Although no sound recordings of Revolutionary War veterans exist, the following recording, made in 1950, is the next best thing. In it, the ninety-five year old Dr. Alfred Worcester relates the events of Lexington, Concord, and Battle Road as told to him by his great-grandmother, who witnessed them firsthand. It’s an extraordinary audio piece, and possibly the only second-hand account of the Revolutionary War ever recorded:
Archive for the ‘Colonial (American) Period’ Category
“Caleb Kilton was born in Scituate, on the 6th of October, 1781. His parents were John Jenckes and Sarah (Brayton) Kilton. His father was one of those who opened the great drama of the American Revolution, by the destruction of the Gaspee, in 1772. During the war that followed, in common with his fellow-citizens, he was frequently in active service in the field. He was in Sullivan’s expedition to the island of Rhode Island, in 1778,–and in the battle which followed the retreat of the Americans, the barrel of his gun was heated, by repeated discharges, to such a degree as to compel him to desist from reloading it. He used to relate, that a soldier near him on that occasion, was struck by a spent musket ball on his front teeth with such force as to displace four of them. Nothing dismayed, added the ball and the four teeth to the next charge in his gun, with the wish, expressed in terms more forcible than pious, that the redcoats might derive some advantage from them.”
– Transactions of The Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry in the Year 1861. Providence: Knowles, Anthony & Co. 1862. p147-148
Many people hold the common belief that modern English, as it is spoken today by the English themselves, is the “purest,” most uncorrupted form of the language. In other words, if one were to get in a time machine and travel back to 16th or 17th century England, the language one would hear would most closely resemble modern British English, as opposed to say, American English.
This is not, however, strictly true. For instance, when an American uses the slang term “bub” (a word long extinct in England), he or she is actually using a term that has its roots in Renaissance England. Numerous “archaic” words and phrases harking back several centuries survived in American English, only to become extinct in the British Isles. One reason for this is that American culture was mostly forged in the initial wave of immigrants that came between 1620 and 1640. H.L. Mencken explains:
Most of the colonists who lived along the American seaboard in 1750 were the descendants of immigrants who had come in fully a century before; after the first settlements there had been much less fresh immigration than many latter-day writers have assumed. According to Prescott F. Hall, “the population of New England … at the date of the Revolutionary War … was produced out of an immigration of about 20,000 persons who arrived before 1640,” and we have Franklin’s authority for the statement that the total population of the colonies in 1751, then about 1,000,000, had been produced from an original immigration of less than 80,000. Even at that early day, indeed, the colonists had begun to feel that they were distinctly separated, in culture and customs, from the mother-country…The result of this isolation, on the one hand, was that proliferation of the colonial speech which I have briefly reviewed, and on the other hand, the preservation of many words and phrases that gradually became obsolete in England.
Just what phrases survived in America, only to die out in England? Mencken provides a list:
A very large number of words and phrases, many of them now exclusively American, are similar survivals from the English of the seventeenth century, long since obsolete or merely provincial in England. Among nouns Thornton notes fox-fire, flap-jack, jeans, molasses, beef (to designate the live animal), chinch, cordwood, home-spun, ice-cream, julep and swingle-tree; Halliwell adds andiron, bay-window, cesspool, clodhopper, cross-purposes, greenhorn, loop-hole, ragamuffin and trash; and other authorities cite stock (for cattle), fall (for autumn), offal, din, underpinning and adze. Bub, used in addressing a boy, is very old English, but survives only in American. Flapjack goes back to Piers Plowman, but has been obsolete in England for two centuries. Muss, in the sense of a row, is also obsolete over there, but it is to be found in “Anthony and Cleopatra.” Char, as a noun, disappeared from English a long time ago, save in the compound, charwoman, but it survives in America as chore. Among the verbs similarly preserved are to whittle, to wilt and to approbate. To guess, in the American sense of to suppose, is to be found in “Henry VI”:
Not all together; better far, I guess,
That we do make our entrance several ways.
In “Measure for Measure” Escalus says “I guess not” to Angelo. The New English Dictionary offers examples much older—from Chaucer, Wycliffe and Gower. To interview is in Dekker. To loan, in the American sense of to lend, is in and Henry VIII, but it dropped out of use in England early in the eighteenth century, and all the leading dictionaries, both in English and American, now call it an Americanism. To fellowship, once in good American use but now reduced to a provincialism, is in Chaucer. Even to hustle, it appears, is ancient. Among adjectives, homely, which means only homelike or unadorned in England, was used in its American sense of plain-featured by both Shakespeare and Milton. Other such survivors are burly, catty-cornered, likely, deft, copious, scant and ornate. Perhaps clever also belongs to this category, that is, in the American sense of amiable.
“Our ancestors,” said James Russell Lowell, “unhappily could bring over no English better than Shakespeare’s.” Shakespeare died in 1616; the Pilgrims landed four years later; Jamestown was founded in 1607. As we have seen, the colonists, saving a few superior leaders, were men of small sensitiveness to the refinements of life and speech: soldiers of fortune, amateur theologians, younger sons, neighbouhood “advanced thinkers,” bankrupts, jobless workmen, decayed gentry, and other such fugitives from culture…There were no grammarians in that day; there were no purists that anyone listened to; it was a case of saying your say in the easiest and most satisfying way. In remote parts of the United States there are still direct and almost pure-blooded descendants of those seventeenth century colonists. Go among them, and you will hear more words from the Shakespearean vocabulary, still alive and in common service, than anywhere else in the world, and more of the loose and brilliant syntax of that time, and more of its gipsy phrases.
Mencken, H.L. (Henry Louis), 1880–1956. The American language: An inquiry into the development of English in the United States, by H.L. Mencken. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1921.
“I am a King’s man, who dare say anything against it; I have killed so many Yankies at Fort St. John’s with this sword of my Father, they are no soldiers at all. I kill’d and scalp’d, and kicked their arses, and the damned Committee here have gone too far already, I will shew them better, and will cut some of their heads off by and by.”
