A STATED MEETING of the Society was held, at the invitation of Mr. Augustus P. Loring, Jr., at No. 2 Gloucester Street, Boston, on Thursday, December 19, 1935, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Samuel Eliot Morison, in the chair.
The records of the Annual Meeting in November were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary announced the death of Frank Brewster, a Resident Member, on November 25, 1935.
The Corresponding Secretary reported the receipt of a letter from Mr. Richard Mott Gummere accepting Resident Membership in the Society.
Dr. Albert Warren Stearns, of Billerica, was elected a Resident Member of the Society; Mr. Reginald Coupland, of Oxford, England, was elected a Corresponding Member; and Mr. Eldon Revare James, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was elected an Associate Member.
Mr. Allen French read the following paper:
Historian of Bunker Hill
I OFFER the Society a bit of what might be called accidental research—facts gathered about one subject while looking up another. With this sort of knowledge all are familiar. Everyone knows that when an obscure subject slowly becomes interesting because of the agreement or disagreement of facts that one has hit upon, one goes back and gathers them up, files them together, and from that time is on the lookout for more. Eventually, when time allows or opportunity offers, one makes the minor point the main subject of research until available data seem exhausted. This is the method that I have followed with the personal history of John Clarke, historian of Bunker Hill. Mr. Harold Murdock first brought before me the mystery concerning him. The question that Mr. Murdock and others had raised took but a moment to answer. But the rest waited for some years for a chance discovery which eventually enabled me to follow up the subject when in London. Now I can offer my little sheaf of knowledge—still incomplete, as such things mostly are, but no longer speculative.
I offer the story more or less as it came to me—not merely because it is more interesting so, but because, if I should leap to the end of it and present my conclusions in a nutshell, I am sure that someone would ask to go back and gather up the clues before there could be any assurance that I am right. Historians are like mathematicians and Missourians in wanting to be shown.
So far as I know, John Clarke, who called himself a Marine, wrote the first book on the subject of Bunker Hill—not the first account, nor the first printed one, for reports were earlier in circulation in newspapers and the like. But his seems to have been the first bound volume devoted to the subject, even though the volume is a small one, the print large, the covers paper. The title is as long as the book is short: An Impartial and Authentic Narrative of the Battle Fought on the 17th of June, 1775, with many lines more. The first edition is of but thirty-two pages; the second, thirty-six. Both are of the year of the battle. The book gives us certain statements which are found nowhere else, in consequence of which it has three times, in modern days, had the distinction of a reprint.1027 Two of the editors raised the question of the identity of the writer, whom they could not place. Both of them went wrong because of a simple bit of forgetfulness which also troubled Mr. Murdock. Samuel Adams Drake queried who Clarke might be because his name was not to be found in the roster of the two battalions of Marines which, before the battle, had been landed to fight ashore. William Abbatt, going still further, and finding that a John Clarke was lieutenant of the Fifty-Ninth Regiment, concluded that Clarke “chose to assume the disguise of an officer in the other corps.” It is quite true that the number of Clarkes, Clarks, and Clerks in the Army Lists is quite confusing—there are, for example, an Ensign Clark of the Thirty-Fifth, a John Montagu Clark of the Forty-Third, and an Ensign John Clark of the Sixty-Third, all on a single page of promotions in Howe’s Orderly Book,1028 besides the John of the Fifty-Ninth, all of whom were in Boston at the same time. And in the Army List of 1775, which I suspect the two editors did not consult at all, there are two other John Clarkes in addition to the man we seek.
There was even a Clarke on the list of the wounded at Bunker Hill. Though neither Drake nor Abbatt suspected him, I own that for a while I did when I noticed in the list which General Gage sent home, among the Volunteers, “Fifty-Ninth, Mr. Clarke, wounded.” This was neither the Clarke already mentioned as belonging to the Fifty-Ninth, nor the John Clarke of this paper, but for a while I made a little romance out of him until I traced him down.
But the John Clarke of this paper is easily found as soon as one remembers that besides the Marines ashore there were others on every warship in the harbor. And turning to the Army List for 1775, one finds John Clarke among the first lieutenants of Marines, as having reached that grade on March 4, 1771.1029 It is true that the name is spelled “Clark,” but in the Lists of those days the spellings were interchangeable. This is, then, the very man whose name stands on the title-page of the book—“John Clarke, First Lieutenant of Marines.”
Nor is it difficult to trace this John Clarke further by this same means. I have not had access to a complete set of Army Lists, but those at hand have been enough. The List of 1758 gives a George Clerk, appointed second lieutenant in the Marines, March 30, 1757. I have not seen his name again; but in the List of 1770 John Clarke appears as first lieutenant on half-pay—that is, he was temporarily retired because not needed. The next year he is on the active list as second lieutenant again, as having been originally appointed to the grade on the same March 30, 1757. George Clerk is therefore our John Clarke, as was proved by a letter from the Admiralty to me giving the same date and the same company, the Forty-Second. He was put on half-pay in 1763, says the letter. The Army Lists show that at this time, with the coming of peace, many regiments and units of the army were disbanded.1030
From 1770 to 1775 the Army Lists regularly contain the name of John Clarke; but in 1776 he is gone, nor does he reappear thereafter. Other sources, however, give a complete account of every day of his time while he served as first lieutenant. He was at quarters intermittently; but at other times he was recruiting for the Chatham division of the Marines, was on the ship Marlborough, was transferred to the Portsmouth division, and was on the Centaur, the Flora, and the Panther. At length, on January 17, 1775, he was appointed to the Fifty-Third or Fifty-Fifth Company. At Boston he was on the Falcon. Most of these facts are taken from the Admiralty letter. The Admiralty archives even hold the complete story of the unlucky end of Clarke’s service; but the official searchers did not find all the records, nor did I until accident helped me.
