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.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

“With great zeal I went to Genl Washington”

Elias Boudinot (1740-1821) was a Continental Congress delegate from New Jersey, eventually president of that body, and later a U.S. Congressman and director of the U.S. Mint. He was brother-in-law of Richard Stockton twice over (i.e., each married the other’s sister).

For a considerable period of the war Boudinot was the American commissary of prisoners, meaning he was responsible for feeding and supplying captured British and Hessian soldiers. As such, he often worked closely with the Congress, local authorities, and Gen. George Washington.

Boudinot left behind a manuscript in which he explained:
A great many interesting anecdotes, that happened during the American Revolutionary War, are likely to be lost to Posterity, by the negligence of the parties concerned, in not recording them, so that in future time they may be resorted to, as throwing great light on the eventful Crisis, of this important Æra—I shall therefore without any attention to order, but merely as they arise in my memory, set down those I have had any acquaintance with, attending principally to the TRUTH of the facts.
That manuscript was published in 1890 as Boudinot’s Journal or Historical Recollections of American Events during the Revolutionary War. It’s not really a journal since he didn’t record events as they happened; indeed, most of the stories aren’t tied to specific dates. But they’re valuable nonetheless.

Here’s one example:
In [April] 1777 Genl [Benjamin] Lincoln, was surprised at the Dawn of Day in his Quarters at Bound Brook. by Lord Cornwallis. who had marched from Brunswick passed his out Centinels captured or destroyed his main guard, and was at the Genls Quarters before he knew anything of it. He had but just time to escape out of a back door. Several men were killed and one or two pieces of ordnance taken.

It was sometime a mystery how this had been effected with so much secrecy, till I was well informed by a Gentn of note who was with the Enemy at Brunswick, that a certain Farmer whose name he mentioned and who lived in the midst of our Camp had communicated to Lord Cornwallis our Countersign, by which he had accomplished his intentions,

My spirit was very much aroused ags this Traitor and with great zeal I went to Genl Washington with the information, stating the substance of it. but keeping back the name of my informant; as he had assured me his life depended on my prudence & faithfulness to him; I urged the Genl, (to give) orders to sieze the Culprit without delay & make an Example of him. The Genl did not immediately answer me. on which I repeated my request.

He then said. did not you tell me that the life of your informant depended on your secrecy,—would you take up a Citizen & confine him without letting him know his crime or his accuser.—No—let him alone for the present: watch him carefully. and if you can catch him in any other crime. so as to confront him by witnesses. we will then punish him severely.——

My mortification was very great. to think. that I who had entered the Army to watch the Military & preserve the civil rights of my fellow citizens. should be so reproved by a Military man, who was so interested in having acted otherwise I recd it as a severe lecture on my own imprudence
When I read that story, I thought that the interaction with Washington could have come right out of the television show Turn: Washington’s Spies, given how it presents the commander’s character.

I’ve been reviewing the final season of Turn for Den of Geek; you can find my assessments here. Gen. Washington, played by Ian Kahn, remains one of the decidedly best parts of the show.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thomas Fleming: Four Pages a Day

The author Thomas Fleming died this week at the age of ninety.

As I described back here, in 1960 Tom was a journalist putting out his first book. Now We Are Enemies was the first full-length narrative of the Battle of Bunker Hill published since the nineteenth century. It launched his career as a historical writer.

Inspired by advice he received early on to write four pages a day, six days a week, Tom completed more than fifty books in all. The best-selling title was probably Liberty!: The American Revolution, based on the P.B.S. television series. But his own studies of the Revolutionary War covered everything from a single battle in New Jersey (The Forgotten Victory) to Yorktown (Beat the Last Drum) and beyond (The Perils of Peace).

Tom also wrote on other periods of American history, he wrote historical fiction, and he wrote books for younger readers. In 2010 I got to attend a staged reading of a play he had composed decades earlier about Dr. Joseph Warren and Dr. Benjamin Church.

I had the pleasure of meeting and corresponding with Tom a few times. What struck me most was his enthusiasm for researching history and communicating it. To illustrate that, in 2009 I analyzed how he’d come to misattribute a few words about Dr. Warren to Abigail Adams. The next time we talked, Tom brought up that post, congratulated me on spotting what had happened, and even seemed happy to see an explanation. A small slip fifty years earlier meant much less to him than the pleasure of learning more.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Hannah Snell’s Wound

Last month I quoted a news item from 1771 about Hannah Snell, celebrated in the British Empire for having served as a marine in the late 1740s.

