J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Continental Army Paperwork to Transcribe

The Newberry Library in Chicago announced it has just digitized a collection of Continental Army receipts for clothing, food, and other supplies. And it’s asking for volunteers to help transcribe those documents.

More detail:
Found in the papers of Chauncey Whittelsey, a Yale-educated clergyman and Connecticut-based merchant who served as purchasing agent for the Continental Army during the American Revolution, the receipts help reveal another front-line in the Revolutionary war: supplying the Continental Army. Yet a problem remains: no digitally searchable transcriptions of the Whittelsey papers presently exist.

In order to help scholars make use of Whittelsey’s receipts and other similar manuscripts, the Newberry developed Transcribing Modern Manuscripts, a crowdsourced transcription site that allows members of the public to help transcribe almost 30,000 pages of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American manuscripts. Once completed, these transcriptions promise to deepen our understanding of American history and shed light on overlooked but important actors like Chauncey Whittelsey.

And certainly, Whittelsey’s role was important. As purchasing agent, he was responsible for supplying the Continental Army with those essential goods – from frock coats, stockings, and beaver hats to axes, firearms, cheese, and rum (lots of rum) – that enabled the war effort to proceed. His receipts thus provide a glimpse into the commercial networks that sustained the Revolutionary Army.
So far the collections on the Transcribing Modern Manuscripts page all seem to come from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, after Americans dropped the long s and dictionaries codified spellings. But presumably expressions of interest from volunteers interested in eighteenth-century documents might widen the scope.

Library staffer Matthew Clarke posits that the transcriptions could lead to “a map that displays the geographic nodes in this commercial network, along with the names of town authorities, sums of money transferred, and types of goods exchanged.”

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Road to Concord Leads to Shrewsbury, 31 Jan.

Thanks to Eric Stanway of the Worcester Telegram for his article in advance of my Road to Concord talk to the Shrewsbury Historical Society on 31 January.

Here’s a taste:
“Basically, this lecture deals with the issues that brought the British troops out to Concord in 1775,” Mr. Bell said. “The background information frequently doesn’t get as much attention as the battle itself. The issue at the time was that the Massachusetts patriots were amassing cannons and other armaments in Concord and even more in Worcester.

“So this was a hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Although the troops conducted a thorough search, they didn’t find much apart from Concord’s own town weapons. What they were really looking for were four small brass cannons which had been stolen from military armories in Boston, and had been smuggled out of town into the countryside.”

Mr. Bell said that the British governor actually had viable information that the armaments were in the hands of the patriots, and was determined to find the weapons.

“He had British officers disguised as civilians, spying on the locals,” he said. “He had good information that the weapons were out there. However, the patriots got word that the troops were on the march, so they hid all of the armaments before they arrived.”

Although tensions were high, Mr. Bell said, there was no real indication that the colonists were looking for all-out war.

“The colonists started amassing weapons on the grounds that, if they showed they were able to defend themselves, that would compel the British authorities to back down,” he said. “They weren’t actually looking for independence at that point. What they were after was a certain degree of autonomy, and a reversal of Parliament’s latest laws about how the colonists should govern themselves.”
I haven’t found evidence of artillery pieces in Shrewsbury, though there were some nearby. And the Massachusetts Provincial Congress asked Shrewsbury’s Patriot leader, Artemas Ward, to form and train an artillery company to use some of those guns. I’ll speak about his response to that request.

This talk is will happen on Wednesday, 31 January, at 7:00 P.M. With the sponsorship of the Shrewsbury Historical Society, it will be at the Shrewsbury Public Library, 686 Main Street. I’ll gladly inscribe copies of The Road to Concord afterward.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

“At my trial for caning Gill”

In April 1768 John Mein went on trial for assaulting rival printer John Gill. In fact, he faced two trials—in criminal and civil court.

On 19 April the local magistrates cited Mein for criminal assault and fined him 40 shillings, or £2. Not a huge amount, but a judgment that he had disturbed the peace of Boston.

At the same time, Gill sued Mein for £200 in damages. John Adams represented Gill. The case was tried on 28 April, and the 2 May Boston Post-Boy reported the verdict:

after a long Hearing the Jury found a Verdict in favour of the former [Gill], for one Hundred and thirty Pounds Lawful Money Damages, and Costs of Court. From which Judgment we hear both Parties appealed to the next Superiour Court. 
I’m skipping further ahead of the Sestercentennial anniversaries to finish this story. The appealed case came up in the March 1769 session of Massachusetts’s highest court. Benjamin Kent and Robert Auchmuty were Mein’s attorneys. On Gill’s side, Adams was joined by James Otis, Jr.