Credit is due to William Abbatt for another fact concerning Clarke. In the British Museum Catalogue is listed a translation from the Latin, the Military Instructions of Vegetius, printed in 1767, “credited,” says Abbatt in his preface, to “Lieutenant John Clarke of the Marines.”1031 It is evident that a lieutenant of Marines who would publish such a translation should be capable of writing an account of Bunker Hill. Let us look at his book, to see what he told of the battle, and what we can learn of himself.
To modern historians Bunker Hill battle has always presented certain technical problems which contemporary accounts do not solve. In his Bunker Hill, published in 1927, Mr. Harold Murdock devoted himself to some of these problems, and in my own book of a year ago I gave two chapters to the subject.1032 What we both wanted was a tactical explanation of the double battle carried on by British attacks against the rail fence and the redoubt. Now John Clarke’s ship was the Falcon, and the Falcon, during the battle, was busily bombarding the American defences. According to both contemporary maps, those by De Bernière and by Page, the Falcon was in the best of positions, barring the smoke of its own discharges, to watch both battles. Would not an idle Marine officer have been at a masthead, eagerly watching the drama on shore? He would have seen the attack on the rail fence twice fail, and those on the redoubt beaten back. He would have watched the final concentration on the redoubt, and then the eventual victory. What a spectacle to watch, and what a tale to tell!
All know, however, how unsatisfactory can be the account of an event by a participant or eyewitness. We know we must not ask too much of him. We do not wish him to try to tell anything that he did not see or experience, or to give the whole tale of a battle of which he did not have a complete bird’s-eye view. If a participant tries to tell the whole story of a battle, he is almost sure to go wrong. Thus the story of Bunker Hill by Captain Laurie of the Forty-Third Regiment is vague and worthless, though he may be presumed to have taken part in the terrible march along the beach.1033 Many diaries are dull, many letters colorless, even though written by men who lived through the most exciting adventures. The writers seldom can give the sequence of events; and as to putting their acts, their sensations, their observations, into the story—they never think of it. Nor is it because they are too busy to write fully enough, nor do they lack the education to do it. It is a matter of personality, though perhaps nothing more than an instinctive understanding of what the reader wishes to know. Educated men often fail to write interesting or even clear accounts of their adventures, while the simplest folk, like Amos Farnsworth writing in his diary of Bunker Hill,1034 vividly put down, however briefly, scenes and sensations.
But John Clarke was no such man as Farnsworth, for he told of the whole battle of Bunker Hill in a single sentence. For the tactics or for any single detail of the battle, see how little can be learned from him:
We then began to proceed to action, by marching with a quick step up the precipice that led to the intrenched Provincial Army, until within five hundred yards of them: a very brisk fire commenced on their side, and was returned on ours; still marching up to their intrenchments as fast as possible, from whence we dislodged them by four o’clock, the battle being fought and gained within one hour.1035
And this is the story of Bunker Hill? If so, it is at least as soldierly a tale as that of John Stark, who was even in the thick of the fight, yet wrote of it a report from which one cannot gather the least idea of what happened.
But perhaps Clarke himself was in the thick of the fight. His account, just quoted, begins with we—“We then began to proceed to action.…” Perhaps, bored with inaction, he had had himself put ashore in the Falcon’s boat, and, joining the men of the Fifty-Ninth as volunteer, was in the very battle. If so, since the Fifty-Ninth itself was not there, he was with either its grenadier or its light-infantry company, which saw the hottest work. Does the remainder of his book throw any light on this?
On analysis, Clarke’s book proves to be quite helter-skelter, not truly befitting the translator of a Latin treatise. Quite early, as is proper, he tells of a speech by General Howe to his officers. In brevity it is soldierly; it understates rather than overstates the peril of the situation to the British in Boston. And in this same understatement its closing words are admirable: “Remember, Gentlemen, we have no recourse to any resources, if we lose Boston, but to go on board our ships, which would be very disagreeable to us all.”1036 How calmly British! To an American such a defeat would be infuriating. This supposed speech of Howe’s is found nowhere else than in Clarke’s book. I should like to believe it genuine, except for that part in which Howe promised to march at the head of his troops. Had he led a single assault, only by a miracle could he have survived the day.
Clarke’s single sentence describing the battle is followed by anecdotes of various kinds. He tells of the death of Lieutenant Dutton, of the vegetable gardens captured with Charlestown, of Mrs. Gage’s generosity, and (not very clearly) why Lord Percy was not in the battle.1037 He tells a good tale of Major Pitcairn. He gives the list of casualties,1038 of the units engaged, of the ships in the harbor. He describes the “melancholy procession” in Boston of carriages with the dead and wounded officers. He tells a little of Boston during the siege. So great was the interest in England in all these things that it is no wonder that Clarke’s first edition sold well; and when the second appeared, augmented by a list of promotions and more anecdotes,1039 it probably sold out quite as rapidly.
