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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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Celebrating the President’s Birthday One Last Time

On 22 Feb 1797, Philadelphia celebrated George Washington’s last birthday as President. He had declined to serve another term in the office. After the U.S. of A.’s first partisan election, Vice President John Adams had been elected in his place.

Washington furnished the Dancing Assembly of Philadelphia with this toast:
May the members thereof and the Fair who honor it with their presence long continue in the enjoyment of an amusement so innocent and agreeable.
(Well, the Fitzpatrick edition of Washington’s writings assigned that toast to that year. It may have been earlier.)

On 24 February, John wrote home to his wife Abigail, “The Birthday was affecting and the Night Splendid but tedious to those who were too old to dance.” Which no doubt included himself—though Washington, who enjoyed dancing, was older.

On 4 March, Adams became President. Almost immediately he began to tell people he didn’t want people to make such a big fuss about him. For example, six days later he wrote to Thomas Welsh:
The noisy Clamorous praises are not my object. If they come they will come unsolicited and unwished for, nay deprecated, Birth Night Balls and City dinners would be to me the most humiliating thing in the world, the Votes of Lancaster and York in Pennsylvania have to me a divine Charm than all the treats and Shows that Ever Existed, If any of them are bestowed on me it will be much against the inclination of your friend


You must keep these things in perfect Confidence.
And the day after that he wrote to Abigail about the inaugural ceremony and similar celebrations:
The Feast that Succeeded was one of those Things which are not to my Taste. I am glad you went—I went too. —But those Things give offence to the plain People of our Country, upon whose Friendship I have always depended. They are practised by the Elegant and the rich for their own Ends, which are not always the best. If I could have my Wish there should never be a Show or a feast made for the P. while I hold the office.—My Birth day happens when Congress will never Sit: so that I hope it will never be talked of. These are hints entre nous
Though Adams felt strongly about this issue, he wanted his disapproval to remain private. He might have feared that the people who had organized past ceremonies and Washington himself would feel slighted if they knew.

But the message must have gotten through because when 30 Oct 1797 came around there was no ball to celebrate President Adams’s birthday in Philadelphia.

TOMORROW: Traditions are hard to kill.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Abigail Adams at a Birthday Ball in Boston

In February 1797, the U.S. of A. made plans to celebrate George Washington’s last birthday as President. Some parts of the country were also eager to celebrate the new President who would take office in March, John Adams.

On 17 February, Abigail Adams received an invitation to a banquet and ball in Boston, along with one for her niece Louisa Catherine Smith. The next day, Abigail asked her daughter Nabby to pick out a new dress cap, “a good one proper for me, not a Girlish one.”

“I presume yu will have a Splnded Birth Day,” Abigail wrote to John in Philadelphia; “there are preparations making in Boston to celebrate it. . . . the Note from the Managers requested me to honour them with my attendance, which they should esteem a particular favour, as it is the last publick honour they can Shew the President. thus circumstanced I have determined to attend.”

The ball took place at the Federal Street Theatre, converted into “a magnificent saloon; sumptuously decorated with tapestry hangings; elegantly illuminated with variegated lamps; and fancifully embellished with festoons of artificial flowers.”

Gov. Samuel Adams didn’t attend, and I doubt anyone expected him to; he’d already expressed his disapproval of Boston’s flowering post-independence social scene. Lt. Gov. Moses Gill was deputed to escort in Mrs. Adams at noon. She reported, “His Honours politeness led him to stay untill he had conducted & Seated me at the Supper table. he however escaped as soon after as he could.”

All in all, however, Abigail was pleased with the event:
I do the Managers but Justice when I say, I never saw an assembly conducted with so much order regularity & propriety, I had every reason to be pleased with the marked respect and attention Shewn me. col [Samuel] Bradford, who is really the Beau Nash of ceremonies even marshalld his company [of Cadets], and like the Garter King at Arms calld them over as they proceeded into the Grand Saloon, hung with the prostrate Pride, of the Nobility of France.

