly women) had center stage.  British Tars 1740-1790 examines A New Sea Quadrant, 1748, and describes this useful navigation aid as well as the apparel worn by the sailor depicted with it. J.L. Bell at Boston, 1775 looks for evidence of "a comma in the middle of a phrase."  At the Sign of the Golden Scissors describes a contract to design clothing for two figures - woman and child camp followers - for a permanent exhibit at the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

TRACK 4: "DON'T YOU (FORGET ABOUT ME)" - SIMPLE MINDS.  Judith Weingarten at Zenobia: Empress of the East, asks "Where are the Real Women of the Ancient World?" Where indeed, and while we are at it, Yvonne Seale wonders, "where are the Medieval women in your college survey course?" Phoebe Evans Letocha guest blogs at Medical Heritage Library on Women Veterans of World War I Our Girl History dares to interpret the untold.   Over at Last Real Indians; Trace L. Hentz calls out selective memories and historians and institutions that are that are late in acknowledging suppressed and oppressed history.  It is a nettlesome read and worth taking the the time to do so, particularly for insights like this:

"So, how DO you keep violence alive in a museum exhibit or book but not make people throw up or pass out? Very carefully...Memory Studies are a new big thing. Memory is emotional, so history done right is capable of invoking a wide range of emotions..to create empathy but not traumatize."

TRACK 5: "AIN'T GWINE WHISTLE DIXIE" - TAJ MAHAL.  Kevin Levin
, who has been deeply engaged with memory studies for more than a decade at Civil War Memory, shares his excitement about the newly designated Reconstruction Era National Monument at Beaufort, South CarolinaMillard Fillmore's Bathtub examines a letter written by its eponymous ex-president to Abraham Lincoln in 1861.

TRACK 6: "RESPECT" - ARETHA FRANKLIN. The Women's History Network introduces us to Edith Morely, Britain's first female professor, while Historiann laments; A woman's work is never done (part II), and even when it is, it's not on the syllabus
The Australian Women's History Network hosts a tribute in celebration of the internationalism of feminist historian Marilyn Lake, with reminiscences by her many colleagues and friends.


TRACK 7: "THE EDISON MUSEUM" - THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS.  Blogs hosted by institutions large and small weigh in with such fascinating posts as a 2,000-year-old pet cemetery at Smithsonian.com (hat tip: World History Blog) and Gremsdoodle Library with 22 blocks in Schenectady.  Another Upstate story is revealed by Hoxie! in a post about armless train announcer Fred Lillie.  Just a short way up the canal, the Friends of Scoharie Crossing tell us about the notorious locks known as The Sixteens.  Our friends at Fort Ticonderoga blog discuss the heavy casualties taken by provincial rangers under Robert Rogers during the Battle on Snowshoes in 1757.

DISC TWO

TRACK 8: "OLD AND IN THE WAY - DAVID GRISMAN".  David Gills at Looting Matters looks back at disputed cultural property and illegal trafficking in antiquities during 2016.  Dumpdiggers lauds the trend in office lobby museums and describes an artifact of office printing technology from the 1880s, now on display at a business in Toronto.  Flavia at Ferule and Fescue muses about the relevance of reference books in the digital age.

TRACK 9:  "U.N.I.T.Y." - QUEEN LATIFA. The group blog The Australian Women's History Network generated a number of excellent posts as activism against gender violence.  Among these are Lucinda Horrick's Out of the Closets: A Homosexual History of Melbourne; Dianne Hall on Early Modern Domestic Violence; Sheilagh Ilona O’Brien on Witchcraft and Communal Violence and Vera Mackie discussing militarized sexual abuse during the Asia-Pacific War.

TRACK 10: "EVERY DAY I WRITE THE BOOK" - ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS. Up next, we've got a number of book reviews. Casey Schmitt at The Junto discusses Sowande' Mustakeem's Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex and Sickness in the Middle Passage.   Viola at bookaddiction shares her thoughts on Paula Byrne's biography of Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy.  Jonathan Dresner at Frog in a Well offers a thought on military and transnational history in lieu of a review of Kenneth Swope’s A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War. The Renaissance Mathematicus reads an excellent biography on Kepler's mom.  Legal History Blog offers lessons learned from writing The Chapter from Hell.