As we look through the book for more evidence concerning John Clarke himself, we find it in a story of the death of Doctor Warren. Clarke wrote:
A report having prevailed, that Doctor Warren was not killed, I think it necessary to contradict it, as I saw a soldier, after the Doctor was wounded and lying in the trenches, going to run him through the body with his bayonet; on which the Doctor desired he would not kill him, for he was much wounded, and could not live a great while longer; on which the soldier swore that he would, for that he had done more mischief than any one else, and immediately run him through the body.
The Doctor’s dress was a light-coloured coat, with a white sattin waistcoat laced with silver, and white breeches with silver loops; which I saw the soldier soon after strip off his body.1040
Of this story Richard Frothingham, writing in 1850, said: “If John Clarke could stand idle and see this barbarity, he must have been a fiend in human form.”1041 Yet an exhausted victor, as were so many of those who climbed the redoubt, himself watching against danger to his own life, could not stop the bayoneting which was going on everywhere about him. And Frothingham himself points out that Clarke’s account does not agree with any other British story. It is in fact one of several between which it is difficult to choose, some of which agree that Warren’s death was instantaneous. Yet one of Clarke’s details catches the eye and recalls another British statement: that Warren “died in his best cloaths: everybody remembers his fine silk-fringed waistcoat.”1042
But here is Clarke’s claim that he was actually in the battle, for he could not have seen or heard these things from the masthead of his ship. Of his connection with the battle we find nothing more; yet of his army service he says as follows, in closing: “As thirty-six years of the Author’s life have been spent in the service of his late and present Majesty, he hopes that the indulgent Public, and the curious Critic, will therefore look upon him as a Soldier, not as a writer.”1043 Thirty-six years would bring Clarke’s entrance into the service back to 1739, not to 1757. Was he in the Marines prior to 1757 in some capacity lower than that of second lieutenant? There were no ensigns. Was he in the army proper? Lacking access to early Army Lists, I cannot follow him so far back.
But in whatever service he spent his early years, we must speculate on what time did to him. He was thirty-two years in the service before he reached the grade of first lieutenant. A little knowledge of the purchase system in the British army at that time, and of the politics in it as well, shows that Clarke need not have been a dullard. A dullard does not write a book or translate a Latin treatise. He may of course have been an oddity. But were he normal at his beginning, what do thirty-two years in the lower grades, seven of them spent idling on half-pay, do to the character of a man? Do they, as one possibility, make him sour? do they make him reckless? do they, as a possible third, turn him to drink? Clarke served through two great wars, but he never had money and he never gained influence to bring him promotion. Let him have entered the service ever so young, he must have been, at the age of writing his book, well into his fifties. What a life! Is there any more to learn of it?
Anyone who has worked on a large subject for a long while knows how valuable it is to study once more a document read at the beginning. The knowledge gained meanwhile brings new light to the subject, and often a document re-read will take on fresh meaning, or some single fact in it will strike the attention.
Thus it was that, reading a manuscript which I had studied long before, I came upon John Clarke’s name and my necessary clue when I was not expecting it. I admit that it must have passed under my eyes at least twice before when the problem of John Clarke had not become important to me.
Admiral Samuel Graves, a particular interest of mine, in whose writings I have found much of importance on the naval aspects of the story of the Siege of Boston, was very fond of writing. His reports to his superiors were detailed and almost voluminous. When he was recalled from Boston under circumstances that looked much like disgrace, but was given no hearing because no charges were brought against him, he got out, in retirement, all his despatches and from them wrote two volumes of what he called “The Conduct of Admiral Graves.”1044 After he had written this account, he doubtless found it too long, and going through it, crossed out names, lines, and even whole paragraphs. The passage that I speak of I must have passed over hastily in his original unabbreviated report; but I finally noticed it in his manuscript in London, even though a pen stroke had been drawn through the name of John Clarke.
Here then I had the clue to the end of the story. It is sadly unheroic. Yet here again John Clarke, historian of Bunker Hill, was in touch with another story almost equally great in our Massachusetts history. For on the nineteenth of April, on the afternoon of Concord Fight, when the news was brought to Boston that Lord Percy’s column was being driven by the Minute Men and militia of Middlesex back to Boston, and was hoping to find safety in Charlestown, it was evident to the general and the admiral that upon arrival Percy should be given protection. “The instant this was known,” wrote Graves in his report, “the Admiral ordered all the Marines … to be ready to land at a moment’s Warning…; and by desire of General Gage they were landed in the afternoon … to cover the retreat of our harassed soldiers.”
Thus Percy was made safe. But here our John Clarke entered a corner of the picture. For as the admiral continued his report, he wrote of an event of June 7, nine days before Bunker Hill: “Two Lieutenants of Marines (of the Falcon and Boyne) were tried and dismissed for being in Liquor upon duty on the 19th of April last.”