– William Johnson, Jr., half Mohawk son of Sir William Johnson, September, 1775
The following is from The London Practice of Physic, published in 1779:
Of the HICCUP.
The hiccup is a convulsive spasm of the œsophagus, the muscles serving for deglutition, and the stomach; the diaphragm was by some thought to be in fault, but without any foundation.
Hippocrates observes, that it may proceed either from too much emptiness or fullness, particularly of the brain; sometimes it is local in the stomach. Much depends on its being a symptomatic or a primary disease.
The musk julep has proves serviceable in this disorder, when symptomatic, and attended with flatus; also the following;
R Spirit. volat. fœtid.
Tinctur, succini, aa 3ij. furnat gutt. L. fabine e cochl. ij. julep. e Moscho
Add some drops of laudanum, as you think proper, to the medicines above.
Sternutatories frequently give relief; and emetics, when it arises from the stomach.
Laudanum was a potent narcotic—a tincture composed of opium and morphine. It was an ancient remedy, in existence since Roman times, and during the eighteenth century it was used to treat a variety of maladies and wounds. When Alexander Hamilton was shot in his duel with Aaron Burr, he was quickly administered laudanum. The substance is still used today (albeit in a more regulated form) to treat diarrhea and in easing withdrawal symptoms in addicts.
The 1811 edition of The London Practice of Physic smartly added the following:
Retaining the breath for a considerable time; any sudden surprise or fright; swallowing water, or what is preferable, a tea-spoonful of vinegar very slowly, holding the breath at the same time as long as possible, often puts a stop to it, when it arises from an accidental cause.
We’ve all seen Hollywood depictions of American Indians scalping their enemies. Whether it’s The Last of the Mohicans or Dances With Wolves, the procedure is portrayed in roughly the same manner: an Indian grabs his struggling enemy by a tuft of hair, and with one clean blow of his tomahawk takes off an entire scalp. Movie representations were likely based on posed, melodramatic period images such as the following–painted by artists who had never had the misfortune of being near an actual battle:
The historical reality was a bit different, however. Actual scalping was considerably messier and took much longer. We have an account from Jonathan Carver, an American writer and explorer who served in the French and Indian War. Carver writes:
At this business [the Indians] are exceedingly expert. They seize the head of the disabled or dead enemy, and placing one of their feet on the neck, twist their left hand in the hair; by this means, having extended the skin that covers the top of the head, they draw out their scalping knives, which are always kept in good order for this cruel purpose, and with a few dextrous strokes take off the part that is termed the scalp. They are so expeditious in doing this, that the whole time required scarcely exceeds a minute!
A similar account was published in 1865, by a Corporal Pike who had fought in the Indian Wars out west. In Pike’s account, the use of the knife is not enough to sever the scalp–the leverage of the foot is needed:
Scalping, barbarous as it is, is reduced to an art among the Indians. The victor cuts a clean circle around the top of the head, so that the crown may form the center, and the diameter of the scalp exceed six inches; then, winding his fingers in the hair, he puts one foot on the neck of the prostrate foe, and with a vigorous pull tears the reeking scalp from the skull. To the dead, this, of course, would not be absolute cruelty; but it is too frequently the case that the process is performed and the scalp severed while yet the mangled victim lives ; and there are instances where parties have recovered, and long survived this barbarous mutilation. Occasionally, a warrior is not satisfied with the part of the scalp usually taken, but bares the skull entirely, and carries away in triumph even the ears of his victim.
The following image is a more accurate representation (source unknown):
By Ben Miller
Anyone who thinks that New York City is a dangerous place now (or even was in the dreadful 1970s) needs only to take a look at the film Gangs of New York to get a little perspective, and realize that however bad things may seem at present, the rule of law and order in the American northeast has vastly improved over the last one hundred fifty years.
Boston, as it turns out, was the setting of equally sensational pitched battles between hordes of armed street-fighters—and much earlier so than New York.
During the eighteenth century, on November Fifth of each year, thousands of racially-diverse ruffians from Boston’s two most notorious gangs would fill the streets in celebration of Guy Fawkes’s foiled attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605 (popularly known as the Gunpowder Plot).
These were the North End and South End gangs, and their elaborate pageantry and ceremony must have been quite a spectacle to behold. Each had its own wagon and effigies, its own “officers,” “captains,” and “lieutenants.” Each had its own huge vehicle, varying from 20 to 40 feet long, 8 or 10 feet wide, and 5 or 6 feet high, from the lower to the upper platform. Their festivities exhibited a blatant, vitriolic anti-Catholic bias (Fawkes and his group had been Catholics trying to topple a Protestant government). Each year the respective gangs, dressed in masks, costumes, tricorns and pointed grenadier hats, would parade an effigy of the pope and one of the Devil, “clad in tar and feathers” on a large platform, which was carried by a crowd on a large platform surrounded by burning firecrackers. Small boys concealed below the platforms worked strings attached to the figures, which would “elevate and move around at proper intervals the movable head” as they were carried toward Boston Common. Some gang-members would blow horns and conch-shells known as “Pope-horns.” Every house along the route was required to contribute money “to the expense of the show.” If they did not, windows would be broken, or the house otherwise damaged. The procession would continue through the Common, past the state house, and would typically end on Cornhill or Copp’s Hill, where the effigies were consumed in giant bonfires—and the two mighty clans would engage in a violent contest of strength and arms.
In 1745, a newspaper described one of these events:
Tuesday last being the Anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, two Popes were made and carried tho’ the Streets in the evening , one from the North, the other from the South End of the Town, attended by a vast number of negroes and white servants, armed with clubs, staves and cutlashes, who were very abusive to the Inhabitants, insulting the Persons and breaking the windows, &c., of such as did not give them money to their satisfaction, and even many of those who had given them liberally; and the two Popes meeting in Cornhill, their followers were so infatuated as to fall upon each other with the utmost Rage and Fury. Several were sorely wounded and bruised, some left for dead, and rendered incapable of any business for a long time to the great Loss and Damage of their respective Masters.