TRACK 11:  "PLASTIC FANTASTIC LOVER" - JEFFERSON AIRPLANE.  It is hard difficult to resist a scholarly blog named Dirty Sexy History, or a post in which Jessica Cale investigates unabashedly whether Rasputin really was a love machine. Among other things, a case is made that while the Mad Monk was hot, sex for and with him was a spiritual experience. At this same blog, Dr. Stephen Carver offers a straight faced, though hardly straight laced study of The Ancient Lays of Rome.  Expect to hear more from DSH, as they will be hosting HC 163 in March.

Tim O'Brien #alternatefacts
TRACK 12: "HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN" - THE ANIMALS.  At Art and Architecture, Mainly, Hels highlights Greenwich Village in New York - Art , Literature, Progressive Politics.  English Buildings profiles The Victoria and Albert Museum. For period architecture of quite a different sort, check out the extraordinary, scratch-built 28mm scale model siheyuan block at the historical war-gaming blog Major Thomas Foolery's War Room.  Museum dioramas were my gateway to history as a little boy, and the research and artistry brought to this grownup project are of the highest order.

TRACK 13:  "WHAT IT MEANS" - DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS.  Alternate facts abound with America's post-expert POTUS. Historians know the difference and they document the hell out of it. Executed Today burns a werewolfThe Many-headed Monster examines the history of Fake News in the 17th century and compares it to that of the present day. Airminded investigates claims of Death Ray development between the wars.

TRACK 14. "HELP SAVE THE YOUTH OF AMERICA" - BILLY BRAGG.  The verdict of The Progressive Professor puts Barack Obama in the top 10 (now of 45) American Presidents.  Politics and Letters calls out Henry the K and compares him to Doctor Strangelove at the ending of the American Century, adviser as he is to the now President Trump while he slams the Open Door of US Foreign Policy. The Broken Elbow chronicles the lengthy record of Martin McGuinness as IRA Chief of Staff.  Patrick Rael demystifies the 13th Amendment and its impact on mass incarceration at Black Perspectives.  Nigerian History Channel considers models of national reconciliation 47 years after the end of the Nigerian Civil War.  Timothy Burke cautions at Easily Distracted that we need to start to recognize our connections to conspiratorial readings as well as our alienation from them.  Chris Gehrz writes at The Anxious Bench on Faith, Resistance and Self-Sacrifice and concludes;

"if we find ourselves...governed by 'an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct' — then I can only pray that God will give me and you the strength not to hesitate, not to calculate or procrastinate, but to defend what is right without fear."

Public History flashback:
Naval Impressment, Newport Rhode Island, 1765
 Photograph by John Collins
BONUS TRACK:  "FIGHT FOR YOUR MIND" - BEN HARPER.   My favorite sign from the global Women's Marches in January reads as follows:

"What do we want? Evidence-based Science!"
"When do we want it?  After Peer Review!"


So say we all.

Your Humble Blogger,
resplendent in striped calimancoe
LINER NOTES: 

Time to face the music.  Yes, this was actually a carnival of history's untold stories and under-represented voices, all served up with musical accompaniment.  I actively sought to highlight these posts and bloggers and you can too.

The next edition of the History Carnival -
No. 163 - will be at Dirty Sexy History. Be sure to nominate the Best History Blog Posts of February, 2017 and consider hosting this Carnival yourself.

There's no school like Old School. 
Rock on.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Buckets, Bags and Engines at the Boston Massacre


I'll be portraying a citizen of Boston at this year's commemoration of the Boston Massacre who, responding to the ringing of church bells at an unaccustomed hour, turned out thinking there was a fire.  There are numerous contemporary accounts in eyewitness testimony that describe people in the crowd carrying fire buckets and other equipment, at least two fire engines hauled to the vicinity of the confrontation at the Customs House, and people asking directions to a fire.  I've decided to adopt the persona of one of these eyewitnesses, Thomas Wilkinson, who reported:

"The Old South bell rung for nine as usual; about a quarter after I heard Mr. Cooper's bell ring, I went out and saw the Old South engine hauled out.  I ran down as far as the town pump.  There seemed to be a considerable body of people, and some with buckets...The Old Brick bell began to ring, and the people seemed to come along fast, with buckets and bags."