And then on June 14 the admiral wrote the passage which later he in part crossed out. I give it as it originally stood:
I transmit also the Sentence of a Court Martial held the 7th instant upon Lieut. John Clarke of the Marines late of the Falcon, in Consequence of which I have ordered him a passage to England, in the Cerberus. I am well informed this unfortunate man has served thirty six years with great credit.1045
With great credit! What a system it was, under which a man could serve so long and so well, yet advance but a single grade! A bad system indeed. Yet it lasted nearly another century.
So on the day of Bunker Hill Clarke was out of the service and, if not free to walk the streets of Boston, may still have been under a not unfriendly arrest on board one of the ships, perhaps even his own. For in those days drunkenness was a gentleman’s indulgence, not too heavily frowned upon, and many must have felt a little sympathy with Clarke. The thought brings us again to the theory that he was the “Mr. Clark, Volunteer,” who served at Bunker Hill with the Fifty-Ninth and was wounded. It would have been a striking and romantic tale if the disgraced lieutenant of Marines should have thus redeemed himself.
But our Clarke did not redeem himself, for he never regained his commission. And if he sailed in the Cerberus, he sailed as soon as the ship, lying down the harbor on June 24, received Gage’s despatches of the twenty-fifth,1046 while on July 13 is recorded a promotion of the Clarke who fought in the battle. Among the three Clarks in that list we find: “John Montague Clark Volunteer to be Ensign vice Wilkinson preferred.”1047 This was in the Forty-Third Regiment, and the title “Volunteer” shows this to be a different man from our Marine. For by this time we have learned that a Volunteer, though not commissioned, had a definite place in the British army—not in the artillery, to be sure. I have shown elsewhere that the master-general of the ordnance refused to allow any “half-educated Lad, who has not made half his proficiency in theory, and never saw a Gun fired,” to go out to Boston and stand in line for promotion.1048 But it was common in the infantry to let young men attach themselves to regiments and, serving without rank or pay (though probably receiving rations and transportation), make themselves useful, and finally slip into vacant ensignships which no one stood ready to purchase. That this was more or less common, and consequently liable to abuse, is shown by the king’s order on the subject at just this time: “It is the Kings positive Orders that no persons are returned on the Strength of any Regiment as Voluntrs except they are present and Actually able to do duty.”1049
Thus it is plain that John Montague Clarke (the name is spelled both with and without the “e”), serving as Volunteer with the Fifty-Ninth at Bunker Hill, had his wound salved by an ensignship in the Forty-Third.
As for our John Clarke, by following up the clue just found we can learn a little more of him, together with his companion in misfortune, Second Lieutenant William Wilkins, likewise of the Marines, and also very much of a veteran, for he was first appointed in 1760 and had spent some years on half-pay. Promotion long deferred had brought them both to drink. Searching in London, I found the report of the courts-martial, though unfortunately not the evidence. Clarke was the more serious offender. He was tried “for being very much in Liquor and unfit for Duty on the Morning of the 20th of last April, for breaking his Arrest, and for grossly abusing and challenging Lieutenant John Ragg of the Marines to fight.” On the other hand, Wilkins was merely very much in liquor and unfit for duty. Consequently their sentences were unequal. Wilkins, “because of his general good Character while at Quarters, and of some favourable Circumstances,” was merely “dismissed from his present employment of Lieutenant of Marines on board His Majesty’s Ship Boyne.” But Clarke was dismissed from the service.1050
There is here something of a conflict of dates. The admiral wrote that the offence occurred on the nineteenth—of course in the afternoon—while the court tried the two men for misconduct the morning of the twentieth. Clarke must indeed have been very much in liquor if the drunkenness of one day lasted over into a fighting mood on the next. Wilkins must have sobered off, to his good fortune. For when he arrived in London, he was very promptly, by an order of August 15,1051 put on half-pay. But poor John Clarke, who deserved well of history if not of the king, had no such good fortune. For months he did not petition the Lords of the Admiralty, perhaps because he knew that it was his last recourse, and that his chance was slight. What else he was doing to help himself I cannot guess: perhaps he was trying to appeal to the clemency of His Majesty. But at last, nearly a year later than his offence, he wrote to the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. The reply, from the whole Board, dated April 13, 1776, was complete and final:
The Earl of Sandwich having laid before my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty your letter of yesterday requesting that you may be put on the half-pay List the same having been done to Lieut. Wilkins whose case you quote as similar to your own: I have, in return, received their directions to observe to you, that in the case of Lieut. Wilkins, he was only sentenced by the Court Martial to be dismissed from the Ship he then belonged to whereas by the sentence of the Court assembled to enquire into your conduct you are directed to be dismissed from the Service, which entirely puts it out of their Lordships power to comply with your request.1052
At this distance of time this seems harsh treatment. Technically, of course, everything was against Clarke. To be fighting-drunk and breaking arrest at the very outbreak of war, with the enemy (or so the general and admiral feared) likely to attack Charlestown, and the population of Boston ready to rise against the garrison1053—this justifies dismissal from the service and (the sentence once passed) denial of half-pay. But the court-martial, held six weeks later than the offence, might have taken a more lenient view of drunkenness indulged in when war was not expected, nor any call to arms. Clarke had served, said the admiral, thirty-six years with great credit. Was there anything behind the severity of the verdict—antagonism long since roused by bitter talk or reckless disregard of authority? Apparently no one said of Clarke, as was said of Wilkins, that he bore a “general good Character” when at quarters. How rasping was Clarke’s tongue, and how sneering his eye? And again, was this but one of a series of outbreaks? We cannot know. But what a shabby and humiliating end of all those years of service!
