A Stated Meeting of the Society was held at the house of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, No. 28 Newbury Street, Boston, on Thursday, February 26, 1925, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President Fred Norris Robinson, Ph.D., in the chair.
The Records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary reported that a letter had been received from Mr. Charles Sprague Sargent, accepting Resident Membership.
Mr. William MacDonald read the following paper:
The importance of the frontier in American history no longer needs either demonstration or argument. The series of studies of various phases of frontier life which Professor Turner has published, one of them a study of the early New England frontier contributed some years ago to the transactions of this Society,279 not only opened to students a phase of American history which had been neglected and in considerable part ignored, but seemed also to offer a new point of view from which the history of the United States must thenceforth be written. The recent History of the American Frontier which Professor Paxson has brought out is apparently an attempt to carry to its logical conclusion the work which Professor Turner began, not through further detached studies of particular areas or episodes, but by a comprehensive examination of the whole course of frontier development from the close of the Seven Years’ War to about 1893, when the frontier itself disappeared. There is no need to praise the scholarship which these writers, and other workers in the same field, have displayed, and now that the ball is rolling there is little reason to fear that the significance of the frontier, as historians of the Turner school appear to conceive it, will be underrated. If the story of New England and the Atlantic Coast looms less large in the narrative histories of the United States during the next century than in the century that has passed, it will be because a new generation of scholars sees in the growth of the nation a shifting of the centre of gravity and a multiplication of interests of which history must take heed.
I find myself asking, however, whether the story of the frontier, in the form in which it is now being generally told, is after all the whole story. Two tendencies in particular in the treatment of the subject appear to be open to question from the point of view of historical completeness. One is the tendency to emphasize politics at the expense of other social forces; the other is the tendency to treat the frontier as a whole or in large and rather sweeping sections. One need not entangle himself in the thorny meshes of the economic interpretation of history, or champion any theory about the relative merits of sociological and historical method, to perceive that politics, as a phase of social activity, has no longer the importance that it once had, that the intellectual habits and everyday activities of a community are better evidence of its civilized status than are its forms of government, or that only by a careful study of small areas, as homogeneous as possible if there be homogeneity at all, are data to be obtained for sound generalization.
The problem which I wish to discuss, then, is not the political expansion of the United States, or any portion of it, due to the extension westward of the frontier line, nor the economic or social issues which such extension raised. What I am interested in, rather, is an inquiry regarding the extent to which, if at all, the underlying characteristics of the older communities from which migration started, and of the radiating circle of communities which in turn became relatively old as they themselves became the starting-points of new migrations, have been reproduced in the new communities of the ever-changing frontier, or have been modified through the transplantation of social institutions to new regions under relatively new and primitive conditions. I am aware that such an inquiry, when dealt with in the summary fashion which alone is possible here, must partake largely of the character of generalizations regarding which I have just uttered a word of warning, and I speak under correction when the facts of the case shall have been more fully explored, but I nevertheless venture to think that the inquiry, if it can be carried through comprehensively, may show that the development of the American frontier has not only been characterized by great social diversity, but that it also marks, from the standpoint of Eastern culture, a process of disintegration directly opposed to the growth of national solidarity.
If I understand the teachings of modern ethnography and ethnology, we should expect to find in America, as the settled area expanded, a reproduction in new areas of the essential social characteristics of the communities from which the predominating population sprang, modified principally by climate (including under that term the physical conditions of the new country in general) and by conflict with hostile peoples whose territory was invaded. Old peoples, we are told, spill over into new areas, taking their culture with them, and upon this culture the soil, the weather, natural resources and enemies work their transformations. To what extent has this process been illustrated in the expansion of English settlement in this country?
