Americas and Oceania Collections blog

18 posts categorized "American Revolution"

16 November 2016

American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa

Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.

Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.

50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.

Aerial shot of Boston Spa site

The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)

The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).

Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.

We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!

29 July 2015

Loyalist Lawyers: Exiles from the American Revolution


Above: A Copy of Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre, The Massachusetts Calender, for...1772...By Philomathes [from our 'American revolution' web resource]

[This year the British Library Americas Blog and U.S. Studies Online will be publishing a series of posts as part of the Eccles Centre’s Summer Scholars 2015 series of talks. The articles are based on talks given by a range of writers and scholars conducting research at the British Library thanks to generous research fellowships and grants awarded by the Eccles Centre. This first post it by Sally E. Hadden, Western Michigan University, on part of her research into lawyers living in 18th century Boston. A schedule for the remaining Scholars talks can be found here]

For my current book project, I’m investigating lawyers who lived in 18th century Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Towards the end of the century, these individuals took a leading role in conducting the American Revolution, and also in the creation of the legal structures that became new state governments and the national government of the United States. As lawyers, they were also a bit of a closed community, speaking an arcane language filled with terms that others could not understand unless they shared the same training: words like fee tail male, executrix, intestacy, writs of attachment, or tripartite bonds were their stock in trade, plus Latin tags for every occasion. Being part of this community of men trained in the same field held them apart from all others, as well as holding them together in a sort of invisible association.

This invisible association of men traveled together for weeks at a time, four times per year. Colonial lawyers who wanted to earn their livings could not stay in their offices and expect clients to always find them—they needed to travel on circuit, going from town to town as the judges did, visiting the far-flung parts of a county to bring justice with them. Imagine this cluster of men, traveling as they did on horseback for a grimy day or two, then setting up camp in the taverns and inns of a new place. It was a sort of traveling circus, and within the circus, the men who were judges and lawyers formed a tight-knit group, with friendships formed there that often lasted a lifetime. Even after the Revolution, John Adams still spoke with fondness about Jonathan Sewall, a man he shared a bed with while traveling on circuit, his friend of many years—who became a loyalist.

It was the friendships within this group that first drew my attention to loyalist lawyers. I began to turn up the names of individuals who had been part of this tight-knit invisible association, but whose politics led them to part from their friends, their profession (as they knew it), and take refuge during the American Revolution. As part of the exodus of (we estimate) over 50,000 individuals from the colonies, these men have sometimes been lumped in and studied with other loyalists—but they were a breed apart. Unlike the shoemaker or blacksmith, they could not readily find work in just any old town: they needed one with a courthouse, and enough people, to sustain their legal practices.


Above: drawing lines after the war, Mitchell The Red Lined Map, 1775, K.Top [from our 'American Revolution' web resource]

My work at the British Library involves tracking Boston men like Andrew Cazneau, Samuel Fitch, Benjamin Gridley, James Putnam, Ward Chipman, Daniel Leonard, Rufus Chandler, Abel Willard, Daniel Bliss, and even law student Jeremiah Dummer Rogers. Of the 47 lawyers working in Boston at the time of the Revolution, they split roughly down the middle in terms of their choices: about 20 stayed and took up the patriot cause, while about 20 left with the British and went overseas seeking to remain loyal. From Philadelphia, the sons of Chief Justice William Allen in Philadelphia, Andrew and James, trained in the law and wanted to continue practicing, but not under the new American regime. James Allen wrote in his diary June 6, 1777 that the laws of Pennsylvania were disregarded, the assembly was ridiculous, and the courts were not open. All of this made “a mockery of Justice.” He and others in his family took refuge with the British, and then eventually left America for good. Still, it was a smaller number of loyalist lawyers who left Philadelphia than in Boston. And in Charleston, the number of departing men was smaller still. Only eight or nine of the most prominent lawyers of the city chose to depart, most of whom were middle-aged, and inclined to conservatism, like their fellow loyalists. James Simpson, the attorney general, William Burroughs, the head of chancery, and Egerton Leigh all had large practices and departed, Charles Pinckney took protection under the British while they occupied Charleston—but the remainder of the men with the most numerous clients remained behind as patriots. One big question my study will eventually address is, why did so many more Boston lawyers leave for England than men in those same professions in Philadelphia or Charleston?