[James] Swan had furnishd them with a compleat set of Gobelin Tapresty, as the Ladies only could be Seated at Table with about 20 or 30 of the principle Gentlemen the rest were requested to retire to the Boxes untill the Ladies had Supped, when they left the Table & took their Seats in the Boxes whilst the Gentlemen Sup’d all was order and Decency about half after one, the company returnd to the Ball Room, and I retired with those who accompanied me to the Ball. most of the rest of company remaind untill 4 oclock. . . .

the Seat assignd to the Lady of the President Elect was Hung with Gobeline Tapestry, and in the center of the Room, conspicuous only for the hanging, on my Right the manager placed the Lady of Judge [John] Lowel. and on my Left the Lady of Judge [Increase] Sumner. Judge [Francis] Dana, but not his Lady was present, when I was conducted into the Ball Room the Band were orderd to play the President March.

the Toast were only 6 in Number. . . . every toast save one made the Saloon resound with an universal Clap and a united huza. that was the vice President Elect, I was sorry it was so cold and faint,
Despite the Adamses’ political differences with Thomas Jefferson, Abigail still considered him a personal friend. She didn’t make her break with him until 1804 when she read James Thomson Callender’s revelations of how Jefferson had orchestrated press attacks on her husband while assuring the couple he did no such thing.

One lady, Abigail said, didn’t have a good time at the ball, feeling “mortified & placed in the back ground. . . . how could she expect any thing else?” That was “Mrs [Dorothy] Scott,” the remarried widow of the late governor John Hancock, no longer wife of the state’s most acclaimed politician.

TOMORROW: What President Adams thought of the Philadelphia ceremonies.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

“The Birth Day has been celebrated very sufficiently”

Boston 1775 has already explored the early American celebrations of George Washington’s birthday: when the first public ceremonies were reported, what date people chose to celebrate given the shift from Julian to Gregorian calendar since Washington’s birth, and what such celebrations meant for masculinity in Virginia.

When Washington became President, that birthday celebration turned into something very close to a national holiday. On 23 Feb 1796, John Adams reported to Abigail about the previous day’s observation in Philadelphia:
Yesterday was Birth Day and a Parade there was. At Night a magnificent Ball which you will read in the News Papers. A thousand People in a vast Room a Circle of 80 feet Diameter.
On 3 March he added an observation about the celebrations in Massachusetts; he had read about the preparations for them in a newspaper.
I see that at Boston and Cambridge &c. the Birth Day was celebrated with great Splendor as it was here. The old song is verified as I always said it would be. “The more he is envied the higher he[’]ll rise.” Increase of abuse will produce an increase of Salutation.
The editors of the Adams Papers identified the source of that quotation as a song published in London in 1788, the last year John and Abigail lived in Britain. It was “an old song” as John wrote, however. It appeared in The Weekly Amusement for 15 Feb 1735 (N.S.), and thus was older than he was. That version concluded: “Let’s merrily pass life’s remainder away; / Upheld by our friends, we our foes may despise; / For the more we are envy’d, the higher we rise.”

On 28 February, meanwhile, Abigail reported from Massachusetts:
you will see by the Centinel that the Presidents Birth Day Was celebrated, with more than usual Festivity in Boston, and many other places. in the Toasts drank, they have for once done justice to the V P. it is a Toast that looks, I conceive to a future contemplated event.
On 5 March she sent John her report from Quincy:
The Honours done to the President on his Birth Day have been very magnificent. At Boston and Cambridge very striking. Here it was all Dance and Glare. I suppose the Remembrance of the V. P. on those occasions considering that for the most part they forget him is with a View to the Reelection approaching.
Abigail expected Washington to be reelected later that year, and John to remain the party’s choice as Vice President, his talents neglected.

But on 9 March, John had some more observations to share:
The Birth Day has been celebrated very sufficiently. I have much doubt of the Propriety of these Celebrations. In Countries where Birth is respected and where Authority goes with it, there is congruity enough in such Feast: But in Elective Governments the Question is more doubtful. Probably the Practice will not be continued after another Year.
As John hinted, monarchies celebrated the birthdays of their heads of state. The President’s birthday was an echo of the king’s and queen’s birthdays during British rule, and he wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. The last sentence quoted hints at a bigger change: what John called on 1 March ”the Inclination of the Chief to retire,” though he added that Washington might yet be talked out of that plan.