Kent was a Whig with many Loyalist relatives; though he stayed in Massachusetts through the Revolutionary War, in 1785 he went to spend his last years with them in Nova Scotia. Auchmuty was one of Boston’s leading attorneys supporting the royal government. Otis and Adams were of course active opponents of that government.

The John Adams Papers contain his notes from the trial, but those don’t provide a useful summary, with disconnected phrases like “Kick upon the A—se” and “Distinction between Bump and Tumour.”

The facts of the assault don’t seem to have been in doubt, or even the question of whether Mein was in the wrong. Rather, the question was how much was he in the wrong. Had he planned the attack for days? Had the Gazette provoked Mein, so Gill was partially at fault? How big was the stick, and how big was Gill?

In the end, the jury found for Gill but awarded him £75 and costs—a smaller award than before, but still a “Large Sum,” as Harbottle Dorr wrote. At some point Mein wrote that his decision to cane Edes or Gill had “cost me about £100 St[erling].” He filed for a new trial but later withdrew that motion. By November 1769 Mein had worse to worry about.

Mein later wrote, “Otis at my trial for caning Gill, bandied about this Liberty of the Press as the Salvation of America, and said, that in beating him I had endeavoured to shutt up that great Source of freedom.” Seeing Otis in court must have particularly irked Mein because he was convinced that “Americus,” the anonymous newspaper writer who had called him disloyal and set off the whole affair, was Otis himself.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

“Two violent blows…upon the back part of the head”

On 18 Jan 1768, John Mein of the Boston Chronicle asked Benjamin Edes of the Boston Gazette to identify “Americus,” who had attacked him in a newspaper essay. Edes refused.

On 19 January, Mein asked again, hinting that this was a matter of honor. In his own words he went to the Edes and Gill print shop “to ask them one after another to take a short Walk.” Again, Edes refused.

On 21 January, the rival Boston News-Letter published a letter about the dispute:
Mr. [Richard] Draper.

I have heard an incorrect Account of a Difference between Messrs. Edes and Mein, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter: If Mr. Mein has been guilty of an insolent Attempt to break in upon the Liberty of the Press, it is just he should be exposed, and treated with due Contempt: If he is innocent, it is cruel to Propagate such a malicious Representation of his Impudence and Affectation: If therefore by Publishing this you can influence the Parties concerned to give a true State of the Matter, you will oblige a great Number of your Readers who are anxious to know the whole of the Affair, besides your humble Servant,

Just. Pacis.
That prompted Edes to publish the lengthy description of his interaction with Mein in the 25 January Boston Gazette. I quoted Edes’s report yesterday.

A whole week had gone by since Mein’s first visit to the Edes and Gill shop. But now the private argument between printers was out for everyone to read. That appears to have galvanized Mein into action. Now that the Boston Gazette printers had denied his “short Walk” challenge (and made the whole thing public), Mein resolved “to cane the first of them I mett.”

On the evening of 26 January (and I’m getting ahead of the Sestercentennial here), Mein ran into his rival. Not Edes, the politically active member of the Loyall Nine. Rather, Mein spotted Edes’s partner and relative by marriage, John Gill. According to Isaiah Thomas, “Gill was a sound whig, but did not possess the political energy of his partner.”

Mein hit Gill with his walking stick. According to legal papers, Mein “gave the said John Gill two violent blows…upon the back part of the head.” Such a caning wasn’t just an assault; under British dueling customs, it was also a way to signal that one’s opponent had forfeited any claims to be a gentleman. However, to locals like Harbottle Dorr, Mein merely behaved “like a ruffian.”

What the News-Letter had called “a Difference between Messrs. Edes and Mein” quickly became a “Dispute…between Messieurs Gill and Mein”—and more. “Populus” in the Gazette wrote:
If we suffer the Printers to be abused, for resolutely maintaining the Freedom of the Press, without discovering our just Resentment against those who endeavour to force them from their Duty, we shall soon find the Press shut against us—For it cannot be expected that one or two Men who will be subject to the Malice of the publick Enemies, bear to be bruised, and run the Hazard of being assassinated, if the Public, whose Cause they are fighting do not zealously patronize their Cause.