Another letter-writer recounted,
What a scandal and Infamy to a Protestant Mob, be it of the rudest and lowest Sailors out of Boston, or even the very negroes of the Town, to fall upon one another with Clubs and Cutlashes in a Rage and Fury which only Hell could inspire or the Devil broke loose from chains there could represent! …what madness must seize the two mobs, united Brethren, as they would appear against Popery, to fall upon each other, break one another’s Bones or dash one another’s Brains out?
A 1755 account noted that “the Devil, the Pope, and the Pretender [Catholic King in exile], at night were carried about the city on a bier, their three effigies hideously formed, and as humorously contrived, the Devil standing close behind the Pope, seemingly paying his complements to him, with a three-pronged pitchfork in one hand, with which at times he was made to thrust his Holiness on the Back, and a lanthorn in the other, the young Pretender standing before the Pope, waiting his commands.” In later years these were sometimes accompanied by additional figures who had “incurred the indignation and hatred of the mob,” such as as Admiral Byng, Earl Bute, and Lord North. One period source notes that “ancillary devils and popes were drawn or carried by men and boys, as various in size as the men and boys who bore them; some even on shingles and bits of board.”
In 1764, outrage erupted after a young boy fell under the North End gang’s “pope-wagon” and died of a head injury. In his diary, John Rower recounts the incident as follows:
Nov. 5. A sorrowful accident happened this forenoon at the North End. the wheel of the carriage that the Pope was fixed on run over a Boy’s head & he died instantly. The Sheriff, Justices, Officers of the Militia were ordered to destroy both S° & North End Popes. In the afternoon they got the North End Pope pulled to pieces. they went to the S° End but could not Conquer upon which the South End people brought out their pope & went in Triumph to the Northward and at the Mill Bridge a Battle begun between the people of Both Parts of the Town. The North End people having repaired their pope, but the South End people got the Battle (many were hurt & bruised on both sides) & Brought away the North End pope & burnt Both of them at the Gallows on the Neck. Several thousand people following them, hallowing &c.
The next year, in an effort to dampen the violence, some of Boston’s political leaders persuaded the North End and South End “captains” to put aside the tradition of building “Pope-Night” wagons and fighting, and instead lead a march protesting the Stamp Act. Wealthy locals organized a feast at their own expense, and presented the two gang captains gifts of “red and blue uniforms, gold-laced hats, speaking trumpets, and rattan canes.” Two years later, the artist Pierre Eugène du Simitière visited Boston and drew a series of sketches, including this picture of the two new gang leaders, still sporting their rich uniforms, canes and trumpets:
By the 1770s the South End gang consisted of two thousand men and was led by a Scottish-born shoemaker named Ebenezer MacIntosh, described as “slight of build, of sandy complexion and a nervous temperment.” The North End gang could boast of a similar number and was led by Samuel Swift, a Harvard-educated fifty-year old, who had originally studied for the clergy but had turned instead to law. Swift in particular had influential friends, including members of the Loyal Nine (forerunner of the Sons of Liberty) who tried to use the gangs to their advantage, leveraging them as muscle, and hence a threat, against British rule. In 1765 McIntosh was arrested after a mob of his men burnt loyalist Governor Hutchinson’s house to the ground, but was immediately released after the leading figures of the town intervened on his behalf. Such was the power and sway of the gangs.
The climactic battles of November Fifth were fought near Mill Creek, a dividing line between the gangs’ respective territories. The memoir of Isaiah Thomas describes the moments preceeding the initial onslaught:
Assembling about dusk, North end and South end under their respective leaders, processions were formed, the lanterns, great and small, lighted, and through a speaking trumpet the order was given to “move on.” With this the noise and tumult began, the blowing of conch shells, whistling through the fingers, beating with clubs the sides of the houses, cheering, huzzaing, swearing, and rising about all the din the cry “North end forever” or “South end forever.” The devils on the stages were not the only or chiefest proof that the underworld was let loose. The procession that first reached the Mill creek gave three cheers and rushed on to meet their foes. As they approached the strife began; clubs, stones, and brickbats were freely used, and though persons were not often killed, bruised shins, broken heads and bones, were not infrequent.
Samuel Breck, another participant, described the manner in which the ensuing battles were fought among the more juvenile gang-members:
Spokes were fixed in a large mast, on the top of which was placed a barrel of pitch or tar, always ready to be fired on the approach of the enemy. Around this pole I have fought many battles, as a South End boy, against the boys of the North End of the town; and bloody ones, too, with slings and stones very skilfully and earnestly used. In what a state of semi-barbarism did the rising generations of those days exist! From time immemorial these hostilities were carried on by the juvenile part of the community…nothing could check it. Was it a remnant of the pugilistic propensities of our British ancestors; or was it an untamed feeling arising from our sequestered and colonial situation?
Whichever gang won the annual battle would publicly anoint its captain “First Captain General of the Liberty Tree.”
During the 1760s, the arrival of British troops in Boston provided the gangs a common foe with which they could both satiate their blood-lust, and riotous acts against soldiers became a common feature of pre-Revolutionary Boston street life. In August 1770, Sgt. Thomas Thornley of the army’s 14th Regiment recounted to a local magistrate how on the previous 5th of November he had been
oblig’d to go through a large mob to the relief of the Sentries, the mob called him and his party Lobster scoundrels, what business had they there, & damn’d Governor [Francis] Bernard, the Commissioners, and the rest of the scoundrels of Ministers that ordered the Soldiers to Boston, on which he the Deponent was obliged to order his party to charge their bayonets to make way through the mob, all the while receiving a great deal of abusive language.
Ironically, despite the considerable efforts made by the gangs to help foment revolt against Great Britain, it was the American Revolution which eventually brought their celebrations to an end. Breck states that with respect to the battles and parades, “everything of the kind ceased with the termination of our Revolutionary War.” The anti-Catholic sentiment expressed on November 5th was, of course, contrary to professed American ideals of religious toleration. When Catholic France began to be seen as a potential ally in the war against the British, and large numbers of Catholics from Maryland and Pennsylvania began filling the ranks of the Continental Army, American leaders decided to vigorously discourage anti-Catholic displays. Thus came the orders of General George Washington:
At this juncture and under such circumstances, to be insulting [the Catholic] religion, is so monstrous as not to be suffered or excused; indeed, instead of offering the more remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our brethren, as to them we are indebted for every late happy success over the common enemy in Canada.