Wilkinson describes a full array of fire-fighting responses from the citizens of Boston, although there was, in fact, no fire.  Fellow Bostonian John Colburn recounted;

"being alarmed by the cry of fire and ringing of bells, ran out of my house with my bags and buckets; upon going to Mr. Payne's door, he told me it was not fire, it was a riot. I sent my buckets home again..."

Newtown Prince, another witness to the events that night, recalled "When the bells rung I was at my own house.  I run to the door and heard the cry of fire.  I went out and asked where the fire was; somebody said it was something better than fire.  I met some with clubs, some with buckets and bags, and some running before me with sticks in their hands."

Dr. John Jeffries and William Whittington gave similar testimony:

Dr. John Jeffries - "I then passed up the alley myself into Cornhill; as soon as I got out of the alley I heard the Old Brick bell ring.  There were many in the street running, some with buckets, inquiring where the fire was..."

William Whittington - "In a little time I heard the bells ring, and made a stop and asked what was the matter?  They said fire.  I saw several people with buckets, &c., and I asked them where they were going?  They said there is fire somewhere."

Just what were these buckets, bags and engines described by these and other witnesses to the Boston Massacre? 

Boston had a long history of fire-fighting, developing an elaborate system of public and private resources to respond to blazes and protect life and property.  The first fire engine, a wheeled wooden reservoir equipped with hand pumps and a nozzle, was imported for use in the Town in 1678, a year which also saw the establishment of the first paid fire department.  By 1770 there were ten fire engines in Boston, including two that were the very first built in America, constructed by local blacksmith and engine captain David Wheeler. The Selectmen's Minutes from March 10th, 1766 record:

" Messrs. John Green and David Wheeler having at their own cost and charge, built and Compleated a Fire Engine, which upon tryal does honor to the Country as well as to the Constructers; the use thereof on all Ocassions by means of Fire that may happen they may offer the Town, provided they will keep the same in good repair, and allow the Men belonging thereto, the Exceptions and Priviledges indulged the other Engine-Men - it is therefore Voted that the Town do accept the said generous proposal."

The following week David Wheeler was appointed Captain of the new engine, designated No. 10 and called the Green Engine. Later that year in November, Wheeler proposed building an Engine House at Pond Lane near the intersection with Newbury Street. Although David Wheeler was later replaced as Engine Captain, other Wheelers maintained control of the Engine. On the night of the Massacre, one participant testified that Wheeler's engine responded to the bells.


Thomas Greenwood - "...spending the evening at Mrs. Wheeler's, I was alarmed by the bells ringing and the people's crying fire, upon which I turned out with Mrs. Wheeler's three sons and helped Mr. Wheeler's engine as far as the Old South meeting house."

It should be noted that his contemporaries considered Greenwood an unreliable witness - he was a servant to the Customs collectors and gave wildly conflicting testimony about his involvement in the "Massacre"- but this detail may, in itself, be more credible. From No.10's Engine House to the South Meeting House was about three long blocks, a bit more than half the distance to the head of King Street at the Town House.

We already know from Thomas Wilkinson's report that the Old South Engine (No. 7) was out at this time, and probably was one of the two later reported together at King Street by eyewitness Benjamin Frizwell:


"The deponent proceeded about his business, as far as Wheeler's Point, and while there, the bell rang as usual for fire, and he with others ran to the Town-house; two engines being there drawn, the men attending, left them on the west end of the Town-house." 

According to another participant, Benjamin Davis; "I...went into King street, and saw some with buckets; the engine was in King street, but nobody with it."  He may be referring either to the South Engine or to the one kept at the Town House - No. 5, called The Marlborough Engine - that would have been closest to the commotion. Shubael Hewes, who was south of the Custom Hosue when the bells began ringing, reported;  

"I spent the evening with an acquaintance near the Town dock; sitting in the room, the Master of the house came into the room, and said fire was cried, and the bells a ringing; as I belonged to the engine, I was first out of the door, with my surtout and stick...I thought I should meet our engine coming down the lane or Cornhill..."  


Mr. Hewes belonged to Engine No. 5, and would succeed its long-serving Engine Captain Thomas Read in 1772.

From this we can conclude that at least two fire engines reached the head of King Street by the North end of the Town House (No. 5 and No. 7.) when the bells rang, and perhaps one more responded at least part way (Engine No. 10).