In late February, Washington had spoken with Alexander Hamilton about drafting what became his Farewell Address. To be sure, they were starting with the draft of a similar statement the President had asked James Madison to draft four years before; Washington had then talked about retiring after one term and changed his mind. But this time, he really meant it. President Washington’s next birthday, in February 1797, would be his last in public office.

TOMORROW: The first transition, and what that meant for birthdays.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

John Adams Contemplates His Birthday

John Adams was born in Braintree on 19 Oct 1735, Old Style, which was 30 October, New Style. That shift was the result of the British Empire’s belated adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

Adams adopted the new date, but he remembered the old one, as shown by his diary entry for 19 Oct 1772:
The Day of the Month reminds me of my Birth day, which will be on the 30th. I was born Octr. 19. 1735. Thirty Seven Years, more than half the Life of Man, are run out.—What an Atom, an Animalcule I am!—The Remainder of my Days I shall rather decline, in Sense, Spirit, and Activity. My Season for acquiring Knowledge is past. And Yet I have my own and my Childrens Fortunes to make. My boyish Habits, and Airs are not yet worn off.
At thirty-seven Adams thought he’d lived half his life, and had a little crisis about it. In the preceding year he’d actually suffered a breakdown of his health or spirits. Following a very busy 1770 in Boston, he’d decided to retire from politics and move the family back to Braintree. He even felt bad enough to take some time off work for a trip all the way to the medicinal springs at Stafford, Connecticut.

But within a month after that birthday in 1772, Adams was resolving:
I shall remove my Family to Boston, after residing in Braintree about 19 Months. I have recovered a Degree of Health by this Excursion into the Country, tho I am an infirm Man yet. I hope I have profited by Retirement and Reflection!—and learned in what manner to live in Boston! How long I shall be able to stay in the City, I know not; if my Health should again decline, I must return to Braintree and renounce the Town entirely. I hope however to be able to stay there many Years!
He had more than half a century ahead of him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Looking at Brooklyn Then and Now

While speaking in Morristown last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Jason R. Wickersty, a National Park Service ranger.

He just wrote an article about the Battle of Brooklyn for the latest issue of Hallowed Ground, the magazine of the Civil War Trust: “Lost Battlefield: The Disastrous Battle for New York.”

Wickersty provides a straightforward account of what led up to that major battle and how it turned out. Here’s a taste:
The opening gambit came on August 22, 1776. Covered by the guns of five men-of-war, 15,000 British and Hessian soldiers made an amphibious landing at Gravesend Bay on the southwestern shore of Long Island. The plan, conceived by General Henry Clinton, was to split the army into three divisions. Two divisions would make feints directly against the Americans entrenched on the wooded hills of the Heights of Guana (in the area of Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park today). The largest division, 10,000 men personally under the command of General Clinton, would take an unguarded pass on the left of the American line and turn the flank by surprise.

When battle was joined on August 27, the plan worked perfectly. The British smashed through American positions, sending the mostly raw troops fleeing for their lives. Washington watched helplessly from Brooklyn Heights as a regiment of Marylanders sacrificed themselves in repeated charges to buy time for the routed army to escape, lamenting, “What brave fellows must I lose this day!”
Wickersty also took the photograph above of one place where the Maryland regiment fought, now public basketball courts. That change illustrates the theme of this magazine—that some important American battlefields have already been “lost,” in the sense of not being commemorated as parkland or visible memorials.

Of course, the process of putting those lands back into productive use started early. Most of the earthworks that surrounded besieged Boston were plowed under within a generation or two; the Dana family of Cambridge was unusual in preserving a few in what is now a city park. A few decades after the war, there was new public interest in putting up memorials, such as the big obelisk for Bunker Hill and the smaller obelisk at Concord’s North Bridge. Meanwhile, America’s population, and especially its urban population, was growing tremendously.

The idea of preserving great swaths of landscape more or less as they looked during the time of a battle—our modern idea of “hallowed ground”—is made possible by our move away from an agricultural economy. And it’s worked best in rural or semi-rural areas. A place like Charlestown or Brooklyn has been changed for good. Fort Stanwix is an exceedingly rare example of recreating an eighteenth-century landscape within a city, and that city had to hit hard times first.

