Tag Archives: American Revolution

Three Hancocks

If I were to participate in the Outings public art project featured in my last post, the image that I would convey from the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum to the streets of Salem would be a small mezzotint of John Hancock made by Salem engraver-silversmith Joseph Hiller after a John Singleton Copley painting from the early 1770s. There are actually two of these Hiller prints extant (at least), and I would love to see them side by side (I guess I can!). The Peabody Essex print is actually the second state: the Shepard Fairey-ish image in the collection of the National Museum of American History is an earlier impression. The Hiller prints were made about 1775, after Hancock has assumed the role of President of the Continental Congress, as is a third print after Copley rendered by the British engraver William Smith: the smuggler patriot was now famous on both sides of the Atlantic. I think there is an interesting comparison to be made here: the close-up, unframed impressions of the American Hiller are more intimate and immediate than Smith’s version, even though the latter’s techniques seem to have stood the test of time a bit better.

Hancock PEM Hiller

2006-2014.jpg

Hancock Smithsonian 2

Joseph Hiller (1746–1814) after Copley, The Hon. John Hancock, Esq., ca. 1775. Inscribed lower left border “Jos. Hiller fecit.” Mezzotint with watercolor, 9-7/8 x 7-7/8 inches. Courtesy, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem; and The Hon. John Hancock, Esq., ca. 1775, National Museum of American History; William Smith (1750-1825?) after Copley, The Hon. John Hancock, Esq., ca. 1775, National Portrait Gallery.

I think I’m drawn to these images because Hancock has always been one of my favorite founding fathers: certainly the one with whom I had the earliest and most immediate connection because of his still-standing wharf and warehouse in my hometown. Later on, when I moved to Massachusetts and became interested in preservation issues, the images and story of his martyred mansion became the cautionary tale. And I must admit that his portrayal by the British actor Rafe Spall was just about the only thing that kept me watching the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty miniseries a few months ago.

Hancock Copley Portrait MHS

Hancock broadside 1777

Two more Hancocks. The source: John Singleton Copley’s portrait, c. 1770-72, Massachusetts Historical Society; a Salem-printed broadside from the end of Hancock’s term as president of the Continental Congress and “the first year of American Independence”, National Portrait Gallery.


My Dear Girl

I am absolutely charmed by the physical appearance of a recently-preserved “lost” letter from Paul Revere to his wife Rachel dated a few weeks after his famous April 1775 ride. Its existence has been known for some time, and it was published as a transcription in Elbridge Henry Goss’s Life of Colonial Paul Revere (1891), but the actual document had been presumed lost until very recently, when a box was donated to the Paul Revere House in Boston which included the letter, in a long-folded condition that showed its age. Now digitized and preserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center and returned to the house to which it was first delivered, the letter is a visible symbol of the power of primary sources: it is one thing to know what a document says, it’s quite another to see the author’s handwriting. It’s much more intimate (and powerful), especially if the expression includes an endearment like “My Dear Girl” and proceeds to details like a request for linens and stockings. At the end of the letter Revere includes a note to his son, informing him that “It is now in your power to be serviceable to me, your Mother, and your self” and signing off  “Your loving Father, PR.”

Revere Letter

Reveres

Revere House 1930s

The Letter at the Northeast Document Conservation Center website, where you can see a sequence of images illustrating the preservation process; Paul and Rachel Revere and two 1930s images of their house: an etching by W. Harry Smith, Smithsonian Institution, and a linoleum engraving by Stanley Scott for the Federal Art Project, Boston Public Library.


Resistance and Retreat in Salem, 1775

The American Revolution did not, of course, begin with a single “shot heard round the world” but was rather the result of a simmering opposition developing in Massachusetts from at least 1770. A singular event in this intensifying insurgence occurred here in Salem on this day in 1775: while referred to alternatively by historians as the “Salem Alarm” or the “Salem Gunpowder Raid” (the subtitle of Peter Charles Hoffer’s recently-released book, Prelude to Revolution), its more popular designation is “Leslie’s Retreat”.