I have found nothing more to tell of Clarke’s personal fortunes. He disappears, unless we care to guess what became of him. And we have read too much in Defoe and Smollett, Fielding and Thackeray, to speculate cheerfully on the fate of an elderly soldier, dismissed in disgrace, penniless, and already given to drink. Too readily we think of the sponging-house and the debtor’s prison; too easily we can imagine Clarke’s last embrace of his worst enemy and only friend, the bottle.
Concerning his book, it seems likely that it was written to relieve the tedium of his voyage to London, from such material as he could gather from his own observations and from the talk of the ship’s company. The recent fearful carnage must have been in everyone’s mind, and there may even have been wounded officers aboard to tell of their experiences. So Clarke patched everything together, which would account for the brokenness of his text. The story of some other officer who had seen Warren’s death—or claimed that he had, and improved on what he saw—became Clarke’s own. Howe’s speech may have been based on some classic model from Clarke’s ancient knowledge of Latin. Other such things Clarke threw in for good measure. We may imagine him leaving the deck of the tossing ship or the smoky mess-room to scribble in his cubby-hole the anecdote that he had just culled. Perhaps, as the book grew, he gained some hope of profit and credit. And on landing, not idle in an indifferent London, he must soon have made his way to the printer’s with his manuscript on the battle, the first news of which was just then exciting the city and rousing a thousand questions. Though we now understand Clarke’s ignorance of the real battle, we appreciate the journalism which brought into print this first book upon it.
And as for this book, Clarke’s best, and indeed his only, achievement, did it not gain him something? While evidently it failed to secure for him the pardon and half-pay that would have made his life easier, it has nevertheless brought him a sort of half-pay immortality. For if Maeterlinck was right, and the grandparents of Tyltyl and Mittyl roused from their long sleep whenever their grandchildren thought of them, why may not the same thing happen to John Clarke? May it not be that whenever some modern opens Clarke’s book to read it, or when we gather here to discuss him, he too stirs in his sleep and grimly smiles to know that while his comrades, more fortunate in life, rest forever forgotten, he at least is not yet quite dead?
Brother Jonathan Once More
THE history of our famous sobriquet was given to the Society in January, 1901.1054 In a satire printed in London in 1643, a churchwarden of St. Clement’s, Eastcheap, is made to say: “Queene ELIZABETHS Monument was put up (at my Charge) when the Regall Government had fairer credit among us than now: and her Epitaph was one of my brother Jonathan’s best Poems, before he Abjured the University, or had a thought of New-England.”1055 Was that merely a nonce use of the term, or does it indicate that the sobriquet was then in colloquial use in England?1056 However that may be, no other example has been found in England until 1776; in which year it also first turned up in this country. As to the origin of the nickname, the accepted story in 1901 was that it had been applied in appreciation and affection by Washington to Governor Jonathan Trumbull the elder, of Connecticut. Both the negative and the positive evidence militate against that view. First, the story was never alluded to by either Washington or Trumbull; it was unknown to the contemporaries of either; and it was unheard of until 1846—forty-seven years after the death of Washington, sixty-one after that of Trumbull, and seventy-one after Washington took command of the American forces. Secondly, it is certain that in 1776–1783 the term was applied in mild derision by the Loyalists and British soldiers to those who espoused the American cause.
Thus the problem stood thirty-four years ago, at which time, apparently, no one had suggested that the term might have been known in this country before the Revolutionary War. Meanwhile, some fresh passages have come to light. In a letter dated Cambridge, March 17, 1776, William Allen wrote:
Col Mifflin went with Two men down the Lines from whence the Men went over to the Enemies Camp on Bunkers Hill and Entred the Fort, found the Centinels to be Images dressed in the Soldiers Habit with Laced Hatts and for a Gorget an Horse Shoe with Paper Ruffles their Pieces Shouldred fixed Bayonets with this Inscription wrote on the Breast (viz) Welcome Brother Jonathan.1057
On March 21, 1776, Ezra Stiles made this entry in his diary at Dighton, Massachusetts:
I saw several Gentlemen who came out of Boston last Eveng.… They [the British] left Bunker Hill last Ldsday Morning 17th at Eight o’Clock, leaving Images of Hay dressed like Sentries standing, with a Label on the Breast of one, inscribed “Welcome Brother Jonathan.”1058
The next extract is of special interest, partly because it is of English origin, and partly because it dates certainly from 1776 and possibly from 1775. This is a satirical political print published in London, of which the title and a description follow:1059
Publish’d as the Act Directs
Engraving. Behind a well-made trench, fronted with palisades, appear the heads of its defenders; words issue from their mouths in long labels. One man stands on the top of the trench, his cap is inscribed Death or Liberty1060 his coat and stockings are ragged, and he stands as if shivering with cold, his bayonetted musket tucked under his arm and pointing downwards; he says I swear its plaguy Cold Jonathan; don’t think They’ll Attack us, Now You. The other men, whose heads and shoulders only appear above the trench, say (1. to r.): I don’t feel bold1061 today (the speaker is dressed as a minister, with flat hat, lank hair, and bands). His neighbour says, I fear they’ll Shoot Again; …. Another man wearing a Death or Liberty cap, says, I fear our Genll is Still a Labourer in Fain.