During Britain’s early campaigns in India, Snell was wounded in the legs and groin. Nevertheless, her superiors didn’t discover that she was a woman. That provoked some questions, so I looked up the portion of the book about Snell that described her wounding.

This is from an 1801 edition of The Female Warrior:
During all this time, our heroine still maintained her wonted intrepidity, and behaved in every respect consistent with the character of a brave British soldier. She fired during the engagement, no less than thirty-seven rounds, and received six shots in her right leg, and live in the left; and what was still more painful, a dangerous one in the groin.

Distressed in her mind, lest the surgeons should discover the wound in her groin, and consequently her sex, which she was determined to conceal, even at the hazard of her life.—Confirmed in this resolution, she communicated her design to a black woman, who attended her, and who had access to the surgeon’s medicines, and begged her assistance. Her pain, now became very acute; and with the generosity of the black woman, who brought her lint, salve, &c. she endeavoured to extract the ball; by probing the wound with her finger, till she could feel the ball, after which she thrust in her finger and thumb, and pulled it out. This was a painful and dangerous operation; but she was resolved to brave every difficulty, rather than expose her sex, and in a little time she made a perfect cure.

As the heavy rains, and the violent claps of thunder were now set in, (being what they term in that country, the monsoons) the siege was entirely raised.

Our heroine being so dangerously wounded, was sent to an hospital, at Cuddylorum; and was attended by Mr. Belchier and Mr. Hancock, two able surgeons; from whom she concealed the wound in her groin.

During her residence in the hospital, the greater part of the fleet sailed; but as soon as she was perfectly cured, was sent on board the Tartar Pink, which then lay in the harbour, and continued to do the duty of a sailor, till the return of the fleet from Madras.
Curious as it seems, the Royal Navy did have a ship named the Tartar Pink. In 1739 it brought news of Britain’s rising hostilities with Spain to Boston. That was the start of the War of the Austrian Succession, which was still going on when Snell joined the military in 1747.

At least one later author assumed that the “black woman” in Snell’s eighteenth-century biography was a native of India rather than, say, an African attached to the army. Either way, it’s an interesting example of women working together.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Talking About Revolutionary Massachusetts This Week

From midnight to 1:00 A.M. on Wednesday, 26 July, I’m scheduled to be interviewed by Bradley Jay on his radio show, Jay Talking. That will be on WBZ, 1030 AM.

[CORRECTION: It turns out that when I agreed to be on the show on 26 July, the producer was thinking that’s the date when I’d show up at the studio for a show to be broadcast on 27 July. So the conversation will actually happen early on Thursday.]

(Assuming, that is, that the U.S. Constitution is still operative and we haven’t stumbled into any wars that will preempt regular programming. Hard to be confident these days.)

I understand that Jay is a fan of Revolutionary history. I expect we’ll talk about The Road to Concord, Gen. Washington in Cambridge, and other gossip I’ve collected over the years. But this will be a new experience.

On Saturday, 29 July, I’ll be one of the many speakers at History Camp Pioneer Valley, to be held at the Kittredge Center at Holyoke Community College. This is the second annual gathering of history enthusiasts sharing their research to be organized by the Pioneer Valley History Network.

My presentation will be “An Assassin in Pre-Revolutionary Boston: The Strange Case of Samuel Dyer.” Other presentations on Revolutionary history include “Resurrecting the Memory of Major Joseph Hawley of Northampton: John Adams’s Campaign for a Forgotten Patriot” by Morgan E. Kolakowski, “A Forgotten ‘HessianPrisoner in Brimfield during the Revolutionary War” by Larry and Kitty Lowenthal, “Early Black American Patriotism” by Adam McNeil, and “Pioneer Valley Gravestones (and some of the men who made them), c. 1650-1850” by Bob Drinkwater.

As of today there are still a few slots available for History Camp Pioneer Valley.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

“Last Argument” Symposium at Fort Ti, 5-6 Aug.