The reference is to the British Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Leslie, who was dispatched by General Thomas Gage–who had proclaimed Massachusetts in “open rebellion” just weeks earlier–to Salem in search of the cannons and powder he suspected was there. Indeed, there were 17 cannons in the shop of blacksmith Robert Foster, who had been commissioned by Colonel David Mason of the Massachusetts Committee of Public Safety to affix them to carriages in preparation for the inevitable conflict. On a chilly Sunday, Leslie and his men (about 240 fusiliers from the 64th Regiment) disembarked from their ship in Marblehead and commenced the 5-mile march to Salem towards Foster’s foundry, located on the bank of the North River just across what was then a drawbridge. The alarm went out, and by the time they got to Salem Leslie and his men faced a large, angry, armed crowd and a raised drawbridge. A tense standoff of several hours ended with a compromise which was really both a defeat and a retreat for the British: the bridge was lowered, enabling Leslie to fulfill his orders and inspect the foundry, but he went no further–and the cannons were long gone. No blood was shed, with the exception of that of one Joseph Whicher, pricked by a British bayonet. There are many indications that this was considered a momentous moment–in its own time and after. A few months later–and across the water, The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that the Americans have hoisted their standard of liberty at Salem.

Leslies Retreat Repulse of Leslie feb 26 1775 Bridgman

Leslies Retreat map EIHC

PicMonkey Collage

Lewis Jesse Bridgman, “The Repulse of Leslie at the North Bridge, Sunday, February 26, 1775″ and sketch of the scene, from Robert Rantoul, “The Affair at the North Bridge, Salem, February 26, 1775″, Historical Collections of the Essex Institute 38 (1902); Some of the major players:  Colonel David Mason on right, a Gainsborough portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Leslie upper left, and the Reverend Thomas Barnard of Salem, lower left, who by all accounts negotiated the retreat.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Leslie’s Retreat was a heralded historical event, marked by addresses, commemorations, and compilations of source materials that we draw from now, including  Charles Moses Endicott’s Account of Leslie’s Retreat at the North Bridge on Sunday Feb’y 26, 1775 (1856) and Rantoul’s 1902 article, cited above. Such interesting characters (and large crowds) emerge from these accounts:  Sarah Tarrant, a Salem woman who openly mocked the British troops, the equally rebellious militia captain John Felt, and the “Paul Revere” of the event, Major John Pedrick of Marblehead, whose role seems a bit mythological to say the least (see much more about this particular gentleman and his role here). Pedrick’s role in carrying the alarm to Salem was certainly romanticized by the Marblehead folk artist J.O.J. Frost in his 1920s (?) painting, Major Pedrick. To the Town of Salem, to Give the Alarm, which went up for auction at Skinner a couple of years ago. I can’t resist adding a photograph from the collection of the New York Historical Society Museum & Library of the original enlarged painting in the hands of a gentleman identified as “Colonel Leslie” but whom I suspect is the artist.

Frost Pedrick

Leslie and Frost Painting

At present, I do not think Leslie’s Retreat is either revered or even remembered: perhaps Professor Hoffer’s book will bring it back into our civic consciousness. Many of the streets in the vicinity of the standoff are named for its participants: Mason, Felt, Foster (no Tarrant), but the widening of North Street, the multiple replacements of the bridge, and the damming of the river have created a landscape that would be unrecognizable to any of these people–and not a particularly reverent one. What remains to remind us of Leslie’s Retreat? A weathered memorial, a dog park, and a restaurant.

Leslies Retreat 004

Leslies Retreat 001


My Favorite Georgians

The public presentation of history is often driven by anniversaries, and Britain is just beginning a long Georgian moment driven by the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian dynasty’s accession in 1714 and commencing (after the birth of little Prince George this summer) with the British Library’s new exhibition Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain. Viewing it from afar (online), I like the exhibition’s emphasis on Georgians rather than the more boring King Georges, and its inclusion of some of the more interesting aspects of the era: the development of “celebrity culture”, the “commercialization of leisure”, the emergence of the novel, and intensifying consumerism in many realms of life. But from my own distant Anglo-American perspective, I’m noticing a distinct lack of a colonial presence. Before the Revolution, we should certainly consider the people who inhabited British America as Georgians, so I’m featuring a few of my favorite American Georgian gentlemen here. Although I don’t have quite the same connection to them that I do for some of the people of the earlier era in which I specialize, there is something compelling about both their images (personas) and their stories, if only because several of them walked on the same streets that I do.