With this, Pope Night celebrations largely came to an end, and accounts of gang warfare in Boston dwindled. After Benedict Arnold’s defection to the British in 1780, crowds began replacing effigies of the Pope with those of Arnold, lending the processions a less religious and more patriotic air. During the 1790s, local newspapers occasionally printed complaints about “Anticks”—young rogues, possibly remnants of the old gangs, who visited houses around Christmas, performing traditional mummers’ plays and asking for money. Samuel Breck recalled
They were a set of the lowest blackguards, who, disguised in filthy clothes and ofttimes with masked faces, went from house to house in large companies, and, bon gré, mal gré, obtruding themselves everywhere, particularly into the rooms that were occupied by parties of ladies and gentlemen, would demand themselves with great insolence. I have seen them at my father’s, when his assembled friends were at cards, take possession of a table, seat themselves on rich furniture, and proceed to handle the cards, to the great annoyance of the company. The only way to get rid of them was to give them money, and listen patiently to a foolish dialogue between two or more of them. One of them would cry out: —
‘Ladies and gentlemen sitting by the fire,
Put your hands in your pockets and give us our desire.’
When this was done, and they had received some money, a kind of acting took place. One fellow was knocked down and lay sprawling on the carpet, while another bellowed out: —
‘See, there he lies!
But ere he dies,
A doctor must be had.’
He calls for a doctor, who soon appears, and enacts the part so well that the wounded man revives. In this way they would continue for half an hour; and it happened not unfrequently that the house would be filled by another gang when these had departed. There was no refusing admittance. Custom had licensed these vagabonds to enter even by force any place they chose.
Just what happened to the gang-members after this is a matter of conjecture, although we do know that, after the commencement of the Revolution, South End gang leader Ebenezer McIntosh fled British-held Boston with his two small children. After reaching American lines, he made his way on foot to North Haverhill, New Hampshire, where he remained, and died in 1812.
The writer and blogger J. L. Bell makes a good case that certain elements of Pope Night did not die out, but survived to be transformed into customs which were incorporated into another well-known American holiday. Namely, the act of dressing up in costume, lighting bonfires, and going door to door asking for coins. These traditions only needed to shift six days earlier–from November 5th to October 31st, which is, of course, Halloween.
Sources and Further Reading:
South end forever, North end forever. Extraordinary verses on Pope-night. or, A commemoration the fifth of November, giving a history of the attempt, made by the papishes, to blow up king and Parliament, A. D. 1588. Together with some account of the Pope himself, and his wife Joan: with several other things worthy of notice, too tedious to mention. Sold by the printers boys in Boston .
Thomas, Isaiah, The history of printing in America, with a biography of printers, New York: Burt Franklin, 1874.
Pierce, Edward Lillie, Letters and diary of John Rowe, Boston merchant, 1759-1762, 1764-1779, Boston: W.B. Clarke, 1903.
Sons of the American Revolution, Minnesota Society Year Books. Minnesota Society, William Henry Grant, 1889-1895.
Bourne, Russell, Cradle of Violence: How Boston’s Waterfront Mobs Ignited the American Revolution. John Wiley & Sons, 2006.
Morgan, Edmund S. & Morgan, Helen M., The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1995.
Fradin, Dennis, Samuel Adams: The Father of American Independence, Clarion Books, New York, 1998.
Rothbard, Murray N., Conceived in Liberty, Vol III, Advance to Revolution, 1760-1775, Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama, 1999.
In 1761, Benjamin Franklin unveiled a new musical instrument the like of which few Americans had ever seen. The genesis of Franklin’s invention took place several years earlier, during one of his visits to England. After seeing a performer play water-filled wine glasses with moistened fingers, Franklin rethought the instrument and invented a new version, consisting of 37 bowls mounted on an iron axis. Franklin’s design notably improved upon previous versions in the sense that it was possible to play ten glasses, and hence ten notes, simultaneously. This machine Franklin dubbed the “armonica,” or glass harmonica.
Franklin’s instrument was popular in its day, and was played by celebrities such as Marie Antionette and Franz Mesmer, the founder of mesmerism. At this time, legends began to arise pertaining to its power to affect the mental state of those who heard its dulcet, ethereal tones. An early medical book stated that listening to the sounds produced by the glasses was “sure to cure certain maladies of the blood”. In the spring of 1772, Franklin visited Prince Adam Czartoryski, heir to the throne of Poland, whose wife had been afflicted by ‘melancholia.’ Her account relates:
“I was ill, in a state of melancholia, and writing my testament and farewell letters. Wishing to distract me, my husband explained to me who Franklin was and to what he owed his fame… Franklin had a noble face with an expression of engaging kindness. Surprised by my immobility, he took my hands and gazed at me saying: pauvre jeune femme [“poor young lady”]. He then opened an armonica, sat down and played long. The music made a strong impression on me and tears began flowing from my eyes. Then Franklin sat by my side and looking with compassion said, “Madam, you are cured.” Indeed in that moment I was cured of my melancholia. Franklin offered to teach me how to play the armonica — I accepted without hesitation, hence he gave me twelve lessons.”