Fort Ticonderoga will host a symposium on 5-6 August titled “New Perspectives on the Last Argument of Kings: A Ticonderoga Seminar on 18th-Century Artillery.”

This event complements the exhibit “The Last Argument of Kings: The Art and Science of 18th-Century Artillery,” which runs at the site through October 29.

Presenters from Fort Ticonderoga’s own staff and elsewhere include:
  • Stuart Lilie, “Artillery at This Post: Three Case Studies of Artillery at Ticonderoga.”
  • Matthew Keagle, “Lost in Boston: The Artillery of Carillon/Ticonderoga” and “Pell’s Citadel: The Ticonderoga Artillery Collection.”
  • Nicholas Spadone, “Green Wood and Wet Paint: American Traveling Carriages at Ticonderoga.”
  • Christopher Bryant, “Ultima Ratio Regum: A Pair of Vallere 4-Pounders at Yorktown and Beyond.”
  • Richard Colton, “The American Foundry-Springfield Arsenal, Massachusetts, 1782-1800: Assuring Independence.”
  • Andrew De Lisle, “If you are satisfied with the methods the workers have found…then so am I: Reproduction as a method of understanding Eighteenth-century Artillery.”
  • Eric Schnitzer, “Pack Horses, Grasshoppers, and Butterflies reconsidered: British light 3-pounders of the 1770s.”
  • Robert A. Selig, “The Politics of Arming America or: Why are there still more than 50 Vallere 4-pound cannon in the United States but only 3 in all of Europe?”
  • Christopher Waters, “When the King’s Last Argument is but a whimper: Artillery Deployment in Antigua’s Colonial Fortifications.”
Registration costs $155 per person, or $135 for Fort Ticonderoga Members. Registration forms can be downloaded from the fort’s website under the “Education” tab, “Workshops and Seminars.”

I’m already signed up.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Colonial Newspaper Subscription Prices

Last month I posted twice about the cost of advertising in colonial American newspapers.

One source of those articles, the 1884 U.S. Census Office report “The Newspaper and Periodical Press” by S. N. D. North, also discussed what pre-Revolutionary newspapers charged their readers for subscriptions:
The colonial newspapers were sold at prices which varied according to the location and the currency of that location. The latter fluctuated so frequently in value that it is not always possible at this date to determine precisely the sum that the publisher regarded himself entitled to receive from his patrons; but there is sufficient reason to believe that this sum was a nearly uniform one in the respective colonies, and that it did not vary greatly in any one colony from the standard established in all the others.

John Campbell, when he founded the News-Letter in 1704, may be said to have established for his own and for subsequent generations the prevailing price of the weekly newspaper. He received the equivalent of $2 of our present currency, but did not think it worth while to advertise his price of subscription in the paper itself. This was a neglect to take advantage of an opportunity which found several imitators in the subsequent colonial newspapers. The Boston Gazette and Weekly Journal (1719) was sold for 16s. a year, and 20s. when sealed, payable quarterly, and at the value of currency at that time this was equivalent to $250 in our present money.

The American Magazine, a monthly periodical of 50 pages, founded in 1743, was sold for 3s., new tenor, a quarter, being at the rate of 50 cents, or $2 per annum. The Rehearsal, founded in 1731, was sold originally for 20s., but was reduced from that price to 16s. when [Thomas] Fleet took possession of it in 1733.

The Boston Advertiser was sold for 5s.4d. “lawful money”, and the Boston Chronicle (1767) for 6s.8d.—“but a very small consideration for a newspaper on a large sheet and well printed,” according to [Isaiah] Thomas, but likely to be regarded as a high price for a similar newspaper in these days.

The Christian History, weekly, 1743, was sold for 2s., new tenor, per quarter, but subsequently 6d. more was added to its price, “covered, sealed, and directed.” The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle, a monthly of 50 pages, sold for 3s., new tenor, per quarter, the equivalent of $150 per year.

Nevertheless, 6s.8d. appears to have been the ruling price at this period, for the Salem Essex Gazette (1768) and the Norwich Packet (1773) were vended at that rate. The New Hampshire Gazette (1756) was sold for “one dollar per annum, or its equivalent in bills of credit, computing a dollar this year at four pounds, old tenor”. The Portsmouth Mercury (1765) was sold for “one dollar, or six pounds o.t. per year; one-half to be paid at entrance”.

