“the distress it has ocationed is Past my discription”

Jane Mecom kept up a correspondence with her brother Benjamin Franklin throughout her life. In the following excerpt she describes for Franklin, recently returned from Britain, the situation in Boston after the battles of Lexington and Concord. She was so alarmed by developments that she and her granddaughter accepted an invitation from friends to take refuge in Rhode Island. [Mecom’s letter is as she wrote it, replete with her creative spelling, punctuation and captalization. Reading it aloud will help to understand it.]

Warwick 14 May 1775My Ever Dear & Much Hond Brother
God be Praised for bring you saif back to America & soporting you throw such fatuges as I know you have sufered while the minestry have been distresing Poor New England in such a cruil maner. yr last … Advises me to: keep up my curidg & that faul wither does not last all ways in any country. but I beleve you did not then Imagin the Storm would have Arisen so high as for the Generl to have sent out a party to creep out in the night & Slauter our Dear Brethern for Endevering to defend our own Property, but God Apeard for us & drove them back with much Grater Lose than they are willing to own, there countenances as well as confeshon of many of them shew they were much mistaken in the people they had to Deal with, but the distress it has ocationed is Past my discription. the Horror the Town was in when the Batle Aprochd within Hearing Expecting they would Proceed quite in to town, the comotion the Town was in after the batle ceasd by the Parties coming in bringing in there wounded men causd such an Agetation of minde I beleve none had much sleep, since which we could have no quiet, as we under stood our Bretheren without were determined to Disposes the Town of the Regelors, & the Generol shuting up the town not Leting any Pass out but throw such Grate Dificulties as were allmost insoportable, but throw the Goodnes of God I am at last Got Saif Hear & kindly Recved by Mr Green & His wife. …
Affectionat Sister

The excerpts are from In the Words of Women Chapter 1, page 33, and The Letters of Benjamin Franklin and Jane Mecom edited by Carl Van Doren (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), pages 155-56. See other posts by Mecom HERE and HERE and HERE.

“the rioters are proceeding to the Jail”

During the eighteenth century medical schools increased in number and the education of doctors became more “scientific.” Learning about the anatomy of human beings meant studying and dissecting human bodies, consequently the demand for cadavers grew. In Britain those who had been condemned to death and executed were legally subject to dissection. Soon however, the shortage of bodies led to grave robbing, and body snatching became a lucrative business; its practitioners were called “resurrectionists.” The famous pair, William Burke and William Hare, went a step farther, murdering people to supply fresh corpses to doctors and students.

Body snatching also began to flourish in the United States to supply recently established medical schools, especially in cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York. Public graveyards and potter’s fields were robbed: those disinterred included the poor, African Americans and Indians. Trafficking in dead bodies disturbed many; efforts were made to protect the graves of the dead and to enact legislation governing the acquisition of cadavers. Public outrage and resentment often led to mob actions.

At City Hospital in New York, on April 13, 1788, a group of boys playing near the dissection room window claimed to have recognized one of the cadavers. An angry crowd attacked the hospital but was somewhat mollified when the police rounded up the medical students and doctors and put them in jail for their safety. When the mob reassembled and threatened to storm the jail, the militia was called out, but only a few responded. The authorities fired on the crowd and three rioters were killed. Several prominent citizens joined the militia in this action, among them Governor George Clinton, Baron von Steuben, and John Jay. Serving as minister for foreign affairs for the new nation, Jay was living in New York City. His wife Sarah wrote of the incident to her mother.

New York April 17, 1788My dr. Mama,
On Monday, the evening preceeding the day on which we expected a large company to dine, just as we were going to tea, Genl. Clarkson call’d in to know if we could lend him a sword, for says he the rioters are proceeding to the Jail & are determined to open the doors & liberate the prisoners as well as to tear in pieces the Doctors who are confin’d there, & if they effect their plan confusion, murder &c. may be the result. Mr. Jay ran up the stairs & handing Clarkson one sword, to my great concern arm’d himself with another, & went towards the Jail which the Citizens determin’d to defend.

Just as he was going up the steps of the jail, a stone thrown by one of the Mob (for it was too dark to discern which) took him in the forehead & stunn’d him so that he fell. Clarkson & Rutherford who were near, carried him into the Poor-house & fetch’d [Doctor] Charlton & then brought them both home together in the Carriage. The stone must have been large as it had made two large holes in his forehead. Judge Mama of my feelings when I saw him hurried from the Carriage to the Chamber by the Dr. & other gentlemen.

The Dr. immediately examined his wounds, & to my unspeakable relief pronounced that there was no fracture. After dressing the wound he bled him & gave him some drops that he said wd. compose him; it did not however make him sleep, but still his head felt better the next day tho’ his eyes were much swell’d & discolor’d, & indeed remain so yet. He is quite out of danger, but suffers vast pain from his neck & shoulders which we think must proceed from a cold he may have taken that rainy evening that he receiv’d his blow. …

I cannot quit the Chamber except to wait upon Mr. Jay & therefore beg that my dr. Mama will excuse my not having purchased the things for her. …
Remember us all to Papa & believe me my [dear] Mama to be sincerely Yr. dutiful Daughter
Sa. Jay

Sarah’s letter can be found on page 180-81 of Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay. The portrait of John Jay (in thumbnail) is by Gilbert Stuart c. 1784.

posted March 18th, 2013 by Janet, Comments Off on “the rioters are proceeding to the Jail”, CATEGORIES: Medicine,New York,Violence

” … the Sons of Liberty, of whom … you … will hear more.”