The People in this Province, and this Town in particular, must for the foregoing Reasons, be justified in their general Disapprobation of, and Disgust to Mr. Mein, for his late Spaniard-like Attempt on Mr. Gill, and in him, upon the Freedom of the Press.
“Populus” then revived the initial complaint that Mein had revealed “his Enmity to this Country, by villifying her great and firm Friend, the illustrious Mr. [William] Pitt, under God and the King, the Saviour of Britain, and the Redeemer of America.” In other words, it was very important to preserve the freedom of the press, and to attack anyone who published bad things about America’s political hero.

TOMORROW: Going to court.

Friday, January 19, 2018

“I am come to demand the author of the piece you printed”

Yesterday I described how the 18 Jan 1768 Boston Gazette published a critique of John Mein and John Fleeming’s Boston Chronicle that insinuated they were “Jacobite” traitors to the British Empire.

As a Scotsman, Mein was sensitive to that charge of disloyalty, so he went to speak to the printers of the Gazette, Benjamin Edes and John Gill.

Edes later published a detailed account of their discussion (which I’ve broken up into shorter paragraphs for easier reading):
In consequence of a piece signed Americus, published in the last Monday’s Gazette, Mr. Mein came to our office between 4 and 5 o’clock the same afternoon, and there being a number of persons present, he desired to be spoke with in private, accordingly I withdrew with him to another room—when he said, I suppose you know what I am come about.

I told him I did not.

Well then, said he, I am come to demand the author of the piece you printed against me; and if you will not tell me who he is, I shall look upon you as the author, and the affair shall be decided in three minutes.

In reply to which I said, Mr. Mein, above all persons in the world, I should not have thought a Printer would have ask’d such an impertinent, improper question; and told him that we never divulg’d authors; but if he would call on the morrow between 9 and 10 o’clock, being then very busy, I would let him know whether I would tell the author or not,—and added,—if we have transgress’d the law, it is open, and there he might seek satisfaction.

He said he should not concern himself with the law, nor enter into any dispute; but if I did not tell the author, he should look upon us as the authors, and repeated it, the affair should be settled in three minutes.

I then ask’d him, if what he said with regard to settling the affair in three minutes, was meant as a challenge or threat? which he declin’d answering, but said he would call at the time appointed, and then departed.
Already newspaper printers believed that they had the right not to divulge their sources—at this time, the sources of the articles they printed because they didn’t really do their own reporting. Mein, who hadn’t been in the newspaper business for long, viewed his dispute with “Americus” as personal.

We return to Edes’s story with what happened 250 years ago today:
Accordingly the next morning, I was at the office precisely at 9 o’clock, where I found Mr. Mein, who immediately after my entrance, and saying your servant, ask’d whether I would tell him the author of the above piece or no.

I told him I would not.

He then said he should look upon me and Mr. Gill as the authors.

I told him he might and welcome. I then ask’d him what he meant by saying the last night he would settle the affair in three minutes, whether as a challenge or threat?

He answered, if I would take my hat, and take a walk with him to the southward, he would let me know.

I told him I was not to be at every fellow’s beck, and did not regard him.

He then said, I shall look upon you as the author.

I reply’d, you may.

Your servant, and your servant.
On the one hand, the genteel civility of all those “Your servants.” On the other hand, two boys on the playground, taunting, “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!”

TOMORROW: Someone gets hurt—and it’s not Mein or Edes.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

“The most infamous and reproachful Invectives”

Talking about “The Liberty Song” and its parodies, all from the second half of 1768, gets us a little ahead of the Sestercentennial. Here’s what happened in Boston 250 years ago today.

Back on 21 Dec 1767, John Mein and John Fleeming had launched the Boston Chronicle, the town’s first new newspaper in years. Relatively recent arrivals from Scotland, those men promised to publish more material from Britain than competitors.

Their first issue also promised to be unbiased, but it included a snide remark about the Earl of Chatham, calling the former William Pitt “a miserable monument of wrecked ambition.” Pitt was a great hero to American Whigs, who weren’t aware of how his inaction was frustrating his colleagues in London. Almost a month later, the 18 January Boston Gazette carried a response signed “Americus”:
When I read the Proposals, for publishing the Boston Chronicle, I tho’t on the Plan with Satisfaction, hoping thereby much good would accrue to America in general, and to this province in particular; with Pleasure I also noted the judicious Advice given Messi’rs Mein and Fleeming by their Friends of Taste. . . .

