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Archive for the ‘Colonial history (1607-1775)’ Category

October 17th might not be a super important day in your world.  If you have children, you might recognize the day as “just two weeks to Halloween”, which serves as a good reminder to get out and get your candy purchased.  But for me, it’s pretty much another day, which this fall (with as beautiful as its been) has been pretty good.

October 17, 1749 was a pretty special day for a young Samuel Adams.  It was on this day that the twenty-seven year old bookeeper (and budding revolutionist) married Elizabeth Checkley, three years his junior.  Elizabeth had come into his life just after the death of his father the previous year, and she provided a soothing elixir for his sadness.

Her father, Samuel Checkley, was an ordained minister – ordained by Increase and Cotton Mather, by the way – and he performed the ceremony that Friday.

Unfortunately, this happy union would see its share of heartache.  They had six children, but only two, Samuel and Hannah, lived to adulthood.  Their first child lived just 18 days and their third just a day and a half.  The fourth child lived only 3 months.  Their last child was stillborn and, 19 days later, Elizabeth herself died.  In his biography of Samuel Adams, Ira Stoll writes Adams’ words in their family Bible…“To her husband she was as sincere a Friend as she was a faithful Wife. . . .She ran her Christian race with remarkable steadiness and finished in triumph.  She left two small children.  God grant they may inherit her graces.”

But that was all to come.  For today, it was joy and marital bliss for Samuel Adams.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Adams: A Life

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When the delegates to the First Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia in the early fall of 1774, there was plenty of discontent and dissatisfaction.  The taxes on British tea led to a boycott of the product…until the British government passed the Tea Act of 1973, which drastically reduced the price of tea in the Colonies.  This led to the famous Tea Party, where 90,000 pounds of British tea were served up cold with Boston Harbor’s finest salt water.

The British government responded with the Intolerable Acts, which the Colonists hated even more than cold, salty tea.  They began meeting with increased frequency in town squares, meeting halls, homes, and of course, local pubs, voicing their displeasure and anger at how the mother country simultaneously taxed them to death while denying them any legitimate say in government affairs.

But still, the idea of rebellion against, and ultimately, independence from England was just a bit too radical for most of America’s citizens.  Many were inclined to think that it was the British government itself that was undermining the good will of King George III, an idea that Ron Chernow, in his biography of our first President, described as “pleasing fiction”.

Speaking for the majority, George Washington said, “I am well satisfied, as I can be of my existence, that no such thing is desired by any thinking man in all North America;  on the contrary, that it is the ardent wish of the warmest advocates for liberty that peace and tranquillity, upon constitutional grounds, may be restored and the horrors of civil discord prevented.”

Of course, not everyone held exactly the same opinion of the British.  When the Second Virginia Convention convened in March of 1775, it was Patrick Henry who made no bones about his feelings.  On March 23, 1775, Henry stood up in the Henrico Parish Church (where the Convention was held) and uttered some of the most famous words of the Revolutionary era.  “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Henry’s impassioned speech catapulted him to the Governor’s chair…and to a prominent place in the Revolution’s history.

Recommended Reading:  Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation

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Unless you vacation in the West Indies, you’ve probably never heard of Nevis.  Located a couple of hundred miles south and east of Puerto Rico, Nevis is a 36-square-mile chunk of rock dominated by the 3,200-foot natural lookout of Nevis Peak.  If you visit the official website for Nevis, it won’t take you long to figure out that tourism is what drives the economy.  Like many islands in the Caribbean, Nevis is blessed with spectacular views, a tropical climate, and gobs of blue-as-azure ocean.

But in the 18th century, tourism didn’t drive any economy, including Nevis.  And while it’s a relative unknown to us today, back then this small island was well-known, and part of a European rivalry, which saw countries vying for a growing, and very lucrative, sugar trade.  Fortunes could be made very quickly under the right circumstances, and those circumstances usually included lots of slaves to work the plantations.  In addition, the British sent shiploads of criminals and other riffraff to Nevis, hoping to clean up the streets of London.  Ron Chernow described it as “a tropical hellhole of dissipated whites and fractious slaves, all framed by a backdrop of luxuriant natural beauty.”

It was into this environment that Alexander Hamilton made his entrance on January 11, 1755…or maybe it was 1757.  For a long time, 1757 was the recognized year.  And while modern scholarship still hasn’t fully decided which year it was, close examination of the facts gives an edge to the earlier date.