Anne Hulton, late in 1767, accompanied her brother Henry and his family from England to Boston where he had been named Commissioner of Customs by King George III. Almost from the very moment they set foot on American soil, their lives were in danger. Anne wrote to a friend in England in June of 1768.

You will be surprized to hear how we were obliged … to take Refuge on board the Romney Man of War lying in Boston Harbour. Mrs. Burch at whose house I was, had frequently been alarmed with the Sons of Liberty surroundg her house with the most hideous howlings as the Indians, when they attack an Enemy. … These Sons of Voilence after attacking Houses, breakg Windows, beating, Stoning & bruizing several Gentlemen belonging to the Customs, the Collector mortally, & burning his boat. They consultd what was to be done next, & it was agreed to retire for the night. All was ended with a Speech from one of the Leaders, concludg thus, “We will defend our Liberties & property, by the Strength of our Arm & the help of our God, to your Tents O Israel.” This is a specimen of the Sons of Liberty, of whom no doubt you have heard, & will hear more.

The HMS Romney Man of War was a fifty-gun British frigate stationed in Boston harbor at this time. It was responsible for seizing John Hancock’s ship Liberty as it tried to avoid paying customs duties imposed by the British. The base of British operations in the siege of Boston was Castle William in the harbor. Loyalists repaired there as well as to the Romney when they felt threatened by the Patriots.

This excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 1, pages 10-11. The image is by Surveyor Pierie William, 1773, and is in the British Library. Read another post by Anne Hulton HERE.

“A mob … broke the shutters and the glass of the windows”

Anna Rawle, the twenty-four-year-old daughter of Quaker Loyalists, recounted in a diary for her mother what happened in Philadelphia when the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown (19 October 1781) became known. She and her sister Margaret were living at the time with their grandmother on Arch Street, between Front and Second Streets.

October 22, 1781.—Second day. The first thing I heard this morning was that Lord Cornwallis had surrendered to the French and Americans— intelligence as surprising as vexatious. …

October 25.—Fifth day. I suppose, dear Mammy, thee would not have imagined this house to be illuminated last night, but it was. A mob surrounded it, broke the shutters and the glass of the windows, and were coming in, none but forlorn women here. We for a time listened for their attacks in fear and trembling till, finding them grow more loud and violent, not knowing what to do, we ran into the yard. … Coburn and Bob Shewell … called to us not to be frightened, and fixed light up at the windows, which pacified the mob, and after three huzzas they moved off. … French and J. B. nailed boards up at the broken pannels, or it would not have been safe to have gone to bed. … For two hours we had the disagreeable noise of stones banging about, glass crashing, and the tumultuous voices of a large body of men, as they were a long time at the different houses in the neighbourhood. At last they were victorious, and it was one general illumination throughout the town. … in short the sufferings of those they pleased to style Tories would fill a volume and shake the credulity of those who were not here on that memorable night

October 26.—Sixth day. It seems universally agreed that Philadelphia will not longer be that happy asylum for the Quakers that it once was. Those joyful days when all was prosperity and peace are gone, never to return. …

The excerpts are from In the Words of Women, page 155, and from The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, published by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Volume 16, 1892, “A Loyalist’s Account of Certain Occurrences in Philadelphia after Cornwallis’s Surrender at Yorktown,” pages 104-107. The image is from The Freeman’s Journal: or The North-American Intelligencer, Philadelphia, 31 October 1781,included in the National Humanities Center Resources Toolbox, Making the Revolution: America, 1763-1791.

posted July 5th, 2012 by Janet, comments (2), CATEGORIES: Philadelphia,Violence

“I want to vent myself … “

Christian Barnes, the wife of a colonial businessman, wrote to a friend in Scotland in 1769 of escalating unrest in the Boston area.

… It is long since I have dabled in Politicks, and sorry I am to resume the subject. … nor would I now trouble you with it but that I want to vent myself, and … ‘To whom shall I complain if not to you?’  The Spirit of discord and confusion which has prevail’d with so much violence in Boston has now begun to spread it self into the country. These Poor deluded People with whom we have lived so long in Peice & harmony have been influenced by the Sons of Rapin to take every method to distress us. … The first thing that fell a Sacrifice to their mallace and reveng was the Coach, which caused so much decention between us. This they took the cushings out of and put them in the Brook, and the next night Cut the Carraig to peices. Not long after they Broke the Windows at the Pearl Ash Works. …

The greatest loss we have as yet met with was by a mob in Boston, who, a few Nights ago, atacked a wagon Load of goods which belong’d to us. They abused the Driver, and cut a Bag of Pepper, which contain’d three hundred pd, leting it all into the street; then gather’d it up in their Hand[kerchie]fs & Hatts, and carried it off.

This excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 1, pages 14-15.

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