The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 40

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Sunday, Jan. 1st

In public affairs, the success at Savannah is rendered more decided by the acquiescence of the people; and our northern people are doing what is right by contributions for the suffering population there. There is, on the other hand, to be recorded, the failure at Wilmington.

Sunday Jan. 15th, 1865

The only marked public news is the superseding of Gen. Butler. What is earthly greatness or popularity!

Jan. 23d 1865

My P.M. sermon had reference to the recent death (Sunday morning previous) of the illustrious Edward Everett.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 29 January, 2015, 1:00 AM

Pirates in Boston: The Trial and Execution of John Quelch

On June 30, 1704, six men were hanged in Boston in what was the first trial for piracy by the British Admiralty Court outside of England.  The Arraignment, Tryal, and Condemnation of John Quelch provides a transcript of what is perhaps Boston’s earliest trial for piracy.  The court proceedings provide a detailed account of the events leading up to Quelch’s capture, as well as of the crimes committed Quelch and his crew. 

In July of 1703, Governor Joseph Dudley granted a privateering license to Captain Daniel Plowman of the Charles and sent the ship to attack French and Spanish vessels near Newfoundland and Arcadia.  However, while the ship was still in Massachusetts, Captain Plowman became extremely ill and was confined to his quarters by the rebellious crew.  Plowman’s lieutenant, John Quelch, was chosen to be the new captain by the crew and the ship’s course was changed.  Plowman was thrown overboard, whether dead or alive seems uncertain, and Quelch led the crew of the Charles on what would be nearly a year-long piracy spree against Portuguese ships in the Caribbean and off the coast of South America.

Between August of 1703 and February of 1704, Quelch and the crew of the Charles attacked and captured no fewer than nine Portuguese vessels off the coast of Brazil, stealing a wide variety of goods and valuables and committing a number of other crimes including murder.  Precise dates are given for each of the nine attacks, as well as detailed descriptions of the crimes committed and the goods stolen.  The various commodities stolen from the different ships include gold dust, sugar, molasses, rum, rice, textiles, pottery, and a large quantity of coined Portuguese money.  Quantities are listed for the goods taken, and values also provided, offering insight into the monetary value of these goods around the turn of the eighteenth century.  A value of thirty pounds is given for one of the ships, which had apparently been sunk by Quelch and his crew. 

The court record also provides historical information on Africans enslaved both in British and Portuguese colonies during this period.   A number of slaves of African descent are referred to in the records both as the property of the crew and as plunder from piratical raids.  At least three slaves are referred to in a letter of John Colman, provided in the appendix to the court proceedings, to colonial authorities in the West Indies.  Two of them, named Charles and Caesar, are mentioned by Colman as the property of a Colonel Hobbey.  The third, named Mingo, is listed as belonging to Captain Plowman himself.  Colman mentions the three men in a plea to the colonies of the West Indies to secure the goods on board the Charles and prevent them from being stolen by the mutinous crew.  Colman asks for the return of the men “and their shares,” and it is unclear whether this means that Charles, Caesar, and Mingo had any actual share in the goods on the ship, or whether it means the shares of their respective owners. 

At least two more enslaved men were captured by Quelch and his crew during several of their attacks on Portuguese ships.  Joachim, a slave aboard a Portuguese brigantine taken by the Charles, was valued at twenty pounds.  Joachim is described as baptized, possibly as a Catholic given his ownership by a Portuguese master, though this is not expressly stated.  He is the only slave in the record described as baptized.  Emmanuel, a slave valued by the court record at forty pounds, was the property of a Portuguese commander named Bastian whose ship was captured by Quelch and his crew near the River Plate (Rio de la Plata) in South America.  Bastian was shot and killed during the attack, apparently by Christopher Scudamore the ship’s cooper, according to the testimony of Emmanuel.  For a time Joachim and Emmanuel served the crew, but were both sold to crew members at some point during the voyage.  Joachim was purchased by one George Norton, and Emmanuel was purchased by Benjamin Perkins, both for undisclosed amounts. 

During the trial itself, three members of the crew, Matthew Pymer, John Clifford, and James Parrot, testified against Quelch in court and so avoided prosecution.  The transcript also repeatedly states that the English and Portuguese crowns had recently become allies at the time of Quelch’s crimes, further exasperating the case against him.  Among those presiding over the trial were Governor Joseph Dudley and Samuel Sewall, First Judge of the Massachusetts-Bay Province.  John Quelch, John Lambert, Christopher Scudamore, John Miller, Erasmus Peterson, and Peter Roach were sentenced to hang.  The execution was carried out “in Charles River; between Broughton’s Ware-house, and the Point.”

Joachim and Emmanuel were both called upon to testify against Quelch and certain members of his crew.  Emmanuel specifically identified Christopher Scudamore as the murderer of his master Bastian, while both men testified that Quelch and his crew ordered them to claim that they had been Spanish slaves rather than Portuguese upon returning to Boston in order to cover up the crimes against Portuguese ships.  Charles, Caesar, and Mingo were all charged with piracy along with the crew, though they were found not guilty.  Charles and Caesar were presumably returned to their master, Colonel Hobbey, while the fate of Mingo is not recorded.  The fates of Joachim and Emmanuel following the trial are not recorded either.  It is interesting to note that though they were considered property, slaves were still called upon to testify in an important trial like free men.