But to the Surprize of many, how are they fallen off from their own Purposes, and the excellent Caution of their Benefactors—Instead of giving impartial Accounts concerning Affairs at Home, and the unhappy Disputes lately arisen between the greatest Men of the Nation; they have made Choice of, or printed under Guise of being taken from the London Papers, the most infamous and reproachful Invectives, that ever was invented against the worst of Traitors to their King and Country, and who are these that are thus censur’d? Why, men held in the highest esteem and veneration in the British Parliament. Patriots and Friends and Deliverers of America from Oppression. He who nobly vindicated her Cause, almost against the whole Senate, who cast behind him all Lucre of Gain, when it came in Competition with the Good of his Country, and sacrific’d his Family-Connections and Interest to the publick Welfare. He that through real Infirmities hardly stood, (not to cover his politic Schemes and Ambition as his Enemies would insinuate) but stood though tottering, and in the Cause of Liberty made that heroic Speech before the august House of Commons, in Opposition to the Stamp-Act, sufficient to eternize his Fame, and ought to be written in Letters of Gold to perpetuate his Memory.

Could the Sons of America be ingrateful, or countenance the greatest Falsities, rais’d only to prejudice their best Friends and Benefactors—God forbid! Let that Dishonor stain with the blackest Infamy the Jacobite Party—And though Invectives should be daily thrown out,  let us keep our Integrity to the Confusion of our Enemies; who, for a long Time have exerted their Power to shake the Props of our Constitution, and bring a free people into Bondage, thereby to satisfy their more than common Avarice, &c.
Those were fighting words! Well, one word in particular:
The Jacobites supported the Stuart claimants to the British throne rather than the Hanover line. The incursion of Bonnie Prince Charlie (shown above) in 1745 showed that the Stuarts’ strongest support was in Scotland. And Mein and Fleeming were from Scotland.

In sum, “Americus” was insinuating that the Boston Chronicle printers were disloyal to the British government because of their ethnicity.

TOMORROW: Mein couldn’t let that go.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Parody, and the Parody Parodized

“The Liberty Song” by John Dickinson and Arthur Lee (to music by William Boyce) became so popular in Boston after July 1768 that by the end of September two parodies were circulating.

That was already a busy summer. In June the Customs service seized John Hancock’s ship Liberty for alleged smuggling. In response, a waterfront crowd rioted, driving most high Customs officials to take shelter at Castle William.

Then came news that the London government had ordered troops into Boston. That decision had been made before the Liberty riot, but the violence made it a lot harder for locals to argue the Crown was overreacting. Nevertheless, the Boston Whigs invited all the other towns in Massachusetts to send delegates to an extralegal Convention of Towns to discuss how to respond.

Above a report that ninety towns were sending men to the Convention and an advertisement for Paul Revere’s dental services, the 26 September Boston Gazette broke this story:
Last Tuesday the following SONG made its Appearance from a Garret at C–st–e W——m.

Come shake your dull Noddles, ye Pumpkins and bawl,
And own that you’re mad at fair Liberty’s Call,
No scandalous Conduct can add to your Shame.
Condemn’d to Dishonor, Inherit the Fame——

In Folly you’re born, and in Folly you’ll live,
To Madness still ready,
And Stupidly steady,
Not as Men, but as Monkies, the Tokens you give.
And so on. This wasn’t labeled as a parody of “The Liberty Song,” but everybody could see that it was. A later verse hit an even more sensitive spot by warning, “Then plunder, my Lads, for when Red-Coats appear, / You’ll melt like the Locust when Winter is near…”

Ordinarily Edes and Gill would be the last printers in Boston to give space to such an attack on the Whigs. But in this case, they were riling up their base. Tying the poem to Castle William pointed to the Crown officials living there.

And word spread. On the Sunday night before that issue of the Gazette came out, an Admiralty Court official appeared at the print shop with a message:
Having been told that you intended to publish a Song in your News Paper, called a Parody on the Song of Liberty, under my name, as the Author of it, I think proper to forewarn you from publishing such a falsity, or any other thing under my name, without my authority; and if you persist in doing it in this, or any other instance, it shall be at your peril.

I am,
Your humble Serv’t.
Hen. Hulton.
Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton did write poetry, but he never took credit for those verses. Of course Edes and Gill declared they had never intended to print Hulton’s name.

A week later, the Boston Gazette had another set of verses to share, in a sort of back-and-forth rap battle between versifiers of opposing politics:
The following was publish’d in a Hand-Bill last Week.

The Parody parodized,

Come swallow your Bumpers, ye Tories! and roar,
That the Sons of fair FREEDOM are hamper’d once more;
But know that no Cut-throats our Spirits can tame,
Nor a Host of Oppressors shall smother the flame.