Beneath the design is etched…
See Putnam that Commands in Chief sir
Who looks & Labours like a thief sir
To get them daily Bread & Beef Sir. Yankie &c.
Fourteen years after the close of the Revolutionary War, a heated controversy over Timothy Pickering1062 took place in two Boston newspapers, one a high Federalist sheet, the other an equally rabid Republican sheet. In the Columbian Centinel of March 29, 1797, appeared this communication:
I am one of those who think our rank Jacobins bear a striking resemblance to the rank Tories of 1774 and ’75. The latter were more inclined to attack persons than principles, and bent their whole force to ridicule. They were fonder of low blackguardism than argument, being quite equal to the one, and unequal to the other. That our Jacobins are this town in that way, may be seen in almost every page of their darling paper, printed in this town. Personal abuse has so long been kept up, there, and in so dull and monotonous a style, that it has quite lost its effect, if it ever had any. But there is one singular species of blackguardism, which has marked that paper and another at the southward, that is really worth noticing for the amusement of the public, for otherwise it is too stupid, flat, contemptible and ridiculous to merit serious notice.—I mean, italicising and CAPITALIZING the name of “Timothy,” when they speak of the Secretary of State, thereby insinuating that there is something ridiculous, or odious, in his very name. How exactly parallel is this with the spirit of the Tories in ’74 and ’75! They conceived something very low and ridiculous in the name of “Jonathan” because it was a very common one in New-England and was taken from the Bible. A Jonathan and a New-Englandman, were with them synonimous. They detested (as well they might) the very name. The case is exactly similar with our Jacobins as may be seen in almost every late number of the Chronicle, Aurora and Argus.1063 “Timothy” is there printed in italics, and is meant to be read with a sneer, as their kindred formerly did the word “Jonathan” and from the very same principle too. That the Jacobins ridicule and detest the name of Timothy is a fact, but the cause of it may need explanation. First, it is taken from the holy scriptures, which their great champion and apostle Tom Paine has declared to be a pack of damd’d nonsense and a fair object for ridicule in this age of reason. Secondly, Timothy was a Bishop, and must of course be a knavish aristocrat, although St. Paul calls him his son. Besides he was such a fool as to suffer martyrdom, for the sake of the Christian religion; that is to say, he was a friend to order and good government, and the Jacobins of his day put him to death. But over and above all this, there is something in the very meaning of the word Timothy no ways congenial to the turn, cast, temper, and disposition of these regenerated sons of Tom Paine, and therefore contemptible. It signifies in the greek, “the honour of God,” or a name precious to God, reason sufficient for some people to hold it up to scornful derision. They, therefore italicize it, and CAPITALIZE it, and read it, as it is well known they do, with the sneer of ridicule and emphasis of derision.
Principles, measures, and conduct are fair game for public good and manly discussion: But personalities are odious. They indicate qualities of the heart and head, no how to the credit of those who deal in them. They show the strength of malice and the weakness of reason, and serve only to remind us of a law of nature among the brute creation, namely, where she denies strength she gives venom, as is exemplified in serpents, spiders, toads, bed-bugs, musquetoes, vipers, and mother Carey’s chickens.
On March 30, the Independent Chronicle, the “darling paper” of the Republicans, took up the cudgels:
It is a question of importance to know what will suit the Aristocrats. It appears the mode of mentioning Mr. Timothy Pickering is disgusting—They don’t like to find his name italicized, or CAPITALIZED—This distinction of Mr. Timothy, was made by way of eminence. All great Characters are thus noticed; when the PRESIDENT is mentioned in the Centinel, it is generally in capitals.—When GEORGE the Third, King of Great-Britain, FRANCE, and Ireland, is mentioned, we find his name in the British papers displayed in capitals—when the French ships of the line, are named in the Centinel, it is in italicks. Now if Mr. Timothy Pickering is thus PRE-EMINENTLY noticed, equal with the President, George the Third, and the French ships of the line, what can be the reason that the Chronicle is thus blamed?—He is a great character, and, as such, is marked with an emblem of distinction—either in italics, or CAPITALS as suit the respective writers. As to the Scripture Timothy, we respect his character, though Thomas Paine may be opposed to him. But as Timothy in scripture was never called Mr. it is possible the Aristocrats are against having this title annex’d to Timothy Pickering, but wish that in future the appellation should be plain Timothy. We wish not to dispute about trifles, but we greatly wonder that any man, particularly a real Federalist, should be so wounded at placing Mr. Timothy Pickering in a conspicuous point of view, in any observations on his official conduct. “Jonathan” it is true in the year ’70 was sometimes used by “way of derision,” but no American felt injured by this appellation, no more than he did by being called a Yankee, a Joe Bunker, or a leather-button Curse, &c.1064 The Tories did not like the terms, but the Whigs gloried in the distinction.