Thomas Fleet, who discontinued the Weekly Rehearsal in 1735 and began the publication of the Boston Evening Post on a half sheet of large foolscap paper, regarded the prevailing price for newspapers altogether too low, and in a dunning advertisement to his subscribers he declared:
In the days of Mr. Campbell, who published a newspaper here, which is forty years ago, Paper was bought for eight or nine shillings a Ream, and now tis Five Pounds; his Paper was never more than half a sheet, and that he had Two Dollars a year for, and had also the art of getting his Pay for it; and that size has continued until within a little more than one year, since which we are expected to publish a whole Sheet, so that the Paper now stands us in near as much as all the other charges.
In Pennsylvania the prices of newspapers were more uniform than in New England. The Philadelphia American Weekly Mercury, the first paper founded in that city, and the first outside of New England, being the third in the colonies, was sold for 10s. per annum. The Philadelphia Gazette (1733) was sold for the same price, as was also the Philadelphia Journal (1766), the Chronicle (1767), and the Ledger (1775). The Philadelphia Evening Post, founded in 1775, and issued three times a week, was sold at a price of two pennies for each paper, or 3s. the quarter. The Dutch [actually German] and English Gazette was sold for 10s. in 1749, when it was a weekly publication, and for 5s. in 1751, when it became a fortnightly publication.

The New York Weekly Journal (1733) was sold for 3s. the quarter. The Virginia Gazette (1766) was 12s.6d. per year [Purdie and Dixon offered that price in 1770, William Rind the same in 1771]. There was a notable increase in prices during the war in several cases, and the New Jersey Gazette, which was founded in 1777, fixed its price at 26s. per annum.
Supplementing North’s rundown, here are the subscription prices I found this spring:
  • New-England Courant under (nominally) Benjamin Franklin, 1723, 12s. per year or 4d. each issue.
  • New-York Mercury under Hugh Gaine, 1756, 12s. per year, rising to 14s. in 1757 to defray the cost of a provincial stamp tax, plus another 7s.6d. for delivery to Connecticut.
  • Massachusetts Spy under Zechariah Fowle and Isaiah Thomas, 1770, 5s. 
  • Massachusetts Spy under Thomas alone, 1774, 6s.8d. unsealed, 8s. “sealed and directed.” Thomas continued to charge that price after moving to Worcester in 1775.
  • Pennsylvania Packet under John Dunlap, 1771, 10s.
  • North-Carolina Gazette under James Davis, 1775, 16s.
  • New-York Packet under Samuel Loudon, 1776, 12s.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

An Aged Veteran and “The Young Provincial”

I’ve been discussing the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody’s sketch “The Young Provincial,” published in 1829, and Jacob Frost’s 1832 claim for a pension as a Revolutionary War veteran. Together they raise interesting questions.

First, looking just at the pension file, Jacob Frost’s wound on Breed’s Hill was bad enough to disable him but not to kill him, even with months in prisons and eighteenth-century medicine and hygiene. He must have had one hell of an immune system.

That wound also wasn’t bad enough to keep Frost from reenlisting for a short stint in 1780. Probably his experience as a soldier in battle and a prisoner of war was a reason the company made him its orderly sergeant. Yet that same wound was enough to earn Frost an invalid pension after the war. I suspect it was awarded in recognition of his suffering as a prisoner as much as for actual disability.

Next the bigger question of how Frost’s experiences relate to “The Young Provincial.” Dave Marcus of the Tewksbury Historical Society spotted the strong parallels between “The Young Provincial” and Jacob Frost’s experiences, as this article from the Tewksbury Town Crier in 2014 reported.

The Springfield Republican article from 1829 confirms that connection: “all the narrative parts of it are facts, in the life of a Mr. FROST, now living in Norway, Maine.” Even more clearly it made a connection between that literary sketch and “Dr. JOSHUA FROST of this town,” the veteran’s little brother.

Tewksbury vital records confirm that Jacob Frost, born 9 July 1753, had a little brother named Joshua, born 2 Dec 1765 and thus nine years old at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, just as the newspaper stated. Dr. Joshua Frost graduated from Harvard in 1793.