These men fled to a variety of destinations, including modern-day Canada, the Caribbean, and France. Most went to London. Clubs sprang up to provide these London exiles with conversation, a network of information, and recreation. By the summer of 1776, they had formed the “Brompton-Row Tory Club” or “Loyalist Club” which met for dinner, conversation, and backgammon on a weekly basis, in homes that lined the current day Brompton Road. They made claims to the Parliament loyalist commission, seeking compensation for their lost homes, libraries, and incomes. Thomas Hutchinson, whose diary and correspondence from this period are housed in the manuscript collections of the British Library, provides insight into the changing prospects of these men. Many of them had less and less hope that their former lives would be restored, as the war dragged on. They moved out of London for less expensive towns like Bristol, Sidmouth, Exeter, Bath, even South Wales.

A very few, like Daniel Leonard, chose to take up the practice of law again in London, though for Leonard it required undergoing the various meals and moots associated with student life at the advanced age of 37 to join the Middle Temple before he could do so. Most colonial lawyers—aside from those in Charleston—had not completed their legal training in London. Leonard became a barrister and in 1781 was appointed Chief Justice of Bermuda, where he lived for several years, prior to retirement and death in London.

Recapturing what happened to these men as they scattered to smaller cities, or spread out to other parts of the British Empire, forms an important part of my larger project. The riches at the British Library will undoubtedly reveal more about their choices, once the Revolution had turned in favour of the Americans in 1778.

[SH. More on Summer Scholars here]

04 April 2014

Old bits of Trees by Andrea Wulf

As a historian I get very excited about old letters, diaries, account books and inventories – but once in a while there are other ‘records’ that trump almost everything else.

I had one of those moments this week when I returned to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Over the past six years I have been many times to Washington’s estate in Virginia (just south of Washington DC) – first to research my book  Founding Gardeners and then to give talks about the book. By now I go there to see the changes in the gardens (of which there are many, such as the fabulous restoration of the Upper Garden) and to meet my friend Dean Norton who is the Director of Horticulture there. Dean always makes a huge effort to entertain me – for example, by taking me out on the Potomac in a boat or letting me drive around the estate with a gator [A John Deere utility vehicle, not a reptile - ed.].

Last Wednesday’s visit, however, was one of the most memorable. Within a little more than a month, three very old and important trees had come down. The most visible loss is the majestic Pecan tree next to the house. It was a shock to see Mount Vernon without the beautiful tree (145 feet high). It all looked a bit naked.

Pecan low

Mount Vernon’s Pecan before it was taken down (photo by Dean Norton)

Dean explained to me that they had finally decided to take down the tree because it threatened the house. One big storm and the Pecan might have crashed onto Washington’s house. No matter how old the tree (from the 1850s), the mansion and its content was of course more important.

It took four days to take the giant down – with a crane. They did a fabulous time–lapse film of it.

Click here to see the film.

At the same time they felled a white oak that had been killed by lightening a while ago. The white oak was in a less prominent spot but it was even older – pre–1770 and most likely planted by the great man himself. Another painful loss. At least the wood is now invaluable for restoration projects at the house.

And then, on 31 March, the next tree came down – crumbling under its own weight. This was a big swamp chestnut oak which grew at the ha-ha wall on the slope towards the river. Planted in the 1760s or 1770s it was probably also placed there by Washington. It was completely rotten from the inside and just needed that last bit of wind to crash down. It's so sad to see these giants lying broken on the ground.

When I scrambled around to pick up a bit of bark to take home as a memento, Dean got a chainsaw and sliced off a bit for me. Now I have my own Washington tree in my office. That’s the kind of history that gets under my skin.

Dean Andrea low

Andrea Wulf is a Eccles Centre Writer-in-Residence emeritus.

22 May 2013

The early US Navy in the Gulf

Thanks to the British Library’s Qatar Foundation Partnership, a large collection of India Office Records are currently being digitised and researched.  One of the Qatar team, Francis Owtram, recently came across some documents that reveal British concerns about  America's expanding naval presence in the region at the time of the War of Independence.  Here he shares some of his notes.

Correspondence of the English East India Company in 1778 discusses the impending outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and France in connection with the American Revolutionary War.