The paid fire companies were not the only ones who turned out that night, however. There were also
volunteer Fire Societies, associations of 25 to 30 neighbors and merchants who pledged to come to each others' assistance in case of fire. Some of the regulations and orders of these ancient associations have been preserved. One of the more colorfully named was the Anti-Stamp Fire Company, established in 1763 but evidently renamed when it published its bylaws in 1765 (republished in 1776). In addition to specifying fines for member non-attendance or non-compliance, the rules of the Society made specific mention of fire equipment that each member was to maintain and bring with him in case of fire:

Jonathon Rowe's Fire Bucket

Fire buckets were made of leather and waterproofed with pitch.   They sometime bore elaborate "folk art" designs in addition to the identifying names and numbers associated with their owners.  Fire Societies sometimes painted their motto on their buckets, though I have been unable find documentation for any that may have been associated with the Anti-Stamp F.S.   It is tempting to imagine the thundering words of James Otis rendered as a Latin motto, and I could not resist doing so, but it is purely conjectural:

                Tributum Çine RepræÇentatione Tryannus eÇt.


The other fire-fighting equipment referenced in the rules of the society was standard salvage gear.  Once a blaze took hold, the threat to personal household property was of more immediate urgency than saving the structure, which in turn was a threat to the Town.  While some members formed bucket brigades, others used their fire bags to rescue items from the burning buildings.  These bags were made of linen duck or other strong canvas, and often had a draw string to secure their contents.  A surviving Portsmouth, New Hampshire fire bag used during this period by a member of a local Fire Society appears at right.

The reference to a "Bed-Winch" actually indicates a bed-wrench, a specialized forged iron tool used to disassemble the heavy wooden beds that  were often the most valuable possession in the household. These wrenches included ends that could draw recessed bolts that joined the posts and the frames of the bedstead.  Though their form and complexity evolved over time, bed-wrenches or bed keys remained an essential part of the fire-fighter's tool kit well into the 19th century.

The fact that many people turned out for a fire when the alarm bells rang was an important point of testimony during the aftermath of the Boston Massacre.  It was necessary to establish what people held in their hands, whether buckets and bags or more dangerous items such as clubs, because it could very well affect the verdict if the soldiers acted in self defense.  Thomas Wilkinson thought there was a fire, and he described buckets, bags and engines in his account.  Although one cannot be certain that he brought any fire-fighting supplies to the scene himself, I am prepared to play him that way, with bucket in hand, when the showdown at the Customs House plays out once again this year for the Boston Massacre commemoration.  It remains to be seen whether I shall take liberties with the motto or stick to the plain requirements of name and number.

_________________________________________________________________________________
Sources:

Arthur W. Brayley; A Complete History of the Boston Fire Department: Including the Fire-Alarm Service and the Protective Department; from 1630 to 1888; Boston, Massachusetts: John P. Dale & Co., 1889

Frederick Kidder, History of the Boston Massacre,, March 5, 1770, Consisting of the Narrative of the Town, the Trial of the Soldiers, and a Historical Introduction; Albany, New York: Joel Munsell, 1870

"Rules and Orders to be Observed by the Anti-Stamp Fire Society", 1763

"Rules and Orders to be Observed by the Anti-Stamp Fire Society, Instituted at Boston, October 1763, Revised and Corrected November 1776"

Selectmen's Minutes (vol 7) 1769-1775; Boston, Massachusetts; Rockwell & Churchill, 1893











Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Fate of the "Withywood"; Reconciling Participant Accounts with Conflicting Data

British Merchant Ships of the Jamaica Fleet in the Central Atlantic Hurricane, Sept. 17, 1782

I am writing an article for the Journal of the American Revolution on the disaster that struck a large British convoy in the middle of the Atlantic in the last months of the War of American Independence.  In fact, I'm fairly certain I have enough research material now and a compelling narrative for the first full length book on the story of Admiral Graves' ill-fated Jamaica Fleet. The article comes first, and there is plenty that won't make it into the 4,500 words or so that I hope will be in the finished piece. From time to time, I will share a vignette or two from my broader research here, and explore the challenges of reconstructing 18th century events at sea from contemporary eyewitness statements that are sometimes at variance with subsequent facts.