(Curiously, Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield from 1893 says that Dr. Frost was “born in Fryeburg, Me., in 1767.” Fryeburg wasn’t even formed into a town until 1777. It’s about thirty miles from Norway, where Jacob settled, but perhaps the two communities were more closely linked in the eighteenth century. But there’s some mix-up there.)

Given the Springfield newspaper’s hints, it seems likely that the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody heard stories about Jacob Frost from the old soldier himself during a visit, or from Dr. Frost, talking about his big brother.

The next question is whether “The Young Provincial” is a reliable source on Jacob Frost’s military experiences, filling out the bare-bones account that he submitted to the federal government. And on that question I’m skeptical. I think Peabody took so much literary license that we can’t accept any particular detail as reflecting Frost’s own story unless it also appears in his own account.

It’s not just a matter of how much dramatic detail “The Young Provincial” has but also how details contradict Frost’s own statement:
  • Frost stated that after the Battle of Lexington and Concord “he immediately enlisted at Cambridge near Boston for a term of eight months.” The narrator of “The Young Provincial” says he went home after the battle, joined a company in Tewksbury, and “arrived at the camp the evening before the battle of Bunker Hill.”
  • Frost was quite clear that he “was employed on the night previous to the battle of Bunker Hill on the 17th. Day of June 1775, in throwing up breast works.” The “Young Provincial” narrator describes other men doing that work; he “happened to reach the spot just as the morning was breaking in the sky.” (Veterans who worked all night digging and then had to fight the battle tended not to let anyone forget.)
  • Frost was “severely wounded in the hip” during that battle. For the narrator, “the ball entered my side,” and he also “was beaten with muskets on the head.”
  • The “Young Provincial” arrives home “on a clear summer afternoon.” Frost stated it was “the last of September.”
  • The final scene of “The Young Provincial” turns on the soldier’s family believing him to be dead, based on a report from a companion on the battlefield. In 1775 and 1776, Massachusetts newspapers published lists of provincial prisoners from the Battle of Bunker Hill which told everyone that Frost was still alive. His return home was a surprise, but not that much of a surprise.
Thus, I think we have to say “The Young Provincial” was inspired by a true story of a young soldier being wounded, imprisoned, and transported before escaping back home. But we can’t say the sketch is a true story.

(Thanks once again to Boston National Historical Park’s Jocelyn Gould for setting me off on this investigation. The photo above is the headquarters of Norway, Maine’s historical society; Jacob Frost would have known that 1828 building in its original location.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The True Author of “The Young Provincial”

The idea that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “The Young Provincial,” the sketch I quoted yesterday from The Token, for 1830, wasn’t a bad guess.

In 1830 Hawthorne wrote to the editor of that volume, Samuel G. Goodrich, proposing a collection titled Provincial Tales. The next year’s volume of The Token contained two sketches unquestionably by Hawthorne, and he wrote more for later volumes—so many that in one year Goodrich worried about publishing too many pieces by one author.

Hawthorne never claimed “The Young Provincial,” but he left some hints about not wanting some of his early literary output rediscovered. And he suppressed his 1828 novel Fanshawe altogether.

In 1890 Moncure D. Conway published a biography of Hawthorne stating positively that “The Young Provincial” was one of his early stories that had “escaped the attention” of scholars. He repeated that claim in an 8 June 1901 article in the New York Times Saturday Review.

Franklin B. Sanborn also argued that Hawthorne wrote seven previously unrecognized stories, including “The Young Provincial,” in the New England Magazine in 1898 and elsewhere. George Edward Woodbury discussed the sketch as likely Hawthorne in his 1902 biography of the author, and John Erskine accepted that possibility in Leading American Novelists (1910).

There were some doubters. Nina E. Browne said the sketch “probably was not written by Hawthorne” in her 1905 bibliography of his work. But there was enough consensus about “The Young Provincial” that variously titled editions of Hawthorne’s collected works published in 1900 included it in an appendix.