Several years later, the Prince’s unfortunate wife relapsed. Legends of the instrument’s healing powers continued, however. Between 1778 and 1779, an army surgeon paid a visit to Mesmer’s clinic for treatment of the gout. A witness described what happened next:
“After several turns around the room, Mr. Mesmer unbuttoned the patient’s shirt and, moving back somewhat, placed his finger against the part affected. My friend felt a tickling pain. Mr. Mesmer then moved his finger perpendicularly across his abdomen and chest, and the pain followed the finger exactly. He then asked the patient to extend his index finger and pointed his own finger toward it at a distance of three or four steps, whereupon my friend felt an electric tingling at the tip of his finger, which penetrated the whole finger toward the palm. Mr. Mesmer then seated him near the armonica; he had hardly begun to play when my friend was affected emotionally, trembled, lost his breath, changed color, and felt pulled toward the floor. In this state of anxiety, Mr. Mesmer placed him on a couch so that he was in less danger of falling, and he brought in a maid who he said was antimagnetic. When her hand approached my friend’s chest, everything stopped with lightning speed, and my colleague touched and examined his stomach with astonishment…. The sharp pain had suddenly ceased. Mr. Mesmer told us that a dog or a cat would have stopped the pain as well as the maid did.”
Such popularity was not to last. The armonica eventually sank into obscurity after rumors arose that the music produced by the machine induced madness in those who heard it. In 1798 Friedrich Rochlitz wrote,
“There may be various reasons for the scarcity of armonica players, principally the almost universally shared opinion that playing it is damaging to the health, that it excessively stimulates the nerves, plunges the player into a nagging depression and hence into a dark and melancholy mood, that it is an apt method for slow self-annihilation… Many (physicians with whom I have discussed this matter) say the sharp penetrating tone runs like a spark through the entire nervous system, forcibly shaking it up and causing nervous disorders.”
He goes on to give some warnings:
“If you are suffering from any nervous disorder you should not play it,
If you are not yet ill you should not play it excessively
If you are feeling melancholy you should not play it or else play uplifting pieces
If tired, avoid playing it late at night.”
J.C. Muller warned in his instructional manual of 1788:
“If you have been upset by harmful novels, false friends, or perhaps a deceiving girl then abstain from playing the armonica — it will only upset you even more. There are people of this kind — of both sexes — who must be advised not to study the instrument, in order that their state of mind should not be aggravated.”
J.M. Roger’s Treatise on the Effects of Music on the Human Body (Paris, 1803) describes the melancholic timbre of the instrument as “plunging us into a profound detachment, relaxing all the nerves of the body”, while the author Chateaubriand writes of the musical glass that “the ear of a mortal can perceive in its plaintive tones the echoes of a divine harmony.”
When rumor began to spread that such maladies could be attributed to the instrument, panic erupted. The instrument was blamed for domestic disputes, premature births, even convulsions in dogs and cats. The instrument soon fell out of favor and was forgotten by all but a sundry few.
Listening to the modern French artist Thomas Bloch play Franklin’s instrument, it is not difficult to understand why early Americans might think that such music could cause insanity:
For more information, check out the primary source for this blog post, William Zeitler’s amazing site:
And if you enjoyed this post, and all things historically fascinating, you may also enjoy
In May, 1778, Sir William Howe surrendered the command of the British army in America to Sir Henry Clinton, and soon afterwards returned to England. He was a favorite, and the officers under his immediate orders resolved, on the eve of his departure, to give him a splendid entertainment, to which they gave the name of Mischianza.
An account of it was written by the ill-fated [Major] Andre, and transmitted to London at the time. I extract nearly all that relates to the tournament, which exhibition formed an important part of it. Many of the ladies who were honored by the knights were daughters of Loyalists of Pennsylvania. One of them, as will be seen, was the beautiful Margaret Shippen. This young lady, after the evacuation of the city by the royal troops, was won and wed by General Arnold, who was placed in command of the Continental army stationed there, by Washington.
“The company, as they disembarked, arranged themselves into a line of procession, and advanced through an avenue formed by two files of grenadiers, and a line of light-horse supporting each file. This avenue led to a square lawn of one hundred and fifty yards on each side, lined with troops and properly prepared for the exhibition of a tilt and tournament, according to the customs and ordinances of ancient chivalry. We proceeded through the centre of the square. The music, consisting of all the bands of the army, moved in front. The managers, with favors of blue and white ribbons in their breast, followed next in order. The general, admiral, and the rest of the company proceeded promiscuously.
In front appeared the building, bounding the view through a vista formed by two triumphal arches, erected at proper intervals in a line with the landing-place. Two pavilions, with rows of benches, rising one above the other, and serving as the advanced wings of the first triumphal arch, received the ladies, while the gentlemen arranged themselves in convenient order on each side. On the front seat of each pavilion were placed seven of the principal young ladies of the country, dressed in Turkish habits, and wearing in their turbans the favors with which they meant to reward the several knights who were to contend in their honor. These arrangements were scarce made, when the sound of trumpets was heard at a distance; and a band of knights, dressed in ancient habits of white and red silk, and mounted on gray horses, richly caparisoned in trappings of the same colors, entered the lists, attended by their squires on foot, in suitable apparel, in the following order: —
Four trumpeters, properly habited, their trumpets decorated with small pendant Danners. A herald, in his robe of ceremony; on his tunic was the device of his band, two roses intertwined, with the motto, We droop when separated.
Lord Cathcart, superbly mounted on a managed horse, appeared as chief of these knights. Two young black slaves, with sashes and drawers of blue and white silk, wearing large silver clasps round their necks and arms, their breasts and shoulders bare, held his stirrups. On his right hand walked Captain Hazard, and on his left Captain Brownlow, his two esquires, one bearing his lance, the other his shield.
His device was Cupid riding on a lion, the motto, Surmounted by Love. His lordship appeared in honor of Miss Auchmuty.
Then came in order the knights of his band, each attended by his squire, bearing his lance and shield.
1st Knight, Hon. Captain Cathcart, in honor of Miss N. White. Squire, Captain Peters. Device, a heart and sword; motto, Love and Honor.
2d Knight, Lieutenant Bygrove, in honor of Miss Craig. Squire, Lieutenant Nichols. Device, Cupid tracing a circle; motto, Without end.
3d Knight, Captain Andre, in honor of Miss P. Chew. Squire, Lieutenant Andre. Device, two game-cocks fighting; motto, No rival.
4th Knight, Captain Horneck, in honor of Miss N. Bedman. Squire, Lieutenant Talbot. Device, a burning heart; motto, Absence cannot extinguish.