But there is no doubt that Hamilton was an illegitimate child.  In today’s culture, children born out of wedlock make up a significant percentage of all babies born.  In 1755, that was not the case, and it raised eyebrows, even in a place of such moral laxity (dare I say debauchery?) as Nevis.

Rachel Faucette, Hamilton’s mother, was married off as a teen by her mother to Johann Michael Lavien, a man approaching 30 who, despite his flashy dress and aristrocratic pretense, tended to make terrible financial divisions and bumbled from one misfortune to another.  The marriage was a nightmare.  Rachel had no love for her husband, who eventually accused her of adultery (which may have been true) and threw her into prison, thinking some time behind bars would bring her around.

To the contrary, Rachel Faucette Lavien found her will strengthened and, upon her release, she simply left her husband (and a young son) on St. Croix and fled (with her mother) to St. Kitts, right next door to Nevis.  And at some point, she met James Hamilton.  He had come to the West Indies (like so many others) to seek a quick fortune in the world of sugar.  But he was late to the game and lacked business sense (much like Lavien), so he ended up doing menial work attempting to make ends meet.

And from this relationship came two sons, James, Jr. and Alexander.  And while their parents may have gotten married, the Church certainly did not recognize it.  She had not officially divorced her first husband, which meant her “second” marriage was considered null and void.  Her two children were, by extension, illegitimate.

And that stigma would follow Hamilton all his life, despite his tremendous accomplishments.  Whether in the West Indies or in New York, family heritage and bloodlines meant a great deal in the 18th century.  We’ve spent a lot of time discussing many of the facets of this complex man, and it’s safe to say that, throughout the fabric of his persona, the backdrop of his birth and those first 16 or 17 years spent in Nevis were deeply etched into it.

But rather than being overcome by his roots, Alexander Hamilton rose above stigma and hardship.  He studied hard, had a head for business, and impressed those around him, to the point that the leaders on Nevis took up a collection and sent young Hamilton to America, where his talents and intelligence could be developed.  Hamilton became a student, a graduate, an aide-de-camp to General Washington, a powerful lawyer, an awesome orator, a catalyst for a new Constitution when it was needed, and its most ardent defender when it was done.  He was our first Treasury Secretary and, as we have learned on these pages, his influence is still with us, more than 200 years after his untimely death.

As Chernow writes, “Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate our modern world.”

Happy Birthday, Alexander Hamilton!!

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For George Boone III, business wasn’t very good.  It had been decent, but times in early 18th century England were changing.  Demand for woolen products was decreasing.  Boone, a weaver, still had work in the village of Bradninch, but it wasn’t nearly as easy now.  Modern technologies, like a cheaper and lighter wool cloth, were causing demand for his materials to drop.  Hard times and unemployment were making purchasers more scarce.  Times were tough.  And George Boone III had mouths to feed…many mouths.

George and his wife Mary had 10 children and, even in the 1700s, they required shoes, clothes, and plenty of provender.  England was becoming a more difficult place to make ends meet, so Boone’s thoughts turned to emmigration…and America.  In 1713, three of George’s older children traveled to Pennsylvania.  George IV (23), Sarah (21), and Squire (17) made the arduous trip across the Atlantic, as much to seek opportunities for their father and the rest of the family as they did for themselves.

By 1717, the entire family had arrived in The New World, living briefly in the Quaker community of North Wales before settling in Oley.  It was here that Squire Boone became a trustee of the Oley Monthly Meeting, and where he would marry Sarah Morgan.  Robert Morgan writes, “The Boones were leaders of their community.  …George IV and his wife, Deborah, deeded land for the Quaker burial ground.  George III was a justice of the peace.  Several Boones served as delegates to the quarterly and annual meetings of the Friends.  They provided care to the sick or struggling.”  The Boones were good people.

Squire was a weaver like his father, but he also farmed, raised cattle, ran a gristmill, and was a blacksmith.  And like his father, he and wife Sarah Boone would have numerous children.  But it was Squire’s sixth child that is most familiar to us.  Daniel was born on November 2, 1734 (October 22 if you don’t account for the Gregorian Calendar).  Morgan continues, “From the very beginning the family sensed that Daniel was different from the other children.  Lively, apparently tireless, curious, when very young he helped out in the family trades of blacksmithing, milling, and farming.  But family lore has it that from the very first Daniel like to roam in the woods. … He was born to be an outdoorsman and hunter…”.