However, back in late 1829, when The Token, for 1830 first appeared for sale, the author of “The Young Provincial” was named. The 25 November Springfield Republican reprinted the story and reported:
The Token, for 1830.—This elegant little work, published S. G. Goodrich, Boston, has been before the public some weeks. We have had opportunity to read only the following story; but if this may be considered a specimen of the merits of the other articles, the book must be interesting. Its typographical execution exceeds any thing of the kind we ever saw. It will doubtless be gratifying to our readers in this vicinity, to know that the following story was written by a gentlemen of this town who has contributed much to elevate the standard of American literature; and that all the narrative parts of it are facts, in the life of a Mr. FROST, now living in Norway, Maine, and brother of Dr. JOSHUA FROST of this town. Dr. Frost, who was then about nine years of age, was “the little brother who ran to the meeting-house” to carry the tidings of the young provincial’s return from captivity.
That item was reprinted in the Essex Register, and then in the 13 Feb 1830 Columbian Centinel. Those newspapers added a phrase to the Republican’s identification of the author as a Springfield local: “[meaning, we presume, the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody.]” The Essex Register was published in Salem, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home town, but he didn’t object to crediting the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody with “The Young Provincial.”

The Rev. William Bourn Oliver Peabody (1799-1847, shown above) was a Unitarian minister in Springfield. He wrote poems, hymns, book reviews, and short biographies for Jared Sparks’s Library of American Biography as well as sermons. The Token, for 1828 contained his poem “To an Aged Elm,” so he was definitely in touch with Goodrich.

After Peabody died in 1847, his twin brother Oliver William Bourn Peabody started to write a biography to be published with his literary work. “A few of his productions may be found in ‘The Token’,” Oliver wrote about his brother William. Oliver also dabbled in literary pursuits, publishing a poem in The Token, for 1831 himself, while working as a Boston lawyer, legislator, bureaucrat, and college professor. But in 1845 the pull of parallelism had become too strong, and Oliver became a Unitarian minister like his twin, preaching in Vermont.

In fact, that parallelism was so strong that Oliver died in 1848, just one year after his brother. The biography of William had to be completed by a friend before being published in a collection of William’s sermons. In 1850, Everett Peabody edited The Literary Remains of the Late William B. O. Peabody, D.D. He chose only reviews and poetry from the North American Review, leaving out “The Young Provincial” and everything like it.

As a result, no book credited W. B. O. Peabody with that sketch until Volume XI of the Centenary Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne. That scholarly edition of Hawthorne’s tales cited the newspaper articles I quoted above about “The Young Provincial.” It also took four other tales that Conway and Sanborn had attributed to Hawthorne and showed they had been written by Lydia Maria Child, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edward Everett.

Ironically, the 1900 collections of Hawthorne that include “The Young Provincial” are now in the public domain and thus available on Google Book and as digital texts. The more reliable Centenary Edition is protected by copyright and priced for research libraries. Therefore, people looking into “The Young Provincial” are once again apt to come across statements that it was most likely written by Hawthorne—I did so at first. This book dealer is even selling The Token, for 1830 on the possibility that it might contain an early Hawthorne story.

But all that literary investigation is just in service of the question of whether “The Young Provincial” has historical value. Is it a reliable narration of a certain private’s experiences in the first year and a half of the Revolutionary War?

TOMORROW: Back to Jacob Frost.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“The Young Provincial” on Bunker Hill

At the end of 1829 the writer and editor Samuel G. Goodrich published an anthology of short stories and literary sketches by various authors titled The Token, for 1830.

One of those pieces was titled “The Young Provincial,” and it began:
“Now, father, tell us all about the old gun,” were the words of one of a number of children, who were seated around the hearth of a New England cottage. The old man sat in an arm-chair at one side of the fireplace, and his wife was installed in one of smaller dimensions on the other. The boys, that they might not disturb the old man’s meditations, seemed to keep as much silence as was possible for individuals of their age; the fire burned high, with a sound like that of a trumpet, and its blaze occasionally shone on an old rifle which was suspended horizontally above the mantel.
Of course, the Revolutionary-era gun above a mantel in a New England cottage wouldn’t have been a rifle but a musket.

The story the old man tells those boys begins with him as a youth in “Tewksbury, a small town in Middlesex county.” He and the other “younger men of our village” formed a minuteman company. The story says: “Perhaps if you accent the last syllable of that word minute, it would better describe a considerable portion of our number, of whom I was one.”