5th Knight, Captain Matthews, in honor of Miss Bond. Squire, Lieutenant Hamilton. Device, a winged heart; motto, Each Fair by turns.
6th Knight, Lieutenant Sloper, in honor of Miss M. Shippen. Squire, Lieutenant Brown. Device, a heart and sword; motto, Honor and the Fair.
After they had made the circuit of the square, and saluted the ladies as they passed before the pavilions, they ranged themselves in a line with that in which were the ladies of their device; and their herald (Mr. Beaumont), advancing into the centre of the square, after the flourish of trumpets, proclaimed the following challenge: ‘ The Knights of the Blended Rose, by me their herald, proclaim and assert that the ladies of the Blended Rose excel in wit, beauty, and every accomplishment, those of the whole world; and should any knight or knights be so hardy as to dispute or deny it, they are ready to enter the lists with them, and maintain their assertions by deeds of arms, according to the laws of ancient chivalry.’
At the third repetition of the challenge, the sound of trumpets was heard from the opposite side of the square; and another herald, with four trumpeters, dressed in black and orange, galloped into the lists. He was met by the herald of the Blended Rose, and, after a short parley, they both advanced in front of the pavilions, when the Black Herald (Lieutenant More) ordered his trumpets to sound, and then proclaimed defiance to the challenge in the following words: ‘ The Knights of the Burning Mountain present themselves here, not to contest by words, but to disprove by deeds, the vainglorious assertions of the Knights of the Blended Rose, and enter these lists to maintain, that the ladies of the Burning Mountain are not excelled in beauty, virtue, or accomplishments by any in the universe.’
He then returned to the part of the barrier through which he had entered; and shortly after, the Black Knights, attended by their squires, rode into the lists in the following order: —
Four trumpeters preceding the herald, on whose tunic was represented a mountain sending forth flames; motto, burn for ever.
Captain Watson, of the Guards, as chief, dressed in a magnificent suit of black and orange silk, and mounted on a black managed horse, with trappings of the same colors with his own dress, appeared in honor of Miss Franks. He was attended in the same manner as Lord Cathcart; Captain Scott bore his lance, and Lieutenant Lyttleton his shield. The device, a heart, with a wreath of flowers; motto, Love and Glory.
1st Knight, Lieutenant Underwood, in honor of Miss S. Shippen. Squire, Ensign Haverkam. Device, a pelican feeding her young; motto, For those I love.
2d Knight, Lieutenant Winyard, in honor of Miss P. Shippen. Squire, Captain Boscawen. Device, a bay-leaf; motto, Unchangeable.
3d Knight, Lieutenant Delaval, in honor of Miss B. Bond. Squire, Captain Thome. Device, a heart aimed at by several arrows, and struck by one ; motto, One only pierces me.
4th Knight, Monsieur Montluissant (Lieutenant of the Hessian Chasseurs), in honor of Miss B. Redman. Squire, Captain Campbell. Device, a sunflower turning towards the sun; motto, Te vise a vow’.
5th Knight, Lieutenant Hobbart, in honor of Miss S. Chew. Squire, Lieutenant Briscoe. Device, Cupid piercing a coat of mail with his arrow; motto, Proof to all but Love.
6th Knight, Brigade-Major Tarlton, in honor of Miss W. Smith. Squire, Ensign Heart. Device, a light dragoon; motto, Swift, vigilant, and bold.
After they had rode round the lists, and made their obeisance to the ladies, they drew up fronting the White Knights; and the chief of these having thrown down his gauntlet, the chief of the Black Knights directed his esquire to take it up. The knights then received their lances from their esquires, fixed their shields on their left arms, and, making a general salute to each other by a very graceful movement of their lances, turned round to take their career, and, encountering in full gallop, shivered their spears. In the second and third encounter they discharged their pistols. In the fourth they fought with their swords. At length the two chiefs, spurring forward into the centre, engaged furiously in single combat, till the marshal of the field (Major Gwyne) rushed in between the chiefs, and declared that the fair damsels of the Blended Rose and Burning Mountain were perfectly satisfied with the proofs of love, and the signal feats of valor, given by their respective knights; and commanded them, as they prized the future favors of their mistresses, that they would instantly desist from further combat. Obedience being paid by the chiefs to this order, they joined their respective bands. The White Knights and their attendants filed off to the left, the Black Knights to the right; and, after passing each other at the lower side of the quadrangle, moved up alternately, till they approached the pavilions of the ladies, when they gave a general salute.
A passage being now opened between the two pavilions, the knights, preceded by their squires and the bands of music, rode through the first triumphal arch, and arranged themselves to the right and left. This arch was erected in honor of Lord Howe. It presented two fronts, in the Tuscan order; the pediment was adorned with various naval trophies, and at top was the figure of Neptune with a trident in his right hand. In a niche on each side stood a sailor with a drawn cutlass. Three plumes of feathers were placed on the summit of each wing, and in the entablature was this inscription: Laus Mi debetur, el alme gratia major. The interval between the two arches was an avenue three hundred feet long and thirty-four broad. It was lined on each side with a file of troops; and the colors of all the army, planted at proper distances, had a beautiful effect in diversifying the scene. Between these colors the knights and squires took their stations. The bands continued to play several pieces of martial music. The company moved forward in procession, with the ladies in the Turkish habits in front. As these passed, they were saluted by their knights, who then dismounted and joined them; and in this order we were all conducted into a garden that fronted the house, through the second triumphal arch, dedicated to the general. This arch was also built in the Tuscan order. On’ the interior part of the pediment was painted a plume of feathers, and various military trophies. At the top stood the figure of Fame, and in the entablature this device: I, bone, quo virtus lua te vocel; I pedefausto. On the right-hand pillar was placed a bomb-shell, and on the left a flaming heart. The front next the house was adorned with preparations for a firework. From the garden we ascended a flight of steps covered with carpets, which led into a spacious hall; the panels
Painted in imitation of Sienna marble, inclosing festoons of white marble; the surbase, and all below, was black. In this hall, and in the adjoining apartments, were prepared tea, lemonade, and other cooling liquors, to which the company seated themselves; during which time the knights came in, and on the knee received their favors from their respective ladies. One of these rooms was afterwards appropriated for the use of the Pharoah table; as you entered it, you saw, on a panel over the chimney, a cornucopia, exuberantly filled with flowers of the richest colors; over the door, as you went out, another represented itself, shrunk, reversed, and emptied.