Several important documents and letters are provided in the appendix, including Captain Plowman’s commission from Massachusetts Governor Joseph Dudley as well as his instructions.  In the commission, Dudley explains to Plowman that he is “Hereby Authorizing you in and with the said Briganteen and Company to her belonging, to War, Fight, Take, Kill, Suppress and Destroy, any Pirates, Privateers, or other the Subjects and Vassals of France, or Spain, the Declared Enemies of the Crown of England, in what Place soever you shall happen to meet them.”  Plowman is warned that “Swearing, Drunkenness and Prophaneness be avoided,” and that no one, even enemies of the British crown, “be in cold Blood killed, maimed, or by Torture or Cruelty inhumanly treated contrary to the Common Usage or Just Permission of War.”  Also included are correspondence between Plowman and the Charles’ owners John Colman and William Clarke regarding Plowman’s illness and his growing mistrust of the crew.   

Taking place during Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), the crimes of John Quelch and the crew of the Charles should be viewed in the context of the affairs between the European colonial empires in the New World at the dawn of the eighteenth century.  Licensed by Governor Dudley as a “private man-of-war,” the Charles was expressly instructed to attack the ships of “Her Majesty’s enemies,” namely France and Spain.  Instead, the crew mutinied against their licensed captain and, to the chagrin of Governor Dudley and British colonial authorities, they attacked the ships of Britain’s ally Portugal.  It is clear from the text that these crimes are taken very seriously not only as acts of piracy, but as an embarrassment to the crown. 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 28 January, 2015, 1:00 AM

An American Woman in Egypt, 1914-1915: An Introduction

In my previous post, I explored the world of early twentieth-century travel by train. Inspired by the glimpse into another era the diary behind that post evoked, I went looking for other travel diaries from the same era and found an anonymous diary kept by a Boston woman while on a steamer cruise up the Nile in Egypt.

Intrigued by the notion of an American tourist riding donkeys out to explore Egyptian archeological sites and having tea at British colonial resorts while Europe was at war, I have decided to use this diary as a jumping-off point to write a series of posts this winter placing this diary, and the adventure it describes, in broader historical context.

The diary begins abruptly on 25 November 2014 with our diarist already en route up the Nile by steamer. The author begins each day with the date and writes a few lines about her daily activities -- notes on where and how she and her party traveled, the sites visited, as well as where and when she had breakfast, lunch, and tea. Even without detailed information about the author’s identity and the personal context of her foreign travel, her written record of progress up the Nile can serve as a catalyst for a number of historical questions.

We might explore, for example, what the diary can tell us about the history of travel, and particularly the history of women travellers. Her story is part of a long history of Anglo-American fascination with Egypt and the Middle East that bears unpacking -- by virtue of her anonymity her experience may shed light on the experience of everyday, rather than famous (or infamous), Americans abroad.  We might ask what her narrative can tell us about the materiality of travel, about human interaction with the natural and built environment. We can also note the silences and erasures within her narrative: those aspects of Egypt which she may or may not see, but certainly doesn’t write about.

Stay tuned for the second post in this series, coming in February, in which we will delve into the timeline of our diarist’s journey up the Nile and some of the activities she did record along the way.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 27 January, 2015, 1:00 AM

A Vacation of the Mind

I went to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) this morning. The flight from Boston normally costs upwards of $1,000. Flight time, with layovers, averages 24 hours. However my trip to Ceylon did not cost me a dime or any flight time. I went on a “mind vacation.” The concept sounds a little quirky but a mind vacation is a great way to visit another place or time without actually spending the money for a flight or inventing time travel. (Although if you are currently devising time travel, I want in.)

My mind vacation materialized as I read Reverend James Cordiner’s Description of Ceylon. In these two volumes, Cordiner recorded his experiences in Ceylon while serving as chaplain to the garrison of the capital Colombo from 1799 to 1804. The first volume contains descriptions of the island’s geography, resources, inhabitants and climate. When I first read the climate description of Colombo, thoughts of the brisk January temperatures in Boston today -- and the approaching blizzard -- simply melted away.

With great detail, Cordiner contrasts the climate of Colombo with the nearby British trading port of Madras (modern day Chennai, India).  “…with the arid plains, withered vegetation, scorching winds, and clouds of burning dust, which, for several months in the year, cast an inhospitable gloom around the vicinity of Madras. There in, the month of May, 1804, Farenheit’s thermometer appeared above ninety degrees before nine o’clock in the morning, and, in the course of the day, rose in many houses to one hundred and nine degrees.” Cordiner considers this port’s climate to be lacking. I also think Madras is a little too hot and dusty for a comfortable mind vacation.

I find his description of Colombo comparatively restorative to read in the middle of January. “The smallest inconvenience from heat is never felt within doors at Columbo. Even passing through this moisture under the full blaze of the meridian sun, the air is ten degrees cooler that than of Madras … There is then always a fresh breeze from the sea, which greatly lessens the effects of the sun’s power.” Colombo is a tropical vacation compared to dusty Madras -- and snowy Boston!  With temperatures in the 80s and a sea breeze, who would not want to visit?

Do you need a mind vacation this week? I encourage you to visit our reading room (although check our homepage, as we may close due to snow) for a mind vacation to plenty of local and distant destinations throughout the centuries available in our collections.  I would love to hear your adventures.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 26 January, 2015, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

The Immigration and Urban History seminar scheduled for Tuesday, 27 January, "Interpreters in Ellis Island: A Tool for Americanization, 1892-1954," is CANCELED

However, you can still come in on Thursday for an author talk at 6:00PM. Join us as independent author, Phyllis Lee Levin, presents "The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams." This is the first event in the Adams Family Series of programs. Registration is required for this event with a fee of $10 (no charge for Fellows and Members). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM. Please call 617-646-0578 to register. 

Please note that our exhibition, "Letters  and Photographs from the Battle Country" is now CLOSED. Our upcoming exhibit opens on Friday, 27 February, and is titled "God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill." Be sure to check it out! 

Finally, there will be no Saturday tours until our next exhibition is open. Please refer to our online calendar to see the current schedule. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 24 January, 2015, 10:22 AM

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