And as we know, young Daniel would grow up to become one of the most famous frontiersmen in American history.  Lauded as a hunter, outdoorsman, and explorer, the stories (and legends) of his life have served to make him one of America’s earliest folk heroes.  He’s been the subject of conversation before, and he will be again.

Recommended Reading:  Boone

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He was a noted silversmith in Boston in the late 18th century, but it’s certainly not how he’s best known.  His name is mentioned in 21st-century kitchens every single day, but most cooks have no idea they’re doing so when they grab the saucepan from the drawer.  He was the father of a dozen children, but pretty much no one knows that, either.

Nope.

When it comes to Paul Revere, we pretty much know him for one thing.  The Midnight Ride.  What else is there, right?  Well, other than the remaining 83 years of his life, not much.  His ride is the stuff of legends, not surprisingly, a number of legends surround that famous event…the precursor to the opening shots of the American Revolution.

British soldiers had been a (mostly unwelcome) fixture in Boston for years.  But in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, the Redcoats took up residence in greater numbers, both to keep the peace and to enforce the closure of Boston Harbor.  As Boston became more and more a powderkeg than a bustling harbor town, Paul Revere turned much of his silversmithing business over to his oldest son and served as a messenger, shuttling updates on the situation in Boston to others in the Colonies.

So Revere’s midnight ride, begun in the last hour of April 18, 1775, was nothing new.  It was what he had been doing for some time, though this time, the news was a little more urgent.  British regulars had begun moving across the Charles River.  Their destinations were two-fold, as were their objectives.  First, they headed for Lexington (10 miles west of Boston) to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were both considered important leaders in the Colonial resistance.  And realizing that meeting this objective would likely inflame the Colonists to take up arms, the British had as their second objective seizing the ammunition depot at Concord (5 miles further west of Lexington).

Paul Revere and William Dawes set out from the Old North Church.  And of course, as they departed, the famous pair of lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) were held up in the steeple to warn Charlestown (just to the north) of the British movements.

Revere and Dawes would both reach Lexington in time to warn Adams and Hancock, but neither would reach Concord.  They were stopped at a roadblock were Paul was detained.  Dawes made his escape, but was soon thrown from his horse and didn’t complete his ride.

Paul Revere would survive the war and found the Revere Copper Company, which was renamed Copper and Brass, Inc.  And that company would begin producing Revere Ware Copper Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, which to this day sits in millions of cupboards.

But that doesn’t matter, because the British would continue on and engage the Colonists in both Lexington and Concord the next day (which I hope to cover tomorrow), and the American Revolution was on.  And Paul Revere’s name, stamped on a kitchen cooking utensil or not, would become synonymous with start of the fight for American independence.

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As the last week of 1765’s month of May passed into June, the citizens of the Thirteen Colonies were angry…really angry.  And it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that their feelings were caused by taxes.  For all of us today, taxes are part of life…and death.

We are taxed for using the telephone.  We’re taxed for working.  We’re taxed (heavily) for putting gas in our cars, and are taxed again if that car doesn’t get very good gas mileage.  We get taxed for selling a stock at a profit, for stocking up on non-food grocery items, and for running a grocery store.  Just yesterday, the U.S. Congress passed a health care package that has millions of Americans upset or at least concerned.  Why?  Because they believe it will raise their taxes.

Taxes are a way of 21st-century life in America and lots of people don’t like it.  But at least we have a say in it.  We can call our Representatives, Senators, and local officials and voice our opinions.  Every couple of years we can cast ballots to keep those officials in, or remove them from, office.  We can collect signatures and instigate ballot initiatives.  We can start a pep rally, hold up a sign, and talk through a megaphone.

In other words, 21st-century Americans have options.

Citizens that lived in America in May of 1765?  Well, they didn’t have much recourse, and that’s what got them wound up.  But we really have to go back a couple of months, because news moved more slowly back then.

On March 22, 1765, Parliament…the British Parliament, passed the Stamp Act.  In case you’re wondering, it had little to do with stamps…at least stamps as we commonly know them, though it was vaguely similar.  The Stamp Act required that nearly everything written on paper in America (books and private correspondence excluded) had to be produced on stamped paper.  Newspapers, pamphlets, advertisements, diplomas, all legal documents (contracts, bonds, bills), and even playing cards all required stamped paper.

While this wasn’t the first time the Colonists had been taxed, it was the first time the British had attempted to tax Americans in such a direct manner.  And frankly, the Crown’s reasoning was probably justified.

