Archive for the ‘New England’ Category

“what is to be the fate of this once rising country”

Over time the tone of the letters of Esther De Berdt Reed to her brother Dennis in England began to change. She became more sympathetic to the patriot cause, eventually becoming a committed supporter. She wrote to Dennis on 2 November 1774 of the determined resistance to the Parliamentary Acts which Americans perceived as depriving them of their rights as Englishmen.

when I tell you I have another daughter, you will not wonder that I have this time been a little negligent in answering letters. I assure you my hands are pretty full of business. Three children seem to take up all my time and attention. . . .
Many people here are very sanguine in their expectations that the Acts will be repealed immediately. . . . The People of New England . . . are prepared for the worst event, and they have such ideas of their injured Liberty, and so much enthusiasm in the cause, that I do not think that any power on earth could take it from them but with their lives. The proceedings of the Congress will show you how united the whole continent is in the cause, and from them you may judge of the sense of the people. . . .

She wrote again on 13 February 1775:

[Mr. Reed’s] business requires so much head work. . . . This with his late attention to politics has engrossed him more than common. . . . Of politics, I suppose you will expect me to say something, though everything now must come from you, and we are anxious to know what is to be the fate of this once rising country. It now seems standing on the brink of ruin. But the public papers will tell you everything, and Mr. Reed will also write you on the subject, so that little will be left for me to say, only that the people are in general united. The Quakers are endeavouring to steer a middle course, and make perhaps a merit of it to Government at home. How far their conduct will answer, I don’t know, but it is despised here. One great comfort I have is, that if these great affairs must be brought to a crisis and decided, it had better be in our time than our childrens. . . .
I love to think of England and of old times, perhaps I may see it again. It is surely a noble country, but such wishes and hopes I must keep concealed: perhaps they had better not rise at all. . . . adieu. Believe me, ever most assuredly and affectionately,
Yours, E. Reed

The above excerpts can be found on page 95 of In the Words of Women.

posted October 15th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Britain,Children,New England,Patriots,Philadelphia,Quakers,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Reed, Joseph

“the Tumults in my Native state”

In 1787, Abigail Adams was in London with her husband John who was the American minister there. She often corresponded with Thomas Jefferson who was representing the United States in France. In the following letter Abigail shares the information she has received about the so-called Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts. This event caused many, including Abigail and John, to believe that a stronger national government was needed.

London Janry. 29th 1787My dear sir
I received by Col. Franks your obliging favour and am very sorry to find your wrist Still continues lame. I have known very salutary effects produced by the use of British oil upon a spraind joint. I have Sent a Servant to See if I can procure some. You may rest assured that if it does no good: it will not do any injury.
With regard to the Tumults in my Native state which you inquire about, I wish I could say that report had exagerated them. It is too true Sir that they have been carried to so allarming a Height as to stop the Courts of justice in several Counties. Ignorant, wrestless desperadoes, without conscience or principals, have led a deluded multitude to follow their standard, under pretence of grievences which have no existance but in their immaginations. Some of them were crying out for a paper currency, some for an equal distribution of property, some were for annihilating all debts, others complaning that the Senate was a useless Branch of Government, that the Court of common Pleas was unnecessary, and that the sitting of the General Court in Boston was a grieveince. By this list you will see the materials which compose this Rebellion, and the necessity there is of the wisest and most vigorous measures to quell and suppress it. Instead of that laudible Spirit which you approve, which makes a people watchfull over their Liberties and alert in the defence of them, these Mobish insurgents are for sapping the foundation, and distroying the whole fabrick at once. But as these people make only a small part of the State, when compared to the more Sensible and judicious, and altho they create a just allarm, and give much trouble and uneasiness, I cannot help flattering myself that they will prove sallutary to the state at large, by leading to an investigation of the causes which have produced these commotions. Luxery and extravagance both in furniture and dress had pervaded all orders of our Countrymen and women, and was hastning fast to Sap their independance by involving every class of citizens in distress, and accumulating debts upon them which they were unable to discharge. Vanity was becoming a more powerfull principal than Patriotism. The lower order of the community were prest for taxes, and tho possest of landed property they were unable to answer the Demand. Whilst those who possesst money were fearfull of lending, least the mad cry of the Mob should force the Legislature upon a measure very different from the touch of Midas.
By the papers I send you, you will see the beneficial effects already produced, an act of the Legislature laying duties of 15 per cent upon many articles of British manufacture and totally prohibiting others. A Number of Vollunteers Lawyers Physicians and Merchants from Boston made up a party of Light horse commanded by col Hitchbourn Leit. col. Jackson and Higgonson, and went out in persuit of the insurgents and were fortunate enough to take 3 of their Principal Leaders, Shattucks Parker and Page. Shattucks defended himself and was wounded in his knee with a broadsword. He is in Jail in Boston and will no doubt be made an example of.
Your request my dear sir with respect to your Daughter shall be punctually attended to, and you may be assured of every attention in my power towards her.
You will be so kind as to present my Love to Miss Jefferson, compliments to the Marquiss and his Lady. I am really conscience Smitten that I have never written to that amiable Lady, whose politeness and attention to me deserved my acknowledgment.
The little balance which you Stated in a former Letter in my favour, when an opportunity offers I should like to have in Black Lace at about 8 or 9 Livres pr Ell. Tho late in the Month, I hope it will not be thought out of season to offer my best wishes for the Health Long Life and prosperity of yourself and family, or to assure you of the Sincere Esteem & Friendship with which I am Your’s &c &c
A Adams