The narrator of the “Young Provincial” describes experiences that closely parallel those of Jacob Frost, quoted yesterday, except in a much more elevated language. This is how Frost’s pension application of 1832 discussed the Battle of Bunker Hill:
[He] was in the battle and was then severely wounded in the hip, and entirely disabled, and he laid among the wounded until the day after the battle—when he was taken up by the British & carried to Boston & there kept a prisoner
The Token story says:
As soon as Boston was invested, we heard that our services were called for, and nothing more was wanted to fill the ranks of the army. I arrived at the camp the evening before the battle of Bunker Hill. Though weary with the march of the day, I went to the hill upon which our men were throwing up the breastwork in silence, and happened to reach the spot just as the morning was breaking in the sky. It was clear and calm; the sky was like pearl, the mist rolled lightly from the still water, and the large vessels of the enemy lay quiet as the islands.

Never shall I forget the earthquake-voice with which that silence was broken. A smoke like that of a conflagration burst from the sides of the ships, and the first thunders of the revolutionary storm rolled over our heads. The bells of the city spread the alarm, the lights flashed in a thousand windows, the drums and trumpets mustered their several bands, and the sounds, in their confusion, seemed like an articulate voice foretelling the strife of that day.

We took our places mechanically, side by side, behind the breastwork, and waited for the struggle to begin. We waited long and in silence. There was no noise but of the men at the breastwork strengthening their rude fortifications. We saw the boats put off from the city, and land the forces on the shore beneath our station. Still there was silence, except when the tall figure of our commander moved along our line, directing us not to fire until the word was given.

For my part, as I saw those gallant forces march up the hill in well ordered ranks, with the easy confidence of those who had been used to victory, I was motionless with astonishment and delight. I thought only on their danger, and the steady courage with which they advanced to meet it, the older officers moving with mechanical indifference, the younger with impatient daring. Then a fire blazed along their ranks, but the shot struck in the redoubt or passed harmlessly over our heads. Not a solitary musket answered, and if you had seen the redoubt, you would have said that some mighty charm had turned all its inmates to stone.

But when they stood so near us that every shot would tell, a single gun from the right was the signal for us to begin, and we poured upon them a fire, under which a single glance, before the smoke covered all, showed us their columns reeling like some mighty wall which the elements are striving to overthrow. As the vapor passed away, their line appeared as if a scythe of destruction had cut it down, for one long line of dead and dying marked the spot where their ranks had stood.

Again they returned to the charge; again they were cut down; and then the heavy masses of smoke from the burning town added magnificence to the scene. By this time my powder-horn was empty, and most of those around me had but a single charge remaining. It was evident that our post must be abandoned, but I resolved to resist them once again.

They came upon us with double fury. An officer happened to be near me; raising my musket, and putting all my strength into the blow, I laid him dead at my feet. But, meantime, the British line passed me in pursuit of the flying Americans, and thus cut off my retreat; one of their soldiers fired, and the ball entered my side. I fell, and was beaten with muskets on the head until they left me for dead upon the field.

When I recovered, the soldiers were employed in burying their dead. An officer inquired if I could walk; but finding me unable, he directed his men to drag me by the feet to their boats, where I was thrown in, fainting with agony, and carried with the rest of the prisoners to Boston. One of my comrades, who saw me fallen, returned with the news to my parents. They heard nothing more concerning me, but had no doubt that I was slain.
Like Jacob Frost, the “Young Provincial” narrator is kept in the Boston jail for months, then transported to Nova Scotia in March 1776. He and five other men break out of their new prison on a night that’s literally described as “dark and stormy.” He struggles through the wilderness toward Massachusetts, benefiting from strangers’ kindness. At last he arrives in Tewksbury on a Sunday.
I went to my father’s door, and entered it softly. My mother was sitting in her usual place by the fireside, though there were green boughs instead of fagots in the chimney before her. When she saw me, she gave a wild look, grew deadly pale, and making an ineffectual effort to speak to me, fainted away. With much difficulty I restored her, but it was long before I could make her understand that the supposed apparition was in truth her son whom she had so long mourned for as dead.

My little brother had also caught a glimpse of me, and with that superstition which was in that day so much more common than it is in this, he was sadly alarmed. In his fright he ran to the meeting-house to give the alarm; when he reached that place, the service had ended, and the congregation were just coming from its doors. Breathless with fear, he gave them his tidings, losing even his dread, in that moment, for the venerable minister and the snowy wigs of the deacons.