From these apartments we were conducted up to a ball-room, decorated in a light, elegant style of painting. The ground was a pale blue, paneled with a small gold bead, and in the interior filled with dropping festoons of flowers in their natural colors. Below the surbase the ground was of rose-pink, with drapery festooned in blue. These decorations were heightened by eighty-five mirrors, decked with rose-pink silk ribbons, and artificial flowers; and in the intermediate spaces were thirty-four branches with wax-lights, ornamented in a similar manner.
On the same floor were four drawing-rooms, with sideboards of refreshments, decorated and lighted in the same style of taste as the ball-room. The ball was opened by the knights and their ladies ; and the dances continued till ten o’clock, when the windows were thrown open, and a magnificent bouquet of rockets began the fireworks. These were planned by Captain Montresor, the chief engineer, and consisted of twenty different exhibitions, displayed under his direction with the happiest success, and in the highest style of beauty. Towards the conclusion, the interior part of the triumphal arch was illuminated amidst an uninterrupted flight of rockets and bursting of balloons. The military trophies on each side assumed a variety of transparent colors. The shell and flaming heart on the wings sent forth Chinese fountains, succeeded by fire-pots. Fame appeared at top, spangled with stars, and from her trumpet blowing the following device in letters of light: Tes Lauriers sont immortels. A sauteur of rockets, bursting from the pediment, concluded the feu d’artifice.
At twelve, supper was announced, and large folding-doors, hitherto artfully concealed, being suddenly thrown open, discovered a magnificent saloon of two hundred and ten feet by forty, and twenty-two feet in height, with three alcoves on each side, which served for sideboards. The ceiling was the segment of a circle, and the sides were painted of a light straw-color, with vine-leaves and festoon flowers, some. in a bright, some in a darkish green. Fifty-six large pier-glasses, ornamented with green silk artificial flowers and ribbons; one hundred branches with three lights in each, trimmed in the same manner as the mirrors; eighteen lustres, each with twenty-four lights, suspended from the ceiling, and ornamented as the branches ; three hundred wax-tapers disposed along the supper-tables; four hundred and thirty covers, twelve hundred dishes ; twenty-four black slaves, in Oriental dresses, with silver collars and bracelets, ranged in two lines, and bending to the ground as the general and admiral approached the saloon : all these, forming together the most brilliant assemblage of gay objects, and appearing at once, as we entered by an easy descent, exhibited a coup cCozil beyond description magnificent.
Towards the end of supper, the herald of the Blended Rose, in his habit of ceremony, attended by his trumpets, entered the saloon, and proclaimed the king’s health, the queen, and royal family, the army and navy, with their respective commanders, the knights and their ladies, the ladies in general. Each of these toasts was followed by a flourish of music. After supper we returned to the ball-room, and continued to dance till four o’clock.
Such, my dear friend, is the description, though a very faint one, of the most splendid entertainment, I believe, ever given by an army to their general. But what must be more grateful to Sir W. Howe is the spirit and motives from which it is given. He goes from this place to-morrow; but, as I understand he means to stay a day or two with his brother on board the Eagle at Billingsport, I shall not seal this letter till I see him depart from Philadelphia.”
– Sabine, Lorenzo, Notes on Duels and Duelling: Alphabetically Arranged, with a Preliminary Historical Essay. Boston: Crosby, Nichols and Company, 1859.
By Ben Miller
When Europeans first began settling North America, they brought with them dogs, cats, and other standard domestic farm animals that were a necessary part of eking out an existence in the wilderness of the New World. Such animals typically served dual roles as both workers and pets—or “favorites,” according to the vernacular of the period. Yet by the early 1700s, colonists, not content with these traditional pets, began to develop a widespread fondness for adopting and taming wild animals. During this period, European visitors were stunned to observe deer, clad in gold collars and colored neck-kerchiefs, peacefully roaming village streets and wandering through houses. Squirrels, led by leashes of gold chain, were seen dutifully following their adolescent owners from place to place, and perching affectionately on their shoulders. Members of the gentile class played flutes and organs before caged, wild birds in an attempt to teach them to sing classical music. That the colonists hunted these same species in the wild should come as no surprise; Americans had long evinced a fondness for the very things they came into conflict with—for instance, adopting the arts, games, styles and methods of the Native Americans, while battling them incessantly.
According to numerous sources, squirrels were among the most desirable and entertaining pets, and, if caught young enough, easy to tame. People frequently raided squirrel nests for their young, and the babies were sold in the city markets. Their popularity is attested to by numerous period paintings which show leashed, collared squirrels perched near (or sometimes on) their young owners. As one visitor remarked in 1748, “The gray and flying squirrels are so tamed by the boys that they sit on their shoulders and follow them everywhere.” Another writer, Edward Topsell, described squirrels as “sweet sportful beasts and…very pleasant playfellows in a house,” despite their predilection for chewing up their owner’s woolen garments. Since they could easily chew their way through wood, special tin cages were developed, possessing metal bars sturdy enough to house them. When someone discovered that squirrels would run on an exercise wheel, colonial tinsmiths began making amusing cages in the forms of mills with waterwheels.
Flying squirrels were also popular with children. In 1766 the famous American painter John Singleton Copley painted a portrait of his half brother, Henry, playing with his pet flying squirrel (see above picture and detail). On Dec. 31, 1798, Philadelphia resident Elizabeth Drinker noted in her diary that her son William had “bought a flying squirrel in market, brought it home to please the children,” and added ruefully, “I should have been better pleased had it remained in the woods.” Later, in 1799, Drinker noted in another entry that
“An account in one of the late papers of a natural curiosity, I think ’tis called, to be seen in Walnut Street; a fine little bird, a beautiful flying squirrel, a rattlesnake, and other animals, are living in the most amicable terms in a neat, strong box or cage. William went yesterday to see them; the bird was hopping about, ye squirrel laying asleep in a corner; 2 or 3 frogs in the box; the snake appeared torpid, but would stir when disturbed by a stick. The torpid situation of ye snake accounts to me for their friendly living together.”