In the first paragraph Abigail is referring to a broken or sprained wrist that Jefferson sustained the previous autumn by attempting to leap over a wall in a park to impress Maria Cosway with whom he was having a relationship. See post.

Abigail, albeit gently, challenges Jefferson’s faith in the ability of ordinary citizens to govern themselves and defend their liberties: “Instead of that laudible Spirit which you approve, which makes a people watchfull over their Liberties and alert in the defence of them . . . ”

In regard to Jefferson’s daughter, Abigail had been asked to take Polly under her wing when she arrived from the United States, and to send her on to Paris to her father. See post on this subject.

It is interesting to note that Abigail regularly requested Jefferson to make purchases for her and maintained an account with him for that purpose. One always needs a length of black lace.

Abigail Adams’s letter to Thomas Jefferson can be found online at Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2015. Here is the LINK to the website.

posted March 30th, 2015 by Janet, Comments Off on “the Tumults in my Native state”, CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Jefferson, Thomas,New England,Shays's Rebellion

An inventory of furniture at Brush Hill

Elizabeth Murray Campbell (age 33) and her second husband James Smith (age 70) lived at his beautiful 300-acre estate called Brush Hill from the time of their marriage in 1760 until his death in 1769, at which time the property became hers. (See posts concerning Elizabeth Murray here, here, and here.) When the widowed Elizabeth went abroad in 1769, her brother James lived on the estate.

Here is an inventory of the furniture in the house, taken in 1770. I confess I enjoy perusing inventories; the objects listed convey a sense of the kind of life the occupants of the house lived. I find the number of items related to food preparation and dining in this list particularly interesting: among them a pewter Calander, a cheese toaster, a Copper Coffee pot, 5 Tramels, 4 Bel[l]ows, and 1 Chaffin dish. An impressive collection, indicative I suspect of extensive entertaining. One item mystifies me: “4 extinguishers.” They are not snuffers as I originally thought as two of these are listed in the second column. Any ideas?

If you are having difficulty reading the manuscript consult the TRANSCRIPTION provided by the fabulous Elizabeth Murray Project.

posted August 11th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on An inventory of furniture at Brush Hill, CATEGORIES: Entertainments,Food,Marriage,New England

“poor defenceless children . . . arrested by cruel hands”

In the previous post black scholar Henry Louis Gates referred to a verse of Phillis Wheatley’s as “one of the most reviled poems in African-American literature” because in it Wheatley excuses the system of slavery on the grounds that it allowed her to become a Christian. This view seems to have been fairly common among slaves who became devout Christians, and among white Christians as well. I came across a memoir recently which expresses this same sentiment. Chloe Spear was a slave whose memoir was written in 1832, some seventeen years after Chloe died, by “A Lady of Boston”, a member of The Second Baptist Church in that city, tentatively identified as Rebecca Warren Brown. It describes how Chloe became a slave and what happened to her. The author had known Chloe and her story, but she editorializes throughout her account making it difficult to distinguish truth from conjecture and opinion.

About seventy years ago, on the coast of Africa, the subject of the following memoir, in company with four neighbouring children, herself the youngest, according to the statements from her own lips to the writer, resorted to the shore for amusement, either by bathing in the cooling stream, or other playful sports to which they were accustomed, with the full expectation of returning to their several homes, as usual, after such seasons of childish diversion.

While engaged in these innocent and healthful recreations, they were suddenly surprised by the appearance of several persons, who had secreted themselves behind the bushes: they knew not what to imagine they were, having never seen a white man; from whose frightful presence they attempted to shrink away, but from whose cruel grasp they found it impossible to escape. Not withstanding the piteous cries and tears of these poor defenceless children, they were arrested by cruel hands, put in to a boat, and carried to the dismal Slave Ship, which lay off a few miles in the river, the horrid receptacle of a living cargo, stolen from its rightful soil, by barbarous hunters of human prey for the purposes of traffic. Terror and amazement, as may be supposed, took full possession of their minds. Every thing around them was as novel as it was dreadful. A ship, they had never before seen; the language of these strange intruders was perfectly unintelligible to them and their intentions they were unable to comprehend: and no tender mother, no avenging father near, to know or to alleviate their wretchedness. Ah! little did these hapless children realize, when they quitted their native huts and frolicked, away to the woody beach, that they had left, for the last time, the places of their birth, and the fond embraces of their parents and brothers and sisters. . . . We can better conceive than express the feelings of their parents and friends when night came on, and the looked for children returned not. Silence has ensued, from that to the present hour. From their injured children, they heard no more. . . .