IOR/R/15/1/4, Letter No. 14, 15 April, 1778, from P. Michell, Secretary East India Houseto William Digges Latouche and George Abraham, Bussora [Basra]

... The present critical situation of public affairs and particularly the great warlike preparations which are making in this Kingdom and in France together with the late declaration made by His Majesty’s Command respecting a convention which has taken place between the French and the Americans and concerning it probable that an event so extraordinary may be productive of the most serious consequences and even of a rupture between Great Britain and France, the Court of Directors have ordered me to communicate this interesting intelligence in order to put you well on your guard in case of extremities in order, that you may exercise the greatest caution and prudence for the security of their property and concerns depending on your management...

The French and Americans concluded a Treaty of Alliance in Paris on 6 February 1778; Britain then declared war on France.

In August 1778, the Lieutenant Governor of St Helena forwarded some intelligence on American shipping in the Atlantic Ocean:

IOR/R/15/1/4, 24 August, 1778, Letter from P. Michell, Secretary East India House to the Worshipful the Agent and Council, for all the affairs of the English Nation at Bussora [Basra]
... Having received intelligence from Captain Moutray that in his outward bound Voyage to this Island he received information at the Island of Palma that there had been two American privateers lately there, the one a two decked Ship and the other a Frigate and on his arrival at St Jago he was further  informed that the said two Privateers had also been there and had left that Island fourteen days before his arrival giving out that they were bound to the Southwards. This intelligence we thought necessary to communicate to Captain Traver,  Commander of the Earl of Mansfield by Letter...

It can be recalled that in April 1778 the nascent US Navy was involved in action closer to Britain. John Paul Jones and the 'Ranger' attacked Whitehaven in a ship given to the Americans by the French.  The India Office Records also reveal US movements in the Gulf: by 1790 the Boston brig “Rambler” had docked in Muscat, and in 1802 the English East India Company’s Resident in  Bushire, Persia, even used an American ship ‘The Two Sons’ to transport packets to Bussora.


02 October 2012

Sheila Rowbotham: Helen Tufts Bailie and the Daughters of the American Revolution

The Daughters of the American Revolution, (DAR) are a group of American women who can claim descent from people who took part in the American Revolution against British rule. When the DAR prevented the singer Marian Anderson from performing in Constitution Hall in Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned in protest.  And the DAR gained a reputation for racism.

Of course black Americans too can lay claim to revolutionary forebears. And at last, this year the New York Times announced that a black American, Olivia Cousins had become the president of a DAR chapter in Jamaica, Queens.  (New York Times July 4 2012)

A friend from the US sent me the cutting because she  knew I was writing about Helen Tufts Bailie who  in 1928,  bravely locked horns with the DAR leadership.  Tufts upbraided them for blacklisting, not simply anarchists, socialists and Communists, but a great swathe of liberal speakers, including an assortment of bishops and rabbis.  Among the organisations branded as ‘unAmerican’ were the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom and the American Association of American Women. The Red Scare of the late 1920s evinced some of the absurdities which would recur during the later McCarthy trials. Tufts Bailie pointed out that Mrs Lucia Ames Mead, a supporter of the League of Nations had got onto the blacklist simply because the clergy man organising her meeting hailed from Moscow, Idaho.

Tufts Baillie was exceedingly proud of her revolutionary ancestors and had become a keen family historian before the term was invented but she loathed what she described as the complacent patriotism of 'My country always right' declaring that if that was patriotism she wanted none of it.

She had been appalled to discover a man was distributing the DAR blacklists and somehow got a living from doing so. She notified the DAR because she assumed it was illicit. By April she was coming to realise that the policy had support from within the leadership.

Suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt and the social settlement pioneer, Jane Addams, put their weight  behind her  protests. But to no avail. The evidence Tufts Bailie presented for the existence of blacklists was swept aside  and the blacklists denied.  By June 1928 she had been expelled from the DAR. A powerful anti-suffrage and militaristic lobby had assumed control in the DAR and Helen Tufts Baillie and her allies were defeated.

In the late nineteenth century Helen Tufts Baillie had been able to regard herself as an American patriot  taking pride in its revolutionary traditions while being active on the left. By the 1920s a shift had occurred and patriotism had been redefined by the right.

You can read some of the historical reasons for this in Kirsten Marie Delegard’s, Battling Miss Bolsheviki: The Origins of Female Conservatism in the United States (2012) - in the British Library.