Participant accounts of battles on land are similar in some ways to those of survival at sea. Laurence Babits and Joshua Howard1 adopt a methodology for their groundbreaking re-evaluation of the Battle of Guildford Court House that treats veterans' pension declarations and contemporary battle reporting as artifacts.  The
authors weigh the relative credibility of individual testimony and look for internal consistency and evidence of event sequencing. Richard Fox, Jr. pioneered a similar approach that uses native American oral history in combination with battlefield archeology and combat modeling to offer a dramatically different interpretation of the Battle of Little Big Horn2.

Traditional archeology is little help in evaluating the fate of wooden ships that seemingly vanished without a trace, but treating contemporary newspaper accounts, Admiralty reports and reprinted survivor letters as artifacts helps to avoid some of the pitfalls that come with over-reliance on eyewitness testimony that every prosecutor knows but not every historian fully appreciates.

Consider the fate of just one merchant ship from the 90 or so sail that were part of the Jamaica Fleet when it encountered a powerful hurricane on September 16th and 17th East of the Banks of Newfoundland.  Withywood, Captain Thomas Evers, was a veteran of the Jamaica trade, a square rigged ship of 350 tons with three decks and sheathed against shipworm3 .  She took her name from a place in Jamaica known for its woody, creeping plants or "withes".

One of the very first reports of the storm to reach England was published in the October 4, 1782 edition of the twice-weekly shipping insurance newspaper "New-Lloyd's List":

"The Withywood, Evers, from Jamaica to London, foundered in the Gale, off the Banks of Newfoundland. Crew taken up by the Thetis, arrived at Bristol."

The same edition reported that Thetis, Captain Major, arrived at Bristol from Jamaica on October 2nd.

A variation on this account was published in the Glocester Journal4 on October 7th, 1782:

"The Thetis, Capt. Major, one of the Jamaica fleet, is arrived at Bristol. She brings advice of the Withywood, for London, belonging to the same fleet, having foundered."

Other papers repeated the story, such that by October 10th Withywood was authoritatively listed among the small but growing number of merchant ships that were known to have foundered in the Gale5.   One early newspaper report of the dispersal of the Jamaica Fleet by the hurricane listed Withywood as dismasted instead of having foundered
6.

There is also the apparent smoking gun - reprinted in the "Pennsylvania Packet" (Vol. XLI, No. 977) on December 17, 1782  - which contains an excerpt from a letter written by the Captain of the Withywood describing how the ship foundered and he and the crew were rescued by Thetis:




Captain Edwards could easily be a misspelling of Captain Evers and the case seems conclusively in favor of the assertion that Withywood went down.  

The problem is that b
arely three months after she was reported lost at sea by “New-Lloyd's List”, a ship named Withywood, under Captain Evers, appears in the January 24, 1783 edition of the same paper.  It records that she departed from Graves End for Jamaica three days before, in company with a second ship that is known to have survived from the homeward-bound fleet.  The next edition of “New-Lloyd’s List” shows Withywood at the Downs with a large number of merchant ships preparing to proceed once more in convoy to Jamaica, and subsequent reports reveal she was among those that reached their destination safely7..

A review of Lloyd’s Registry of Shipping between 1780 and 1786 makes it clear that there is only one ship named Withywood in each year and her Captain in every case is Thomas Evers.  Her specifications are nearly identical in almost every respect.   Her tonnage is the same, but there are important differences from year to year that reveal we are dealing with two ships named Withywood, not one.

Lloyd's Registry in 1783 has an odd correction for the name of Withywood's Captain, with the name J. Young struck through and that of T. Evers added below.  Withywood was a late addition to the Registry, with her name appearing after those that were recorded in alphabetical order.  There are slight but important differences in her record.   Prior years indicated that Withywood was a constant trader, but no such designation is made in 1783.  Most significantly they have different dates and places of building.  The 1784 edition of the Registry provides yet another vital clue.  The former name of Withywood is listed in that year beneath her entry: Loyal Briton.  And indeed, Loyal Briton is described in Lloyd's Registry for 1780.

The inescapable conclusion is that Withywood, Captain Evers, did indeed founder in the gale, and that Loyal Briton was renamed Withywood and Captain Evers made master of her to continue in the Jamaica trade.