Timothy Pickering is certainly a GREAT Man, and every great man ought to be noticed by some expressive designation, and whether we italicize, or CAPITALIZE, is but of little consequence, for he is a great man, and an honorable man, and his performances shew him to be such, let the writers in the Centinel endeavour to belittle him as much as they please.
And on April 6 the Independent Chronicle returned to the charge:
The writers in the Centinel found fault that Mr. Timothy Pickering was italicized & capitalized. But in the account of the Spanish and English engagement, we find that the capture of the Spanish ships are CAPITALIZED. This shews that whatever suits the British is a capital subject for the Centinel, but what helps the French is too contemptible to be even italicized. Mr. Timothy will hereafter be noticed in italics only.
Occasionally it can be asserted with confidence that a certain word or term was first used on or about a certain date, but for obvious reasons such instances are rare.1065 The statement of the 1797 writer that in 1770 “Jonathan” was “sometimes used by ‘way of derision’” may well be true, for the introduction of such a word is not likely to have been due to any specific event. Nevertheless, as yet the word has not been found before 1776. However, in 1815 John Harriott related an amusing story:
In the year 1765, I went out to Boston as second-mate of the Mary, Captain D——n:1066 … From my friend D——n I was well informed, during the passage out to Boston, of the over-zealous puritanic strictness of the place; and among other things, that from sun-rise to sun-set on Sundays, no person was permitted to go from house to house, or walk the street, (except going to or from a place of worship,) without being liable to a fine, punishment, or exposed to public shame…. In confirmation of this, my friend D——n related the following anecdote:—
Captain M——e1067 of the royal navy, who was well known under the title of Mad M——e, commanded, some years before, a frigate on the Halifax station: whilst lying at anchor in Boston harbour, he was rowed to the town in his barge on a Sunday in the forenoon, to wait upon the governor; his men neatly dressed in uniform with white shirts and black caps: upon his landing, … Captain M——e was accosted by some of the elders, who expressed their sorrow at his having broken the sabbath: but as the law made no distinction as to persons so offending, he and his boat’s crew must submit to them. The captain, desiring information as to the law, was told, that, as they transgressed during divine-service, he and his boat’s crew might make their election either to be denounced as prophane idlers at the first place of worship, pay the pecuniary penalties, or be placed in the stocks…. To the stocks they accordingly went; the sailors highly enjoying the fun, of being placed in limbo with their captain, passing it off in this jocular way.
But the next day, once the “fervor of religious discipline” had cooled, having
considered that it was a king’s officer they had been thus chastising for an offence under their municipal law, to which he was a stranger, and from his rank, and the duties of the service he was on, might not be amenable, … a deputation of the elders, &c. waited on Captain M——e at his lodgings, deeply lamenting the occurrence, and sincerely hoping he would not harbour any resentment against the town on account of its laws.
M——e assured them that he thought it “a genuine good frolic,” and to convince them of his forgiveness invited the deputation to dine on board his frigate a few days after. What with the “enlivening juice of the grape, and its merry companion, punch,” their animal spirits were raised so high that they relaxed “much of their puritanic rigidity; and began to grow a little frolicksome and jocular.” The captain having gone on deck, a lieutenant “put the glass about briskly,” with the result that “some of the select men conceived that the ship had a strange motion, and inquired if the weather was not getting stormy,” whereupon one of them declared that “he would go up stairs to see.” There he ran “against an officer who was walking the deck with the captain.”
A slight motion of the ship, with the sudden change of air from the cabin, made it difficult for him to stand without holding; much less could he attempt walking alone; catching hold of the captain’s arm, he addressed him, “Why, noble captain, I swear, you are as wily as the old serpent, you;—(hiccup)—and that crafty toad you left in your place has been—(hiccup)—leading us into mortal temptation; whe-ew, Lord bless me! how the ship whirls round, and what a—(hiccup)—rebellion in my bowels!” The captain, withdrawing his arm from cousin Jonathan, (as sailors call all New-England men,) expressed surprise and sorrow, to see any gentleman in such a state of intoxication, on the quarter-deck of a king’s ship; the well-known laws against which being broken, he could make no distinction as to persons, and the offender must submit accordingly; then, ordering the boatswain to tie Jonathan up, and give him a civil check, (a term given by sailors to one dozen strokes with the cat o’ nine tails,) he was lowered over the ship’s side into a boat, with strict orders to take good care of the gentleman.1068
And thus was each visitor treated as he came on deck. Harriott is careful to add: “My readers are desired to bear in mind, that the foregoing is related merely as a tale that was told.”1069 What importance is to be attached to Harriott’s statements about the term in question? No other writer asserts that the sobriquet was a common one among sailors; and obviously, though the word may have been in use “some years before” 1765, an account not printed until fifty years later cannot be accepted as proof. On the other hand, a Bostonian declared in 1797 that Jonathan was used here in 1770; it was certainly used in both Old and New England in 1776; there is a priori no reason why it may not have been current a decade or so earlier; Harriott was, as a midshipman in the British Navy, in New York, Halifax, Newfoundland, and the West Indies before his voyage to Boston in 1764; his memory of that voyage was substantially accurate; about 1766 he was in New York Province, where he lived for nearly four months among the Oneidas and Tuscaroras; he also travelled extensively here in 1793–1795, bought a farm in Rhode Island and later one on Long Island, New York; and did not finally leave this country until 1795, when he “crossed the Atlantic for the fourteenth time.”1070
Some remarks on Jonathan both as a personal name and as a name for a ship will not be inappropriate. In 1809, Edward Augustus Kendall, an Englishman who had travelled extensively in New England, wrote in reference to Connecticut:
Stopping for a short time in Willington, the town that lies between Windham and Stafford, and asking for something at an inn, the mistress called upon Minerva to fetch it; and I afterward found that names, of this and other profane origin, are common among the female part of the community in New England; while those borne by the male are almost uniformly scriptural: a few of the old puritanic inventions remain; as Return, Increase, &c. but Elizur, Abner, Jared and Enoch, are among the most common; always saving Jonathan, which is known to be synonymous with New England.1071
Certainly many names, both male and female, were scriptural, but that those “borne by the male [part] are almost always scriptural” is too strong a statement. And as for Jonathan, was that a particularly common name in New England? There were 39 Jonathans among the 1,733 graduates of Harvard College in 1642–1750, the proportion being 1 in 44.1072 Of course, even assuming that my count is accurate, the proportion of Jonathans in the New England population at large may have been much greater than among Harvard graduates.