10 November 2011

'the most elegant Thing I ever saw': royal libraries and republicans

In the autumn of 1783, following the signing of the definitive treaty of peace with Britain, John Adams and his son, Quincy, visited London. After spending several years apart from his wife, Abigail, he resolved to tempt her over to Europe.  In November 1783, he wrote,

'Come to Europe with Nabby [Abigail, Adam's firsborn daughter] as soon as possible, and Satisfy your Curiosity, and improve your Taste, by viewing these magnificent Sceenes. Go to the Play -- see the Paintings and Buildings -- visit the Manufactures for a few Months -- and then, if Congress pleases return to America with me to reflect upon them.'

These scenes, the letter reveals, included a visit arranged by the painter Benjamin West to Buckingham House, which contained an 'inestimable Collection of Paintings'.  But, he continued, even considering the collections of Rubens, Van Dykes, Wests, etc.,  'The Library is the most elegant Thing I ever saw.'  And here, Adams was best pleased — and in this he probably shared the tastes of George III — by the 'Collection of Plans', which is now largely housed in the British Library and can be seen on the Online Gallery.

Perhaps it worked: Abigail (to whom he signed the letter, 'with Tenderness unutterable') and Nabby joined him in 1784.

Many of Adam's papers are currently available via the University of Virginia 'Founders Early Access Programme', but the November letter itself is held, along with a wealth of other materials, by the Massachusetts Historical Society.  It is available online as part of their Adams Electronic Archive.

You can read more about the contents and history of the George III collection here.  As well, of course, as enjoying the sight of the King's Library Tower in the heart of the Library's St Pancras building.

And, from tomorrow you can 'Satisfy your Curiosity' about earlier royal libraries, when the exhibition, 'Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination', opens.

[Matthew Shaw]

06 June 2011

Ring Any Bells? Paul Revere and printmaking

Paul Revere is, it seems, an echo of a memory of something that happened.  But as well as taking that pesky (from the British point of view) ride on the night of 18-19 April 1775, when he rode to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington that the British were marching towards them from Boston, sparking a chain of events that would lead the naming of a bunch of restaurants, the great American patriot was also a silversmith and copperplate engraver.  He put these skills to good use in the service of the Revolution, engraving and printing currency for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and in a series of striking prints.  Perhaps his most famous image can be seen above, a dramatic reconstruction of the Boston Massacre: read all about it on our online feature.

There are a number of other Revere prints in the collections.  They can be located by a search of [Paul Revere] in the English Short Title Catalogue, and then by limiting the results to the British Library.  There are a number of bibliographies, studies and biographies.  I can do no better than refer the interested reader in the listing produced by the American Antiquarian Society.

And there's more about the Old North Church and its lanterns here.


21 September 2010

Americans in Britain: Mather Brown


It was a busy weekend in London; those not watching Papamobiles or Pinarellos could also take advantage of Open House, and queue up to peek inside many of the city's architectural gems.  As a result, the curator of North American History found himself inside St Mary le Strand, a baroque stunner.

Although sadly showing some of the signs of ageing from its precarious position, stranded in the midst of a busy road, it is being bravely kept up by the efforts of the churchwardens (a plaque to their illustrious predecessors who spent most of the Blitz in the muniments room keeping an eye out for firebombs and then sweeping them off the roof can be seen on one of the walls).   Two of the beneficiaries of this care are brightly-restored paintings in the side walls of the chancel, by Mather Brown, a pupil of the more famous American painter, Benjamin West, and whose influence can strongly be seen in their style.  They were installed in 1785, a year before Brown, who had left America during the Revolution, painted the first portrait of Thomas Jefferson, during a visit to London as Ambassador to France.  The painting, which was owned by John Adams thanks to an exchange of portraits between the two friends, can now be seen in the Smithsonian.  

Brown's career, which peaked not long after before a sad decline into penury (he died in 1831 at Barbara Hofland's boarding house,  with just Mrs. Hofland 'to weep over him, & moisten his parched lips with an orange'), is detailed in Dorinda Evans, Mather Brown, early American artist in England (Middletown, Conn. : Wesleyan University Press, 1982) [LB.31.b.7011]

Brown's autobiographical notes and list of engraved works can also be found in Thomas Dodd's 'Memoirs of English Engravers, 1550-1800', held by the BL's Department of Manuscripts (Add. MS. 33,397); there are also letters to Lord Liverpool at Add. MS. 33,587, f. 53 and Add. MS. 38,580, f. 18.  The bulk of the unpublished correspondence is held at the Massachusetts Historical Society.



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