My Georgian Gentlemen: Benjamin Pickman, the dashing Loyalist Salemite and husband of the faithful Mary of my last post. What better Georgian than a Loyalist? Even though he left his family and country, his letters testify to the earnestness of his decision and the pain he endured from the separation. Here John Singleton Copley pictures him as a young man, well before this rift, and I think he looks both dashing and earnest. Jonathan Jackson, a contemporary of Pickman’s from Newburyport, painted in his resplendent blue robe by Copley. Jackson looks a little more “Georgian” here but he was no Loyalist: he converted his merchant ships to privateering vessels during the Revolution and later served as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress. His first wife, Sarah Barnard Jackson, was the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Barnard of Salem, whose silhouette is below. As a true Georgian, Barnard helped avert what might have become the first clash of the American Revolution in early 1775–an incident called “Leslie’s Retreat”–when he negotiated British Colonel Alexander Leslie’s retreat from Salem.

Georgians Pickman

Georgians Jonathan Jackson

Georgians Thomas Barnard

John Singleton Copley, Benjamin Pickman, c. 1758-61, Yale University Art Gallery; John Singleton Copley, Jonathan Jackson, late 1760s, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Painted Silhouette of the Reverend Thomas Barnard of Salem, late 18th/early 19th century, Skinner’s Auctions.

Obviously I have a preference for Copley, who, like his colleague and compatriot Nathaniel West, represents the Anglo-American/Atlantic world in which the acclaimed artist lived and worked. Both were “American” artists who became “English” artists: they were true Georgians above all. Both left their “country” for good before the American Revolution, along with Henry Pelham, Copley’s stepbrother and the subject of one of his most famous compositions, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (1765). My favorite illustration of this Anglo-American artistic world is a painting of West’s London studio by his protégé Matthew Pratt: entitled The American School, it hints at the future division.

Georgians Pelham Squirrel

Georgians American School MET

John Singleton Copley, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel, 1765, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Matthew Pratt, The American School, 1765, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It looks like Georgians Revealed depicts British Georgians as a fun-loving, pleasure-seeking people: there are lots of illustrations of drinking, dancing and dressing:  by comparison, American Georgians look rather earnest and restrained. It’s hard to compete with the vibrant print culture that emerged in Britain from the 1780s on, however, just when Americans ceased being Georgians.

Georgians

Georgians New England Psalms Revere

Carousing Georgians in Britain and Psalm-singing Georgians in America: Midnight. Tom and Jerry at a Coffee Shop near the Olympic, illustration by Issac and George Cruikshank in Pierce Egan, Life in London, 1823, British Library; Paul Revere, “the Music Party”, engraving for the frontspiece of William Billings, The New England Psalm-Book, Boston, 1770. Library of Congress.


Minding the Farm

There is a lot to admire about eighteenth-century women in general; two that I admire in particular are Abigail Russell Curwen (1725-1793) and Mary Toppan Pickman (1744-1817), the wives of two of Salem’s most prominent Loyalists. In 1775 their husbands Samuel Curwen and Benjamin Pickman decamped for London, leaving both ladies behind to mind their considerable estates. Whether Mrs. Curwen and Mrs. Pickman were passionate Patriots we do not know, but one smoothed the way for her husband’s return after the Revolution, while the other did not. We are fortunate to have portraits of these two Salem ladies, painted by two of the best portrait painters on either side of the Atlantic.

Curwen

Pickman

Abigail Russell Curwen, 1755:  Joseph Blackburn (Northeast Auction’s March 2010 Americana Auction); Mary Toppan Pickman, 1763: John Singleton Copley (Yale University Art Gallery).