Brooklyn, in contrast, has been bustling for decades, and never more vibrant than today. Indeed, Brooklyn has fed far more into American culture than that disastrous battle of 1776, and our image of it probably has a lot to do with public basketball courts.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dedication of Dr. Joseph Warren Graveside Statue, 22 Oct.

On Saturday, 22 October, a local group of Freemasons will host a ceremony to dedicate a new statue of Dr. Joseph Warren at his latest gravesite in Forest Hills Cemetery.

Those Freemasons, working with Warren descendants and the cemetery, commissioned the statue from Robert Shure of Skylight Studios in Woburn. Its general design is inspired by the Paul Wayland Bartlett statue of Warren which Boston originally installed in Warren Square and is now at the Roxbury Latin School, as discussed here.

Warren biographer Sam Forman has shared Robert Vartanian’s article about the creation of this new statue on his website, starting here.

The dedication ceremony will take place at the gravesite, rain or shine. There will be no seating, so anyone who attends will have to be able to stand for up to two hours. There will be remarks by the local Masonic Grand Master and a representative of the Warren family, and “a Masonic carpet ceremony.”

I understand the public is welcome to attend this dedication ceremony. However, the organizers also ask people to register in advance so they can tell the cemetery how many people to expect. Registering starts by going to this site, but the only way to register there appears to require being a Freemason or knowing the movement’s imagery. (Flyers about the ceremony saying “public invited” cycle through the event announcements on the right side of that page.)

ADDENDUM: Here’s the Eventbrite page for registering to attend if one is not a Freemason.

The address of the cemetery for driving purposes is 95 Forest Hills Avenue in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

“How the Cambridge Alarm Led to the Concord Fight,” in Cambridge, 20 Oct.

Last March I spoke at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site about “The End of Tory Row.” That talk was about that Cambridge neighborhood in the early 1770s, defined by one extended family of wealthy Anglican sugar-plantation owners. Their comfortable community came to an abrupt end on 2 Sept 1774.

On Thursday, 20 October, I’m returning to the Longfellow–Washington site to tell the next chapter of that story: “How the Cambridge Alarm Led to the Concord Fight.” Like the story of the “Tory Row” neighborhood, that narrative also involves extended family networks. The Road to Concord includes a dive into the family of young Samuel Gore, including his brothers-in-law Thomas Crafts and Moses Grant, to see why they became ready to rebel. But there are other families I could have traced out the same way.

Let’s take George Trott (1741-1780), a jeweler and goldsmith in Boston. Trott and Crafts were both members of the “Loyall Nine” who organized the public protests against the Stamp Act in 1765. Trott became the second-in-command of the train, Boston’s militia artillery company, while Crafts was the third-ranking officer.

Trott married Ann Boylston Cunningham (1745-1810), daughter of James and Elizabeth Cunningham. Her youngest sibling, Andrew (1760-1829), was the teen-aged assistant to South Writing School master Samuel Holbrook in September 1774. That’s when the train’s four small brass cannon disappeared, two of them from a building right next to the school. Coincidence? I doubt it. (I’ll describe who removed those cannon and how in my talk.)

By early 1775 those four brass cannon had been smuggled out of Boston to Lemuel Robinson’s tavern in Dorchester. Robinson (1736-1776) was an obvious choice to hide those guns. He was the captain of the militia artillery company for Suffolk County outside Boston, and he was active in the Whig movement. He put Liberty Tree on his tavern sign and hosted Boston’s Sons of Liberty at a big dinner in 1769.

Was there a family connection between Trott and Robinson? Robinson was raised in Dorchester by his maternal grandfather, Thomas Trott (1685-1762). George Trott’s father was also named Thomas Trott (1705-), a blacksmith of Boston. Genealogists have had trouble sorting out or connecting those families, though.

Robinson’s wife was born Jerusha Minot in 1734. Her brother named John (1730-1805) had a son he named George—i.e., Lemuel and Jerusha’s nephew—in 1755. A tradition in Roxbury published as early as 1835 credits a George Minot, son of John, with helping to smuggle two of the train’s four cannon out of Boston. Coincidence? Well, I’m not so convinced by the Minot stories, but if he was involved I’m sure the Robinson-Minot family network played a role. (A Dawes-Williams family network was definitely involved in moving cannon, as I’ll explain.)