Thomas Evers died in 1799, “The London Gazette8” printed the following notice:

“Captain Thomas Evers of the Ship Withywood, Debtors and Creditors.
All Persons having any just Claim or Demand on the Estate or Effects of Thomas Evers, late of London, Master Mariner, and Commander of the Ship Withywood, trading to Jamaica, deceased, are peremptorily desired to send the Particulars thereof to Mr. Thomas Trundle, Crosby-Square, London…”

 1. Babits, Lawrence E. and Joshua B. Howard (2009); Long, Obstinate, and Bloody; The Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.  See also Babits, Lawrence E. (1998); A Devil of a Whipping; The Battle of Cowpens, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, in which the author first combined the techniques of battlefield archeology with traditional historical inquiry by treating participant accounts as artifacts.
2. Fox, Richard A. Jr. (1993); Archeology, History, and Custer's Last Battle, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
3. Lloyd's Register of Shipping (1782)

4. "The Glocester Journal" October 7, 1782, Vol LX1, No. 3156, Printer/Publisher R. Raikes

5. "The Hereford Journal" October 17, 1782, Vol XIII, No. 637

6. “The Oxford Journal” October 5, 1782

7.  “New-Lloyd’s List”  January 24, 1783 No. 1434; , January 28, 1783  No. 1434; and  June 13, 1783  No. 1472

8.  “The London Gazette”  December 21, 1799 Issue 15215, Page 1320



Thursday, August 11, 2016

"An Arbitrary Action, Contrary to Law, Inconsistent with Liberty": A Hot Press in Newport, 1765 (Part IV)

1770 British Press Gang print
(clothing more typical of 1760s)
Relations between Newport, Rhode Island and representatives of the Royal Navy deteriorated throughout the month of May, 1765 to such a degree that the Town was practically under blockade by His Majesty's ship Maidstone and her ship's boats.  The navy's customs enforcement mission in Narragansett Bay had been obstructed at every turn by local authorities and through extralegal crowd action in support of customs evasion.  Perhaps in retaliation, Maidstone now began stopping and searching vessels large and small entering Newport, often pressing seamen in the process. 

The impact of these tactics on trade and commerce, as well as the lives or ordinary Newporters, was deeply felt.  A letter published in the  Newport Mercury on June 10th, 1765 (written by a writer identified only by the initials O.G.) paints a picture of a community besieged:

"[the]Severity exercised by the Officers and People of the Maidstone, which, together with the Behaviour of this Set of Myrmedons, for four of five weeks past, who have visited every Vessel entering the Harbour, our wood Boats, and the very smallest Coasters not excepted, to impress Men, and have generally taken all that did not belong to the town of Newport, as Capt. Antrobus had given his Word to the Sherriff, that he would take none of those; yet the Consequence of these arbitrary and Illegal Measures, especially in Time of profound Peace, proves as fatal to the Inhabitants of the Town: we already feel the Effects; Seaman’s Wages advanced nearly one Dollar and a half per Month; our Wood Wharves almost clear of Wood; The Coasters from the neighbouring Governments shunning our Port, to escape the hottest Press ever known in this Town; and if a speedy Stop does not take Place, the Lamentable Condition of the poorer Part of the Inhabitants, the approaching Winter; will be truly Affecting, as in May, June, July and August, the Town is mostly supplied with Wood...– Our Fish market, a considerable Support of the Town, is greatly distressed, as few of the Fishermen dare venture out, it being reported none shall escape the Impress.

detail from "Abandoning Ramillies" by R. Dodd (1783)

In short order, coastal trade came close to a standstill, the only shipping entering port being those engaged in the transatlantic and West Indies trade that had not yet heard of the increased risk on impressment, setting the stage for the inevitable escalation of this standoff to open resistance to the navy and crowd violence.

On June 4th, 1765 - The King's birthday, a Newport vessel arrived in harbor at the end of a year-long slaving voyage and was promptly intercepted by Maidstone almost as soon as she made port.  This was the brigantine "Ospray", owned by merchant Naphtali Hart who was a prominent member of Newport's Jewish community.   Kyle Dalton, who writes the British Tars blog and will be portraying the Ospray's Master Richard Champlin during our upcoming recreation of this episode on August 27th in Newport, has written an excellent piece about what we know about the brigantine and her voyage to Africa and return via Jamaica.  What happened after she returned to Newport sparked a riot.