Wild songbirds such as cardinals and mockingbirds were extremely common pets, and could frequently be seen around the various city markets. Many people believed that these birds could be taught to sing a man-made tune, and some like Lord Dunmore had a small organ, called a serinette, for this purpose. Others used small flutes called flageolettes. The notion was to play a song repeatedly, and, sooner or later, the bird would imitate the music. Just how successful these experiments were is unclear. A mockingbird, at least, seems capable of repeating back a few bars; as to whether or not any birds were able to mimic entire pieces of classical music is anyone’s guess.
Some of what we know about colonial pets comes from Peter Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish explorer and naturalist who traveled through North America from 1748 thru 1751. Kalm published an account of his travels in a journal entitled En Resa til Norra America, which was translated into German, Dutch, French, and English. Kalm noted that turkeys, wild geese, pigeons and partridges were often tamed to the extent that “when they were let out in the morning they returned in the evening.” He went on to note various mammals that were tamed, and the respective quirks and problems associated with keeping them:
“Beavers have been tamed to such an extent that they have brought home what they caught by fishing to their masters. This is often the case with otters, of which I have seen some that were as tame as dogs, and followed their master wherever he went; if he went out in a boat the otter went with him, jumped into the water and after a while came up with a fish.
“The raccoon can in time be made so tame as to run about the streets like a domestic animal; but it is impossible to make it leave off its habit of stealing. In the dark it creeps to the poultry, and kills a whole flock in one night. Sugar and other sweet things must be carefully hidden; for if the chests and boxes are not always locked, it gets into them and eats the sugar with its paw. The ladies, therefore, have some complaint against it every day.
“The American deer can likewise be tamed. A farmer in New Jersey had one in his possession, which he caught when it was very young; at present, it is so tame that in the daytime it runs into the woods for its food, and towards night returns home, frequently bringing a wild deer out of the woods, giving its master an opportunity to hunt at his very door.”
The deer was an especially popular pet during the early to mid eighteenth century. A painting from 1730 in the collection of the New York Historical Society, entitled DePeyster Boy With Deer, depicts a young Manhattan boy with his collared pet deer (see above picture). A glance thru a cursory survey of newspaper advertisements from Charleston, South Carolina, illustrates the prevalence of deer-keeping during the era:
(1732) “Stray’d out of Mr. Saxby’s Pasture up the Path, two tame Deer about a Year old.
(1751) “Wanted, some Doe Fawns, or young Does, for breeders.”
(1760) “Jumped over from on board the Samuel & Robert, a young deer, with a piece of red cloth round his neck…three pounds reward.”
(1761) “The Owner of a strayed Deer may hear where there is one, applying to the Printer hereof, and paying for this Advertisement.”
(1767) “Two tame Deer, a Buck and a Doe, to be sold by Francis Nicholson, in King-street.”
(1768) “Josiah Smith, junior…is in immediate want of …a couple of Tame Deer.”
(1770) “Stolen or Strayed out of my Yard this Morning, a Young Deer, his Horns just coming out, and is stiff in his hind legs, by being crampt in the Waggen which brought him to Town…Charles Crouch.”
(1772) “Wanted to Purchase. Four Deer, each about Three Years old.”
(1772) “Wanted immediately…Two Tame Deer.”
(1781) “A Tame Deer, Came to my garden about twelve days ago. The owner, on proving his property, and paying charges, shall have it again, by applying to Elizabeth Lamb, Near the Saluting Battery.”
One noted deer owner of the period was Revolutionary War veteran Dr. Benjamin Jones. Born in Virginia in 1752, Jones eventually purchased a large tract of land in Henry County, where he built a park and “kept over a hundred deer to amuse his children and grandchildren. A little bell he used on a pet deer is owned by one of his descendants.”
By the late eighteenth century, it seems that deer-keeping was in decline in Charleston. A visitor remarked in 1782 that “the deer formerly ran about the streets, with collars round their necks, like dogs, but at this latter visit, I do not remember to have seen one.”
During the nineteenth century, Americans continued to keep deer as pets, although to a much lesser degree. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Charles Drury noted
“They [deer] are difficult to tame unless taken very young. They can then be tamed completely, and while young make amiable and interesting pets, but as they get older they become a nuisance in various ways.
“A neighbor, near my home, had one for a pet, and its favorite amusement was to sneak into the house whenever a door was left open. When an attempt was made to drive the intruder out, it had a habit of jumping through a window without the formality of a sash being raised. But this habit proved its destruction at last, as a sharp piece of broken glass penetrated its lung, causing its death.”
Certainly increased traffic and the invention of the automobile made it impractical to keep deer as village pets; nevertheless, the phenomenon still occurred in the country, and was eventually immortalized in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s classic The Yearling.
To conclude, it should be noted that despite their fondness for wild pets, the colonists were still quite attached to their (very much domesticated) dogs and cats, as evinced by a myriad of formal period portraits depicting adult owners with their pets.
Hart, Albert Bushnell. Colonial Children, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1905.
John P. Hunter, David M. Doody. Link to the Past, Bridge to the Future: Colonial Williamsburg’s Animals. Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2005.
Grier, Katherine C., Pets in America: A History. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith. Extracts from the journal of Elizabeth Drinker, from 1759 to 1807, A. D. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company,1889.
Pedigo, Virginia G., History of Patrick and Henry Counties, Virginia. Roanoke: Clearfield, 1933.
Journal of the Cincinnati Society of Natural History. Vol. XXI. No. 1. Sept. 1909.
Dunbar, Gary S.. “Deer-Keeping in Early South Carolina,” Agricultural History, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Apr., 1962), pp. 108-109