These portraits were painted very shortly after their respective marriages; consequently they look a bit more carefree than I expect they would have appeared later in life–especially the parasol-bearing Mrs. Pickman! The Pickmans appear to have had a happy marriage even while he was away, but by all accounts the Curwens disliked each other intensely and were happiest on opposing sides of the Atlantic Ocean. After the Revolution was over, Pickman came right back to Salem and picked up (professionally–perhaps personally???) where he left off, but Curwen reluctantly returned and then fled right back to London, writing about his wife in his later-published Journal that “the Marriage shackle that unhappily linkt her to me is now to all intents and purposes broken”. It was not just his wife of which Curwen spoke ill: he was clearly a “miserable lout” (to use the words of one of my Americanist colleagues) and angry at the world; consequently he could not be reconciled to either his wife or Salem. By all accounts, Pickman was clearly a much more affable sort who was even referred to as “the agreeable Mr. Pickman” by John Adams, the ultimate Patriot.

But this post is not about the men, it’s about the women, who assumed  (or did not assume) ultimate responsibilities for their family’s fortunes and well-being during a time of apprehension and agitation. The Curwens had no children (unsurprisingly) and one of the reasons Samuel fled back to London was because he faced “ruin” at home, while the Pickmans had four children, a town house and a farm in South Salem, which Mary managed with her mother-in-law, Love Rawlins Pickman. Because of her “sacred” character, Mary was “admitted to all circles in Salem” during the war and after, and thus facilitated her husband’s return. After Abigail’s death in 1793, Samuel Curwen returned to Salem for a second time, and remained until his death in 1802. Benjamin Pickman’s letters to Mary (in the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum) continually testify to his “unfeigned love and esteem” for her and the pain of their separation (as well as that of America and Great Britain): upon his return they lived together for over thirty years, until her death in 1817.

Pickman Farm Northeast Auctions

The Pickman Farm off the present-day Loring Avenue in South Salem: A VIEW OF THE HOUSE AND PART OF THE FARM OF THE HON’BLE BENJAMIN PICKMAN, ESQ., SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS, MID-LATE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, Northeast Auctions.


Anonymous Authors

The revelation that J.K. Rowling is actually “Robert Galbraith”, the author of the now-bestselling crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, got me thinking about anonymous authorship in general and in history. I’ve never really understood the motivation:  all that work and no credit? But of course there were lots of individual motivations depending on the context:  political, religious, and social factors which favored, or mandated, discreet publication. Pseudonyms or pen names became a way for female authors to publish when that just wasn’t done, and for intellectuals to public works that seemed a little beneath their areas of expertise:  children’s works, satires, common novels.  For a variety of reasons, it seems to be common practice for contemporary mystery and romance authors to publish under pseudonyms, so perhaps that was Rowling’s motivation.

Pseudonym Cuckoo

alice_in_wonderland_H  middlemarch_H

J.K. Rowling’s / Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and two other books issued under pen names: Lewis Carroll/ Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass and George Eliot/ Mary Ann Evans’s Middlemarch. These editions are from Penguin‘s series of clothbound classics, with covers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I want every single title in the series, whether I like the book or not.

Pseud Penguin

In the period that I study and teach, anonymous authorship by pseudonym or initials was very common: this was the first age of print, a conspicuous craft, and also an era of intense religious division in much of Europe. Authors who penned strident religious (or political, because the two go hand in hand in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) had to be careful, but I think that anonymity was used by authors of less controversial, more entertaining works to conjur up an air of mystery or provoke a guessing game, almost as a marketing tool. The best examples of satirical, oppositional anonymous authorship in early modern England are the tracts penned by “Martin Marprelate” in 1588-89, protesting Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Whitgift’s increasing control over the press and espousing early Puritan sentiments. Martin’s identify was never revealed, and he was resuscitated on the eve of the English Revolution several generations later.

Marprelate_Martin_pseud-The_protestatyon_of_Martin_Marprelat-STC-17459-433_10-p1

The Protestation of Martin Marprelate, 1589: who “makes it known unto the world that he fears neither proud priest, anti-Christian pope, tyrannous prelate, nor godless cater-cap”. STC 17459, 1589.