The letter writer in the Newport Mercury declared;

"The Cause of this Mischief was, the Officers of the Maidstone, a few Hours before, impressing all the men out of a Brigantine from Africa, last from Jamaica, after some small Resistance made by the Crew, and not a little Severity exercised by the Officers and People of the Maidstone..."

Maidstone's Captain Charles Antrobus, who was away at the time, naturally gave a different interpretation in his account to the Admiralty in London, summarized by the Admiralty clerks as follows:

"The report was that the cause of the outrage was the impressment of some men belonging to the colony; but Capt. Antrobus thinks it was entirely owing to the [customs] seizure made by him. Out of the impressment a dispute arose between the Governor and Capt. Antrobus, the former claiming jurisdiction over the King’s ships in harbor, and the latter repudiating his claim."

Whatever the spark, all seven of the crew of the Ospray, Master Champlin excepted, were overcome by the press gang and taken into naval service on Maidstone. The irony of slavers being themselves enslaved probably occurred to few of their contemporaries. Some of these men were certainly from the community, though, and feelings ran high. By early evening a very large crowd had gathered at the waterfront, where one of the ship's boats had brought 2nd Lieutenant William Jenkins ashore, and took matters into their own hands.

There was a tradition of violent resistance to Royal Navy impressment throughout the Atlantic world. A common element was to destroy the means used by the press gangs to bring their captives back to their ships, and such was now the case in Newport. Lieutenant Jenkins was overwhelmed and his boat seized by an angry mob that Governor Ward would later downplay as "consisting altogether of the dregs of the people and a number of boys and negroes.” It was a stock response in such cases for the authorities to claim that "no person of the least note was concerned in the riot", but there were usually instigators of considerably higher status who actively supported the rioting.

The Newport Mercury's letter writer described the event this way:

"TUESDAY Evening last, about Nine O’Clock, his Majesty’s Ship the Maidstone’s boat was taken from one of the wharfs, by a mob consisting chiefly of Sailors, Boys and Negroes, to the Number above about Five hundred, haul’d up through Queen-Street to the Common, at the upper End of the Town, where they burnt her, in the Circle of the exasperated Tumult, which I believe every sensible Man in Town now regrets, and am persuaded was out of the Power of the Authority to Prevent her Fate, as it was but a few Minutes from the Time of their taking her to her being in Flames."

The correspondent "O. G." continued:

"...The Measures taken by the Rabble is by no Means to be countenanced, much less approved of; yet it is to be hoped, the Authority, or the principal Part of the Gentlemen in Town, will interpose in its Relief, before our Distresses are more sensibly felt, or it’s past Remedy for this Season, either by persuasive Arguments with Capt. Antrobus, to desist pursuing or allowing the unpopular Methods of manning His Majesty’s Ship, by impressing in the very Bowels of the Town; or, if this should fail, and Excursion of every Power which ought, and must, necessarily take Place, for Self-preservation , for Safety of Life and Property.”

Governor Ward was out of town that evening, but on his return he dispatched the High Sheriff to  Maidstone where he found 1st Lieutenant Cuthbert Baines in command during Captain Antrobus's absence. The Governor subsequently wrote to Antrobus on June 11th that he has insisted on

"the dismission of several inhabitants of this Colony, lately impressed and detained on board said ship, contrary to law. In return to which, he acquainted me that it was not in his power to comply with my order; but that he hourly expected your return, and was very confident you would give me sufficient satisfaction upon that head.”

In the same letter, Governor Ward noted that the Sheriff had brought back Lt. Baine's written "account of the illegal proceedings of some persons of this town in taking and burning a boat belonging to His Majesty’s ship Maidstone, and abusing Mr. Jenkins, the second lieutenant."

Thus began a correspondence between the Governor and the Captain that lead to neither one's satisfaction. Ward, whose letters are far more readily available to researchers than those written by Antrobus, was most emphatic that the navy was in the wrong:

"Sir, I must observe, that the impressing of Englishmen is, in my opinion, an arbitrary action, contrary to law, inconsistent with liberty, and to be justified only by very great urgent necessity.”
“But as the ship under your command lay moored in the harbor of an English Colony, always ready to afford you all assistance necessary for his Majesty’s service, I could not conceive any possible reason sufficient to justify the severe and rigorous impress carried on by your people in this port.”
“You assert that while your ship is afloat, the civil authority of this Colony does not extend to and cannot operate within her.”