The British had just finished winning the French and Indian War.   Those in Parliament believed that the Colonists stood to gain most directly from the expenditures of money and blood, so they reasoned that the Colonists should help pay a portion of the costs.  In addition, the British needed to maintain a military presence to prevent further conflict, and the taxes from the Stamp Act would help defray those costs as well.  My dad has often said that “everything translates to bucks”, and that was true in 1765 as well.  Somebody has to pay for things, be it health care or Redcoats keeping the peace.

What made the Colonists angry was that they had no say in the legislation.  There were no Senators to contact.  Representatives didn’t exist, and elections were nearly 30 years down the road.  They were simply told to use the paper and pay the tax, and Parliament expected complete compliance.

Nearly everyone was affected, and when word arrived two months later, most of them were very upset.  The summer of 1765 was strained emotion boil over to violence, particularly in Boston.  Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant Governor, was accused of having supported the tax, and had his house destroyed by a mob.  One wonders if those who committed the act felt any remorse when they discovered they were wrong.

As it turns out, the Stamp Act, which took effect in November, was rather difficult to enforce, and was repealed in March of 1766.  But in conjunction with that, Parliament passed legislation allowing them to govern on the Colonies’ behalf whenever they saw fit.

In the end, the Stamp Act of 1765 didn’t cost the Colonists a lot in tax revenue, and it was only around for a few months.  But the seeds of doubt and distrust that were sown because of it would have “revolutionary” implications just a decade later.

Recommended Reading: John Adams

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This has not been our typical Independence Day weather.  It’s been cloudy and rainy most of the day.  Temperatures didn’t even reach 70°, and I can’t remember the last time it was this cool on the 4th.  Of course, I struggle to remember what I had for breakfast, so…

We’ve decided to sit and watch fireworks from the front step, rather than fight the crowds to be cold for a couple hours.  But watching the “bombs bursting in air” has put me in a Colonial state of mind.  So let’s go back…not to 1776, but to July 4, 1774, when fireworks of a different sort were being lit.

Located in Tappan, New York, and owned by a Dutch colonist, Yoast Mabie’s Tavern was a popular gathering place for those of a “revolutionary” spirit, who got in the spirit with the aid of the spirits they consumed.

And in 1774, there was plenty to discuss.  The last of the Intolerable Acts had just been foisted on the Colonists by Britain, and for many, they were just about the last straw.  It mattered little that the Colonists had, in part, brought it on themselves with their actions, because mugs of well-brewed ale combined with outrage tended to blind men to their own culpability.

On this night, exactly two years before the Declaration of Independence went to press, inhabitants of Orangetown and the Province of New York gathered and adopted, in response to the Intolerable Acts, a set of resolutions.  Maintaining their loyalty to the King, they still spoke strongly against the oppressive measures levied against the Colonies in general, and against Boston in particular.

The Orangetown Resolutions read as follows:

  • 1st, That we are and ever wish to be, true and loyal subjects to his Majesty George the Third, king of Great Britain.
  • 2nd, That we are most cordially disposed to support his majesty and defend his crown and dignity in every constitutional measure, as far as lies in our power.
  • 3rd, That however well disposed we are towards his majesty, we cannot see the late acts of Parliament imposing duties upon us, and the act for shutting up the port of Boston, without declaring our abhorance of measures so unconstitutional and big with destruction.
  • 4th, That we are in duty bound to use every just and lawful measure to obtain a repeal of acts, not only destructive to us, but which, of course, must distress thousands in the mother country.
  • 5th, That it is our unanimous opinion that the stopping of all exportation and importation to and from Great Britain and the West Indies would be the most effectual method to obtain a speedy repeal.
  • 6th, That it is our most ardent wish to see concord and harmony restored to England and her colonies.
  • 7th, That the following gentlemen, to wit: Colonel Abraham Lent, John Haring, Esquire, Mr. Thomas Outwater, Mr. Gardner Jones, and Peter T. Haring, may be a committee for this town to correspond with the City of New York, and to conclude and agree upon such measures as they shall judge necessary in order to obtain a repeal of said acts.

Pretty good language, maybe some of the best that’s ever come from a bar.  Daniel Webster called taverns “the headquarters of the Revolution”, and Mabie’s Tavern would go on to greater fame during the Revolution, but that’s for another time.

Recommended Reading:  The 76 House website – Mabie’s Tavern is still around.

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