Having told them what he had seen, they turned, with the whole assembly after them, towards my father's house; and such was their impatience to arrive at the spot, that minister, deacons, old men and matrons, young men and maidens, quickened their steps to a run.

Never was there such a confusion in our village. The young were eloquent in their amazement, and the old put on their spectacles to see the strange being who had thus returned as from the dead.
Again, Jacob Frost’s 1832 account said simply that “he finally arrived at his residence in said Tewksbury the last of September 1776”—which was in fact a Monday.

“The Young Provincial” thus seems to be an elevated version of Jacob Frost’s experiences. But did the author really hear about those events from Frost? Might the story’s hero be a composite of Frost and other men with similar war records? Can we use the story’s details to fill out Frost’s bare-bones pension application, or must we assume that the author used a lot of literary license? Those were questions that Jocelyn Gould of Boston National Historical Park and I started discussing earlier this month.

The easiest place to find “The Young Provincial” now is at the end of this volume of The Complete Writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1900. The picture above shows Hawthorne in 1841, or about eleven years after “The Young Provincial” was published. By then he had become locally known for his short stories, many based on New England history.

TOMORROW: But this story is not actually by Hawthorne.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jacob Frost’s Revolutionary War

On 13 Sept 1832, an eighty-year-old man from Norway, Maine, named Jacob Frost signed an affidavit describing his experiences during the Revolutionary War.

Frost’s statement, part of his plea for a federal government pension, said:
on the 19th day of April 1775, on the alarm of the enemys being on their march from Boston to Lexington, at Tewksbury in the State of Massachusetts, his then residence, he then being a minute man, he marched to Concord in the company commanded by Capt. John Trull of the Massachusetts militia and pursued the enemy to Boston and he immediately enlisted at Cambridge near Boston for a term of eight months, in the company commanded by Capt. Benjamin Walker, in the regiment commanded by Col. Ebenezer Bridge,

and was employed on the night previous to the battle of Bunker Hill on the 17th. Day of June 1775, in throwing up breast works—was in the battle and was then severely wounded in the hip, and entirely disabled, and he laid among the wounded until the day after the battle—when he was taken up by the British & carried to Boston & there kept a prisoner until March 1776, at which time the British evacuated Boston—when he was put on board a British man of war ship, called the Centurian—& carried in Irons to Halifax in Nova Scotia
The Nova Scotia diarist Simeon Perkins wrote on 1 April that “The Centurion man of war is off the harbour.”
and there kept in prison untill the 21st. of June 1776, when he with some others found means to escape from prison, & wandered almost without clothes & entirely without money through the woods, till he finally arrived at his residence in said Tewksbury the last of September 1776, being one year & five months absent from his enlistment aforesaid until his return to his home.

In the month of July 1779 [actually 1780] he again enlisted at Tewksbury aforesaid for the term of three months, as a private in the company commanded by Capt Amos Foster, and was immediately appointed a sergeant, said company was attached to the regiment commanded by Colo. [John] Jacobs, and was marched to Rhode Island where he served said three months—and was there verbally discharged—

He further represents that he is an Invalid Pensioner, as will appear by the certificate hereunto annexed—
That certificate, dated 29 Aug 1788, stated that Frost, then aged thirty-five, had been disabled by “one Musket ball, through his left hip bone.” He was awarded a pension of 15 shillings per month.

In a separate 1832 document, Frost added:
during the period of three months, that I served as orderly sargeant in the Company commanded by Capt. Amos Foster in Col. Jacobs regiment, on Rhode Island in the year A.D. 1779—the orderly Sargeant was appointed to act as a Lieut. in consequence of the absence of one of the Lieuts—and I was thereupon appointed to fill the vacancy and served the term of three months in that capacity—and I further declare that I did not receive a warrant from any officer, but acted without one.
Other veterans attested to Frost’s work as the company’s orderly sergeant.

TOMORROW: The literary version.

(The photograph above, courtesy of Classic New England, shows the Brown Tavern on Main Street in Tewksbury, built in 1740. The prominent porch is a later addition, as is the bank branch inside.)