The cruel separation being made, and the terrified, weeping victims packed on board the floating prison, her sails are bent, and she bears them from Africa’s romantic wilds, never to return. . . .

The length of the passage is not known; the end of the voyage, however, brought them to Philadelphia. . . . Here, another painful separation was to take place. Hitherto the children had remained together, nor does the writer recollect to have understood that they were beaten, or otherwise cruelly treated, as many others have been. But now they were to be disposed of like cattle taken to a Fair, to the highest bidder. At the time they were exhibited in the market, the subject of our little history, whom, she said, the sailors used to call Pickaninny, on account of her being the smallest of the lot, was sick; consequently she did not meet a ready sale. The others were sold, she knew not to whom, and carried she knew not whither. . . . She . . . was subsequently purchased by Mr B. and brought to Boston, Massachusetts. Foul stain on the character of our beloved New-England!

She did not know her age, but from her appearance she was judged, she said, to be about twelve, at the time of her arrival. But, young as she was, she remembered various particulars respecting her country, such as climate, fruits, traditions, &c. And having always been accustomed to warm weather, she could not be made to understand what was meant by winter; and when told that, at that season, water sometimes became so hard that it could be cut with an axe, she was astonished and quite incredulous. When winter came on, and she first saw the falling flakes of snow, she was highly amused and playful. And as the season advanced, and produced to her senses the solid ice, she found, by ocular demonstration, that the assertions she had heard were indeed true!

Although enlightened and good people must always have known, that it was a barbarous and wicked thing to take their fellow-beings from their native land, and bring them to ours, to sell or buy them for slaves; yet it is well known that then there was less knowledge of its wickedness than there now is. Hence we are willing to believe, that if the master and mistress of this poor, oppressed girl, whose story is here related, and whom they named Chloe, had lived in our day, they would have dealt very differently by her from what they then did. But at that time, here, as now in many parts of the world, slaves were considered property, and their owners thought themselves under no more obligations to instruct them, otherwise than to do their work in such a manner as best to subserve their own interests, than farmers do, to take, their horses and oxen into their houses, instead of the pasture or the barn. With such views, it is not singular that Chloe was taught nothing, comparatively, of her duty to God, nor to read the blessed Bible. . . .

More about Chloe in the next post.

Memoir of Mrs. Chloe Spear, A Native of Africa, Who was Enslaved in Childhood, and Died in Boston, January 3, 1815. . . . Aged 65 Years by A Lady of Boston. 108 p., 1 ill. (Boston: Published by James Loring, 1832) DIGITAL EDITION, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2000. The illustration is the frontispiece in the book.

“I still feel a partiality for my native country”

In 1774, Peggy Hutchinson (see post here) had accompanied her father, Thomas Hutchinson former governor of Massachusetts, to London where, in exile, he tried to effect a reconciliation with the rebellious colony. She wrote the following letter to her sister-in-law Polly in America on October 29 describing a dispute after a dinner as to “which was the best country—New England, or Old?”

Papa, your husband [Peggy’s brother Elisha], and myself, were for the former : Mr. C[larke], and Billy [Peggy’s brother William] for the latter. I own I still feel a partiality for my native country. Papa could not help expressing his in very strong terms. Mr. C. said he never should lose the idea of the last winter : that the injuries he then received were too strongly impressed upon his mind ever to be erased. I told him I was surprised to find his affections so alienated from his country : that I thought the friends he had there, if nothing else, must make the place dear to him : and, as to climate, surely, said I, we have the advantage. They would neither of them allow it, but said the extremes of cold and heat were enough to ruin people’s constitutions. I, in return, had no mercy upon this, but exclaimed against it as cold, damp, dirty, and altogether disagreeable, and declared that I could not take a breath of air, but it gave me a cold and cough, which immediately fixed upon my lungs : and that if I lived here fifty years, I never should be reconciled to the climate, or to living in London; but could not but allow that the country was exceedingly beautiful, and struck me beyond anything I could imagine : but that only served to tantalize, as the ground was always so wet, (even in the middle of summer) that it was impossible to enjoy it by walking. We carried it on till it was time for them to go to the Play : and I believe Mr. C. was glad to get off with a whole skin. How happy should I be to see that country restored to a state of peace and quiet! not so much for my own sake as papa’s, who I think will be happier there. . . .

In a later letter Peggy writes “What joy would it give me if [Papa] could be the means of restoring peace to his native country, but I see no prospect of it : you are bent upon destruction.” Thomas Hutchinson’s attempts proved futile.

The letter can be found in The Diary and Letters of Thomas Hutchinson, Vol. 1, HERE, pages 276-77, 278.

posted March 10th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “I still feel a partiality for my native country”, CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Britain,Loyalists,New England,Weather

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