In Freedom we’re born, and like SONS of the brave,
Will never surrender,
But swear to defend her,
And scorn to survive, if unable to save.
And so on. That song went on to express confidence that George III was on the side of his American subjects: “When oppress’d and reproach’d, our KING we implore, / Still firmly perswaded, our RIGHTS he’ll restore…” American Whigs were still a long way from breaking with the king.

In August 1769 Boston’s Sons of Liberty banqueted in Dorchester. John Adams wrote that the entertainment included both “Liberty Songs”—“that by the Farmer [Dickinson], and that by Dr. Church, and the whole Company joined in the Chorus. This is cultivating the Sensations of Freedom.” Dr. Benjamin Church thus gets credit for the “Massachusetts Song of Liberty.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

John Dickinson’s “Song, to the Tune of Heart of Oak”

On 4 July 1768, John Dickinson, already a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress and the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, wrote to James Otis, Jr., from Philadelphia:
I inclose you a song for American freedom. I have long since renounced poetry. But as indifferent songs are frequently very powerful on certain occasions, I venture to invoke the deserted muses. I hope that my good intentions will procure pardon with those I wish to please, for the boldness of my numbers.

My worthy friend, Dr. Arthur Lee, a gentleman of distinguished family, abilities and patriotism, in Virginia, composed eight lines of it.

Cardinal de Retz always inforced his political operations by songs. I wish our attempt may be useful. I shall be glad to hear from you, if you have a moment’s leisure to scribble a line to, dear sir, your most affectionate, most obedient servant…
For all of Dickinson’s diffidence about those lyrics, he had also sent copies to the printers of three Philadelphia newspapers, asking each to “insert the following in your next.”

“A Song, to the Tune of Heart of Oak &c.” duly appeared in the Philadelphia papers over the initial “D.” It began:
COME, join Hand in Hand, brave AMERICANS all,
And rouse your bold Hearts at fair LIBERTY’s Call;
No tyrannous Acts shall suppress your just Claim,
Or stain with Dishonour AMERICA’s Name.

In FREEDOM we’re BORN, and in FREEDOM we’ll LIVE,
Our Purses are ready,
Steady, Friends, steady,
Not as SLAVES, but as FREEMEN our Money we’ll give.

Our worthy Forefathers---let’s give them a Cheer---
To Climates unknown did courageously steer;
Thro’ Oceans to Desarts for Freedom they came,
And dying bequeath’d us their Freedom and Fame---
(The Pennsylvania Gazette rendered that last word as “Name.”)

Two days after sending his lines to Otis, Dickinson had second thoughts. He wrote again:
I enclosed you the other day a copy of a song composed in great haste. I think it was rather too bold. I now send a corrected copy which I like better. If you think the bagatelle worth publishing, I beg it may be this copy. If the first is published before this is come to hand, I shall be much obliged to you if you will be so good as to publish this with some little note, “that this is the true copy of the original.”

In this copy I think it may be well enough to add between the fourth and fifth stanzas these lines:
How sweet are the labors that freemen endure,
That they shall enjoy all the profit, secure—
No more such sweet labors Americans know,
If Britons shall reap what Americans sow.
In freedom we’re born, &c.
I am, dear sir, with the utmost sincerity, your most affectionate and most humble servant,…
Dickinson got that new verse into the Pennsylvania Chronicle publication of the song on 11 July. It went before one complaining about “Swarms and Placemen and Pensioners,” which he footnoted with the explanation, “The Ministry have already begun to give away in PENSIONS, the money they lately took out of our pockets, WITHOUT OUR CONSENT.” I think the Townshend Act actually provided salaries for royal appointees, not pensions, but Dickinson wanted to highlight the issue of taxation without representation and royal pensions already had a bad name.

The Boston Gazette published the original form of Dickinson’s lyrics on 18 July. Evidently his second letter didn’t arrive in time for Edes and Gill to insert the new verse. The Boston Evening-Post published the same version in August.

As Todd Andrlik traced, the Philadelphia and Boston publications were just the start. Dickinson’s verses, soon titled “The Liberty Song,” appeared in several more newspapers all over the American colonies.

TOMORROW: Dueling parodies.

Monday, January 15, 2018

“Hearts of oak are we still”

In 1759 the British Empire enjoyed a string of military victories, including the Royal Navy’s triumph over the French in the Battle of Quiberon Bay.

At the end of that year the theatrical star and empresario David Garrick celebrated those wins in a new show titled Harlequin’s Invasion: A Christmas Gambol. The play featured a bunch of British clowns, some outrageous French stereotypes, and the pantomime hero Harlequin speaking for the first time.