Before leaving Kendall, one striking fact should not be overlooked. It will be recalled that the younger Jonathan Trumbull was governor of Connecticut from 1798 to his death in 1809. Kendall apparently nowhere mentions Jonathan Trumbull the elder, but of the younger he said: “In Lebanon is the modest mansion of His Excellency Governor Trumbull, in whom an unassuming, gentlemanly and prepossessing deportment is united with a sound understanding and decided plan of action”; and he went on to commend Trumbull highly for his public acts.1073 Yet not one word is uttered about the alleged tradition in the Trumbull family. Negative evidence must always be received with caution, but had the tradition been in existence in 1809, it is difficult to believe that Kendall would have failed to speak of it.
Vessels called Jonathan are referred to in 1600;1074 in 1619, carrying passengers to Virginia;1075 in 1625, when Lord Baltimore, intending “a journey to Newfoundland,” hired “the ship called Jonathan now in the River [Thames] for the transportation of myself and such plants as I carry with me. But I understand she is stayed for the King so I must give place”;1076 in 1625, in the expedition against Cadiz and later in Ireland;1077 in 1626, “the Earl of Warwick’s ship”;1078 in 1639, carrying passengers to New England;1079 in 1651, “from Barbados”;1080 in 1690, in the expedition against Canada. Clearly New England was not particularly in the minds of those who named these vessels.
Pre-Revolutionary examples of “Jonathan” in our modern sense of “rube” are greatly to be desired. A satirical letter on weather predictions dated “Sagadahock, Nov. 5. 1743,” signed “Jonathan Weatherwise,” was printed in a Boston magazine in that year.1081
Finally, attention should be called to a recent discovery not without literary interest. In 1901, I stated, following previous writers, that Royall Tyler’s The Contrast was written in 1787, was first performed in New York on April 16, 1787, was first printed in 1790 at Philadelphia, and that in it, “under the name of Jonathan, the stage Yankee made his first appearance in literature.” The last two words must now be changed to “in American literature,” for in a “comic opera”1082 written in 1785, acted in 1786 in Dublin, and printed in 1788 in London—thus being earlier in all three respects than Tyler’s play—there was presented a similar character under the slightly different name of “Jonathen.” The dedication “To Richard Daly, Esq., Patentee and Manager of the Theatre-Royal, Dublin,” reads in part:
You remember that it was originally written and presented to you in the winter of 1785, as an After-Piece, acknowledged to be suggested from a little French Drama of one Act, without songs (intitled, L’Heureuse Erreur), and that in borrowing the idea I totally altered and augmented the dialogue, incidents, and situation of that plot, and, for the first time, attempted the introduction of a Yankee character on the European stage.1083
“Jonathen” is the servant of Belmor, recently returned to Ireland, after his American campaign, and in the first act the latter explains: “You will be surprised perhaps at my keeping such a simpleton—but he is a brave honest loyalist that attached himself to me in America—and having lost his all in our cause, and knowing his integrity, I bear with his ignorance.”1084 There is so close a resemblance, and so marked a contrast, between Tyler’s Yankee character of “Jonathan” and the Irishman’s Yankee character of “Jonathen,” that it would almost seem as if one author must have been familiar with the play of the other; yet the dates apparently make that notion impossible; and though Tyler could have read the other’s play in 1788, that was a year after his own play had been acted.
The anonymous creator of “Jonathen” was Joseph Atkinson,1085 a retired captain in the British Army who had served in Africa in 1762–1763, was on half-pay in 1763–1768, and had served in Ireland in 1768–1776 and in America in 1776. Even if he was in this country in 1776 only, he must, when the Forty-Sixth Regiment of Foot—of which the Hon. (later Sir) William Howe was the colonel from November 1, 1764, to May 11, 1775—was stationed in Ireland, have heard his fellow-officers swapping hundreds of stories at the expense of the provincials in general and New Englanders in particular, and so might have picked up idiosyncrasies of New England speech. At all events, it is at least satisfactory to have proof that Tyler’s stage Yankee was not the first of the species.