My talk at the Longfellow–Washington site, 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge, starts at 6:30 P.M. (Stretches of Brattle Street open up for free parking at 6:00.) We’ll have copies of The Road to Concord for sale and signing afterward. To reserve seats in the carriage house, please call (617) 876-4491 or email reservationsat105@gmail.com.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

John Adams Views Trumbull’s Painting of the Congress

In 1818 the Revolutionary War veteran and painter John Trumbull came to Boston to exhibit his depiction of the Continental Congress considering the Declaration of Independence.

Josiah Quincy, son of the Patriot lawyer of the same name, was then between his terms in the U.S. House and his terms as the mayor of Boston. That gave him time on 4 December to accompany Trumbull out to Quincy to dine with John Adams, the figure at the center of that painting.

Quincy’s diary entries, published in his son Edmund’s The Life of Josiah Quincy, described some conversation on that trip:
Trumbull, a gentleman of the old school, greatly delighted at the patronage given by the national Legislature to the series of his paintings commemorating four great national events.

The conversation turned on the character of Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin. Adams said, that the suggestion made against Dr. Franklin, as not being hearty in his support of the Declaration of Independence, was a calumny. To his knowledge, he supported that measure at its earliest period, with energy and perfect devotion.

Adams said, that he was present at the sittings of the Royal Academy of France, when Voltaire and Franklin both attended. As each appeared, the hall rang with acclamations. They approached each other. The cry was, “Let them embrace, let them embrace!” They accordingly began to hug and kiss. The room rang with, “Behold, Sophocles and Solon are embracing each other!”
That meeting occurred on 29 Apr 1778, as recorded in Adams’s diary. Voltaire died one month later.

The next day, Adams made the reverse trip to Boston. Quincy wrote:
President Adams came to town to view the “Declaration of Independence,” by Colonel Trumbull, now exhibiting at Faneuil Hall. President Adams, Trumbull, Prof. Farrar, Wm. S. Shaw, dined with me. Colonel Trumbull said, that every portrait in his picture was taken from a real sitting of the individual, or from some existing picture of him, except that of Benjamin Harrison, which was only from general description, received from his son, the recently distinguished General [William Henry] Harrison.

Adams said, that the portrait bore a general resemblance, but was not sufficiently corpulent. He well remembered, that, when engaged in signing the Declaration of Independence, a side conversation took place between Harrison, who was remarkably corpulent, and Elbridge Gerry, who was remarkably the reverse. “Ah, Gerry,” said Harrison, “I shall have an advantage over you in this act.” “How so?” said Gerry. “Why,” replied Harrison, “when we come to be hung for this treason, I am so heavy, I shall plump down upon the rope and be dead in an instant; but you are so light, that you will be dangling and kicking about for an hour in the air.”
Dr. Benjamin Rush had put this story into a letter to Adams in 1811, as quoted here.

Quincy’s son and biographer Edmund, ten years old in 1818, added:
I well remember being one of the party which accompanied Mr. Adams to see Trumbull’s picture. Faneuil Hall was full of spectators when we arrived, and what impressed the scene upon my boyish memory was the respectful manner in which all the men took off their hats when Mr. Adams entered leaning on my mother’s arm, and remained uncovered while he stayed. Room was made for him by common consent, so that he could see the picture to the best advantage. He seemed carried back to his prime of manhood, and to the most famous scene of his life, and he gave his warm approval to the picture as a correct representation of the Convention. “There is the door,” said he, “through which Washington escaped when I nominated him as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army!”
(I think there’s reason to doubt Adams’s memory on that point, which I’ll write about some day.)
This picture must be always interesting as an authentic collection of portraits, and an accurate representation of the Hall of Independence; and it pretends to be nothing more. At one time a shade of ridicule attached to this painting, because of John Randolph’s splenetic description of it as “a great shin-piece!”—a most groundless sarcasm, as any one may see who will be at the trouble of counting first the heads and then the shins it portrays. That part of the subject is certainly as well managed as possible, if the venerable signers are to be allowed any legs at all.

Friday, October 14, 2016

“Remarks, injurious to the Reputation of General Ward”

Yesterday I described how a sixteen-year-old letter from George Washington was published in 1792, showing the public some less than flattering comments on Artemas Ward, his predecessor as head of the American army outside Boston.