In the story, Harlequin tries to get into Parnassus but doesn’t come up to the standard of Garrick’s hero, Shakespeare. A handwritten script is in the collection of the Boston Public Library.

Among the play’s new songs was one that Garrick composed with William Boyce (1710-1779, shown above), sometimes referred to as Dr. Boyce since he received an honorary doctorate in music from Cambridge in 1749. That song was known as either “Come, Cheer Up, My Lads” for its first line or “Heart of Oak” for its chorus.

It begins:
Come, cheer up, my lads, ’tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.
As “Heart of Oak” this tune eventually became the anthem of the Royal Navy. It was soon published in Britain’s American colonies and became a popular patriotic singalong.

On 3 April 1766 those colonies were celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act and a new ministry in London. The Pennsylvania Journal published new lyrics to “Heart of Oak” supplied by “S.P.R.” They began:
Sure never was picture drawn more to the life
Or affectionate husband more fond of his wife,
Than AMERICA copies and loves BRITAINS sons,
Who, conscious of freedom, are bold as great guns.

Hearts of oak are we still,
for we’re sons of those men,
Who always are ready, steady, boys, steady,
To fight for their FREEDOM again and again.

Tho’ we feast and grow fat on America’s soil,
Yet we own ourselves subjects of Britain’s fair isle.
And who’s so absurd to deny us the name?
Since true British blood flows in ev’ry vein.
“S.P.R.” asked “the Sons of Liberty in the several American provinces to sing it with all the spirit of patriotism.” The lyrics were reprinted as far north as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and as far south as Williamsburg, Virginia.

TOMORROW: The more famous American rewrite of “Heart of Oak.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Kitchen for James Hemings

Yet another story of a recent rediscovery comes from Monticello, where archeologists dug under a part of Thomas Jefferson’s estate where bathrooms had been built for visitors during the Bicentennial.

Megan Gannon of Live Science reports on the deep history of what they found:
And, finally, underneath the dirt, the team found the original brick floor of the kitchen where enslaved cooks working in the cellar would have made food to be delivered to the Jeffersons in the top story. The remains of a fireplace and the foundations of four stew stoves were also intact. . . .

Those four foundational compartments of the stew stoves would have been the clean-out, where the ash would have fallen. The actual stoves would have been about waist-high, Ptacek said. Each stove would have had a small hole for hot coals from the fireplace. An iron trivet would have gone above the coals to hold pans. Stew stoves were essential for making dishes that required slow heating and multiple pans. The setup was the equivalent of a modern stovetop, but it was uncommon in North America at the time because it required special training to use.

Stew stoves first became popular in 17th-century France, Neiman said. Previously, during the Renaissance, the cuisine of the rich in Europe involved heavy use of spices imported from far-flung parts of the world. But that changed when spice prices plummeted after European powers took control of resources and trade routes during colonial expansion across the Atlantic and into Asia.

“All the sudden, highly spiced foods are no longer the way you signal you’re wealthy,” Neiman said.

The new type of cuisine perfected by French aristocrats as a form of status competition was extremely labor intensive. Their “sumptuous multicourse meals,” Neiman, said, involved fresh veggies, fresh meats and slowly heated sauces based on cream, butter and eggs, without a lot of spice so that the natural flavors of the food could shine through.

Jefferson had an affinity for French cooking, and he likely first encountered stew stoves during his education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was a frequent guest at the colonial governor’s palace in Williamsburg, which was one of the few places to have stew stoves at the time.

But Jefferson must have become much more familiar with this style of cooking when he served as the U.S. minister to France from 1784 to 1789. As soon as Jefferson took this diplomatic position, he wrote to his future secretary that he wanted to take then-19-year-old [James] Hemings to France “for a particular purpose,” which turned out to be having him trained in the art of French cooking. The archaeologists at Monticello think the stew stoves were likely part of a kitchen upgrade Jefferson made when he returned from Paris.
Jefferson liked Hemings’s cooking so much that he took the younger man to Philadelphia when he started to work in the federal government, and even to New England when he and James Madison went on a sightseeing and party-building tour.

In 1793 Jefferson and Hemings made an unusual deal: the cook would keep working at Monticello until he had trained his younger brother in that kitchen, and then become free. Peter Hemings in turn was the Monticello chef from 1796 to 1809 before becoming the estate’s brewer after President Jefferson brought Edith Fossett home from Washington, D.C. to those stew stoves.