“But I must be of opinion, Sir, that while she lies in the body of a County, as she then did, and still does, within the body of the County of Newport, all her officers and men are within the jurisdiction of this Colony, and ought to conform themselves to the laws thereof and while I have the honor to be in the administration, I shall endeavor to assert and maintain the liberties and privileges of His Majesty’s subjects and the honor, dignity and jurisdiction of the Colony.


While each man disputed whose behavior had been improper and whose actions were legal, problems in Newport continued.   After several weeks of this standoff, Captain Antrobus released those pressed men who belonged to Newport but retained those from other colonies.  While the "Ospray"'s men were still detained, the Masters of various vessels who attempted to bring impressed men on Maidstone their pay were, according to "O.G.", treated with all imaginable Contempt and Disrespect...Others that went on board to carry Seamen their Chests and Bedding, had their Boat turn’d adrift, and themselves put under Confinement; and detained all Night."  The navy may have perceived this incident differently, believing that evidence of the higher wages paid in the merchant service might entice other sailors to desert.  

Neither was Newport through with mob action as the crisis continued. One again, 2nd Lieutenant William Jenkins was in the thick of things, and again bore the brunt of the community's anger. A local merchant, Christopher Champlin (undoubtedly related in some way to the Master of the Ospray), held the contract to supply His Majesty's warships while in Harbor. According to a later Admiralty report, an attempt by Champlin to bring supplies to Maidstone was opposed onshore by "a merchant who, at the head of 40 or 50 men, endeavoured to prevent the merchant who contracted for the victualling of the King’s ships from sending some provisions on board."

Captain Antrobus would protest to Governor Ward that Mr. Jenkins was at risk of his life had not two other passing gentlemen intervened, but the Governor brushed him off, saying in yet another letter written in March, 1766 that both Lieutenant Jenkins and Mr. Champlin had full recourse to the local courts but had failed to act upon it.

"Of the other tumultuous proceedings mentioned in the close of your letter, I can recollect nothing at present, except your representation of Mr. Champlin’s being surrounded by a mob, &c., upon which I must observe that if that gentleman had been insulted and forcibly prevented from supplying the King’s ships with provisions, and had made application to me on the occasion, I should have immediately have given him all necessary aid, protection and assistance; but as he never made any complaint to me; I conclude that he has received no injury, and that the behavior of the persons concerned in the matter proceeded wholly from the resentment which they conceived, on the inhabitants of the town being impressed and detained on board the Maidstone, and not from any real design of distressing any of his Majesty’s servants, and the uninterrupted manner in which the ship hath since been supplied, confirms me in the sentiments I then entertained of this matter. "

The customs enforcement and impressment struggle in which Maidstone played so significant a part in Newport primed the pump for even more disturbance and crowd action that year Within a month, rioting would break out in Newport once more, this time over the impending implementation of the Stamp Act. Maidstone, however, soon left the scene, sailing to Halifax for repairs on or about August 19th, 1765.



detail of a chart of the coast of New England showing the south shoal of George's Bank
 Postscript:     Captain Antrobus would later command His Majesty's ship Jason but died of disease in March, 1769 at Antigua.  Master Timothy Doggett of the Sloop Polly died that same year at his home in Dighton, Massachusetts.  John Robinson played a prominent target of the stamp tax riot in Newport, and went on to notoriety in Boston. Lieutenant Baines remained in service, but only briefly commanded his own vessel before retiring to the half pay list in 1774.  In 1809, still in retirement, he was senior enough to finally be made Post Captain, dying the following year.

On the south shoal of George's Bank in 1765, Maidstone's tender, a small American schooner, foundered with the loss of all 12 hands.   This was at least the third ship's boat that Maidstone lost since Antrobus took command - the first sunk or smashed during the crossing from England in 1763, the second consumed in flames in Newport in 1765. I will have to wait until I can read the log books and ship's muster from the Admiralty archives to be certain, but it is quite possible that this loss of the tender happened during Maidstone's passage to Halifax that August.  It would have been either a midshipman's or a junior lieutenant's command.  2nd Lieutenant William Jenkins disappears from the available records after the incidents in Newport.  Perhaps it was he who commanded the little schooner that was lost on the Banks.