At the time, both Washington and Ward were holding federal office in Philadelphia, the first as President and the second as a Representative from Massachusetts. Awkward.

How did Ward react to that revelation? I think we can be sure that he confronted Washington about the letter because multiple people in the nineteenth century described him doing so. But we can’t be sure of how that confrontation really went because none of those descriptions was first-hand. The two men probably had a frosty exchange of words, of the sort that might have sent younger men to the dueling field, but they were discreet enough to keep their disagreement to themselves.

Here are the three surviving versions of what happened. The first came from a letter that Christopher Gore, then a former governor of Massachusetts, wrote to Ward’s son on 22 Jan 1819:
In conversation with our late Friend Samuel Dexter, and not many months before his Death, He mentioned to me, that your Father, who was a Representative in Congress, at the same time with himself, invariably attended President Washington’s Levees, in Philadelphia, and as invariably declined the President’s Invitation to Dinner, which He occasionally received during the Sessions.

This conduct, on the part of General Ward, was owing, as He Mr Dexter conceived, to a Letter published in the early part of the revolutionary war, which contained Remarks, injurious to the Reputation of General Ward, and purported to have been written by General Washington. On the subject of this Letter perfect Silence was observed by General Washington, until He had retired from public Life, and he had declined any further Election to the Supreme Magistracy of the Union.

He then wrote to General Ward, declaring to Him, in the most explicit Language, that He did not write the Letter, nor ever knew of it until its Publication in the Newspapers. He apologized, at the same time, for not having done this act before, which He considered equally due to General Ward & to Himself, from a Resolution that He judged prudent to adopt at the Commencement of the War, in Respect to every Publication that sought to embroil Him with the Officers civil or military of the U. States.

This Letter at the same Time expressed, in unequivocal Terms, the highest Regard for the character & Conduct of General Ward, in all the Departments of public Duty, in which He had acted. Genl. Washington further stated, that, although He had refrained from having written, or spoken on this Subject, He had always Kept among his Papers a Certificate of like Purport with the Communication then made, to be used in case of his Death, before the Circumstances of his Life prevented his doing what He had then done.
Having inferred from some Conversation with you, that this Fact was unknown, I have taken the Liberty to relate it precisely, according to my Recollection, as I had it from Mr Dexter.
No such letter or certificate survives in either the Ward papers or the Washington papers.

The second comes from the Reminiscences of the Reverend George Allen, published soon after his death in 1883:
Ward was a man of incorruptible integrity. Of his bravery there is no question, although Washington accused him of cowardice in leaving the service before Boston. Benjamin Stone, the first preceptor of Leicester Academy [and a correspondent of Ward who died in 1832], gave me the following account of Ward’s misunderstanding with Washington. Soon after the establishment of the Government at New York, Ward, then a member of Congress, came into possession of a letter written by Washington, in which the offensive charge was made. He immediately proceeded to the President’s house, placed the paper before him, and asked him if he was the author of it. Washington looked at the letter and made no reply. Ward said, “I should think that the man who was base enough to write that, would be base enough to deny it,” and abruptly took his leave.
And the third is from the not-always-reliable local historian Samuel A. Drake in Historic Fields and Mansions of Middlesex (1874):
It is well known that Washington spoke of the resignation of General Ward, after the evacuation of Boston, in a manner , approaching contempt. His observations, then confidentially made, about some of the other generals, were not calculated to flatter their amour propre or that of their descendants. It is said that General Ward, learning long afterwards the remark that had been applied to him, accompanied by a friend, waited on his old chief at New York, and asked him if it was true that he had used such language. The President replied that he did not know, but that he kept copies of all his letters, and would take an early opportunity of examining them. Accordingly, at the next session of Congress (of which General Ward was a member), he again called with his friend, and was informed by the President that he had really written as alleged. Ward then said, “Sir, you are no gentleman” and turning on his heel quitted the room.
Drake offered no source for who told this story.

If I had to guess, I’d say Ward did confront Washington privately, one senior gentleman to another, and told him what he wrote in 1776 was rude and hurtful. Washington, knowing that was correct, did not argue. Whether he later wrote a letter or certificate attesting to Ward’s good qualities but never sent it seems less likely; Washington preferred to let things lie.