Jumping forward to the end of the eighteenth century, when two of that era’s most influential works were both published anonymously:  Common Sense (1776), “written by an Englishman” soon revealed to be Thomas Paine, and An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) by Joseph Johnson, later identified as Thomas Malthus. I can understand why both men would wish to retain their anonymity, at least at first: Paine was inciting a revolution (once “outed” he would donate the proceeds from his immensely popular pamphlet to the Continental Army), and Malthus’s analysis of the relationship between population growth and natural resources was both frightfully modern and thoroughly dismal.

Pseudonyms

Pseud Malthus

Annotated copies:  the first edition of Common Sense, and Charles Darwin’s edition of Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population, from the Cambridge University Library’s digital exhibition,”Books & Babies:  Communicating Reproduction”.

Another big jump, to the near present. Even though it seems like ages ago, I remember the sensational revelation that the author of the bestselling roman à clef  of the first Clinton campaign, Primary Colors, was in fact Newsweek columnist Joe Klein, who published the book as “Anonymous” in an effort to protect his sources and preserve his journalistic integrity. That seems like a rather quaint motivation now, twenty years later.

Pseudonyms Primary Colors


Battlefield Bystanders

With two big battle anniversaries converging–that of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 and Waterloo on June 18, 1815–I was looking at contemporary and commemorative images of both contests and noticed the preponderance of bystanders, observers, and public reaction perspectives. These two battles seem very public, but of course all battles are, and these two were particularly epic, marking the commencement of the American Revolution and the defeat, finally, of Napoleon.

Bunker Hill

Waterloo Sketch

View of the attack on Bunker’s Hill (really Breed’s Hill), with the Burning of Charles Town, June 17,1775, drawn by Mr. Millar, engraved by Lodge (1775), Library of Congress; Print of an anonymous etching of the Battle of Waterloo with the key officers (c. 1815), British Museum.

Both battles were followed pretty quickly by reports from “near observers” for audiences hungry for results, and details: the deaths of Major Pitcairn and Dr. Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill, dashing displays of bravery in both battles, the capture of Napoleon (finally) several weeks after Waterloo. With time, as both events become part of history and national memory, the people get more involved with the emphasis on observation and reception, which is particularly apparent in composed  images of the battles.  I particularly like the “watching from the rooftops” images of Bunker Hill, which began with Winslow Homer’s 1875 engraving for Harper’s, and continued through a series of popular postcards published by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

Bunker Hill Harpers

EdwinHowlandBlashfield--Suspense-TheBostonpeoplewatchingfromthehousetopsthefiringatBunkerHill

Battlefield Bystanters Raphael Tuck

Battlefield Bystanders Tuck

Battlefield Bystanders Tuck 1910

Winslow Homer, The Battle of Bunker Hill–Watching the Fight from Cobb’s Hill in Boston, Harpers Weekly, June 26, 1875; Edwin Howland Bashfield, Suspense: The Boston people watching from the house tops the firing at Bunker Hill (1882); Raphael Tuck & Sons postcards, circa 1910.

I remember reading the sections on the Battle of Waterloo in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and thinking: it seems like they’ve gone right from the ballroom to the battlefield (which they did) and what is Becky doing there? This was a strange battle, but certainly a momentous one. You can certainly ascertain the intense interest of civilians both in the vicinity of the battle and on the homefront in two striking images: the first, from William Mudford’s Historical Account of  the Campaign in the Netherlands in 1815 (1817), is of the observatory tower commissioned by the King of the Netherlands, erected so all of those people at the ball could see the battle. The second is David Wilkie’s Chelsea Pensioners (1822), in which a very inclusive British public receive news of the big victory at Waterloo.

Battlefield Bystanders Waterloo Mugford

oeurart046p4

James Rouse painting, from Mudford’s Historical Account (1817);  Sir David Wilkie, Chelsea Pensioners Receiving the London Gazette Extraordinary of Thursday, June 22 1815, Announcing the Battle of Waterloo (1822), Dulwich Picture Gallery.


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