The two men remained distant colleagues. Ward, despite being older and suffering from paralytic strokes, outlived Washington by ten months.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ward and Washington

When George Washington arrived in Cambridge on 2 July 1775, he took over command from Gen. Artemas Ward. The Continental Congress made Ward its second-ranking general.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Ward resented having Gen. Washington installed over him. He was a politician as well as a military man, and he was probably aware of the Massachusetts delegates’ hope to secure the other colonies’ support for a Continental Army by letting them name its commander-in-chief.

During the siege of Boston Washington gave Ward command of the southern wing of the American line. The Massachusetts general had overseen the Battle of Bunker Hill, the event that convinced the British army commanders there was nothing to be gained by staying in Boston. (Gen. William Howe stayed over the winter only because it took so long for the government in London to agree with that strategy.) Ward was also the chief voice for putting cannon on Dorchester Heights, the move that eventually made Howe sail away. So Ward’s contributions were crucial to the success of that first campaign.

Yet he rubbed Washington the wrong way. I sometimes wonder if Washington didn’t get along with Ward because they were too similar in some ways and too different in others. Most of the other generals were significantly older (Spencer, Putnam, Thomas) or younger (Sullivan, Heath, Greene). But Ward was in his forties, just a few years older than Washington. Both men had been provincial colonels during the French & Indian War, seeing major British campaigns in a subordinate capacity. Both were highly respected gentlemen and legislators in their home colonies.

Yet Ward had the qualities that New England respected: a Harvard education, Calvinist piety. He was conscientious and cautious, moving carefully to be certain he was moving in the right direction, a leader through finding consensus rather than bold strokes. Washington was a Virginian. He had no college education, and he was more philosophical than religious. Especially in those early years of the war, he liked bold strokes. He kept proposing bold strokes against the British inside Boston. And all the other generals, with Ward speaking first as the highest-ranking, kept voting him down.

By the end of the siege, Washington didn’t have much respect for his second-in-command. On 1 Apr 1776 he told his former military secretary Joseph Reed that “Nothing of Importance has occurr’d—in these parts” except perhaps for Ward resigning and then rescinding his resignation:
on Acct, as he says, of its being disagreeable to some of the Officers—who those Officers are I have not heard. I have not enquired—When the Application to Congress & notice of it to me, came to hand, I was disarm’d of Interposition because it was put upon the footing of Duty, or conscience, the General being perswaded, that his health would not allow him to take that share of Duty that his Office required. the Officers to whom the resignation is disagreeable have been able, no doubt, to convince him of his mistake, and that his health will admit him to be alert and Active—I shall leave him till he can determine Yea or nay, to Command in this Quarter.
Washington was even more caustic in comments to Gen. Charles Lee on 9 May:
General Ward, upon the Evacuation of Boston, and finding that there was a probability of his removing from the smoke of his own Chimney, applied to me, & wrote to Congress, for leave to Resign—A few days afterwards (some of the Officers, as he says, getting uneasy at the prospect of his leaving them) he applied for his Letter of Resignation, which had been committed to my care; but behold! it had been carefully forwarded, and as I have since learnt judg’d so reasonable—want of health being the Plea—that it was instantly complied with.
Lee evidently brought out the cattiness in the commander-in-chief.

As it turned out, the Congress accepted Ward’s offer to stay on—though it kept him away from Washington. Gen. Ward oversaw the “Eastern Department,” or New England, until March 1777, when he reported that the region was so quiet that he didn’t deserve his salary and stepped down. Later, in 1780-82, Ward represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress itself.

Meanwhile, at the end of 1776 Washington learned that Lee and Reed were writing about him critically behind his back. He never wholly trusted either man again. As a result, his later letters to those men aren’t nearly so fun.

Ten years after Lee died in 1782, a former Congress delegate from Georgia named Edward Langworthy published Memoirs of the Life of the Late Charles Lee. That book included some of the late general’s correspondence—including Washington’s May 1776 letter that referred to Ward in less than flattering terms.

When that letter became public in 1792, Ward was serving the first of his two terms in the new U.S. Congress. Generally he voted with the Federalists and President Washington. But now they had a personal matter to sort out.

TOMORROW: Two former generals in one room.