Only, it seems to me, to a very limited extent in the earlier periods of migration, and even then with marked local variation. The most perfect illustration of the reproduction of primary social conditions in the early colonial period appears to be found in the westward occupation of the Massachusetts area. Save as certain towns, notably, of course, Boston, grew faster than others, or as facilities for fishing and shipbuilding inhered in the sea-coast rather than in the interior, there is no important difference, until long after the Revolution, between the town life in the neighborhood of Boston and that which eventually covered Massachusetts to the New York boundary. From every important point of view the towns are the same — the same in government, in social usage, in religious habit, in economic activity — and they are to all intents and purposes the same to-day. A similar uniformity of characteristic is to be found in the early river towns of Connecticut, but they are not so good an illustration of migration because of the slight distances which separated them and the uniform nature of the area which they occupied.
A rather striking difference is perceived, on the other hand, when we turn to the area of expansion in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. In each of these colonies the town form of local government was set up; the Congregational type of Protestantism prevailed over any other, and farming, except on the sea-coast, was the principal occupation. The growth of the towns, however, was slow; domestic architecture was of the familiar story-and-a-half type which betokens a very moderate prosperity; roads were bad, schools poor, and intellectual life at a relatively low ebb. The traces of these differences still persisted for some time after the last French war robbed the frontier of enemy danger. The utmost effort of the imagination fails to discover in the three States named, during their colonial years, a degree of social advancement or intellectual activity entirely comparable to the Massachusetts area from which their early populations were largely drawn. Was it because Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont had no Boston to dominate them, or because colonial or commonwealth government was a weaker centralizing force; or was it because the frontier, once political connection is severed, tends to appropriate only the imperfectly assimilated elements of the society from which its settlers come, and moves on a lower, or at least less exacting, intellectual and social level, and therewith rests content?
We read in the books that the spread of American civilization, at least as far as the Mississippi, has in the main followed parallels of latitude, the region between the Appalachians and the Mississippi being belted, so to speak, with New England influence in New York, Michigan and northern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; with Pennsylvania or Virginia influence in the territory nearer the Ohio River; with Virginia or North Carolina influence in the mountain country of Kentucky, Tennessee and even Missouri, and with South Carolina or Georgia influence across the cotton belt. Perhaps there is a sense in which this is so, but the theory appears to be subject to so many exceptions as to make it on the whole an unsafe guide. Save for the practice of establishing compact settlements, and eventual reliance upon farming as one of the principal occupations, I do not find any very clear reproduction of either Massachusetts or Connecticut in New York or the States beyond. The town system of local government did not long survive even where it was at first attempted; Congregationalism as the prevailing ecclesiastical type did not penetrate far beyond the Hudson; schools were long almost indefinitely poorer than those of southern New England, and intellectual life was at a low ebb. If the States or parts of States that I have named were dominated, in the years of their early development, by New England customs or New England ideas, it was by a New England which had become strangely attenuated in the process of migration, and which yielded with hardly a struggle to the conditions of a new country.
Similar phenomena present themselves as one follows westward the zone of settlement in which the conditions prevailing at the time of migration in Pennsylvania, Virginia or the Carolinas are thought to have been more or less reproduced. Certain resemblances there are, but they are overborne by the differences. If we cross the Mississippi and follow the course of settlement in the prairie States, it will appear that each successive remove is attended with the shifting off of further likenesses to the regions of origin, until we at last discover that a new society has come into being for whose historical foundations one must search far and wide.
It was my fortune as a young man, just beginning academic life, to pass several years in a Western community in which, if traditionary sayings were to be believed, New England life and spirit, and particularly the life and spirit of Massachusetts, had been transplanted more successfully, and had spread their roots more widely, than anywhere else in the central West. The town of Lawrence, Kansas, as you know, was founded by men and women principally from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont, named for Amos Lawrence,280 nurtured by the New England Emigrant Aid Company which Massachusetts principally supported, and became the centre in Kansas of the free-state agitation to which the antislavery sentiment of New England was especially devoted. Great care is said to have been taken, in selecting the persons who were to occupy this outpost of freedom, to choose only those of good reputation for industry and success in life, God-fearing men and women with their families, who were able to pay their way, and all of them fired with enthusiasm for the free-state cause. It was distinctly a winnowed group that went forth to make Kansas a free commonwealth, and, although the first winter brought some hardship, there was never at any time a question whether the difficulties of settlement and civil conflict would be overcome, or material success in life eventually assured. If economic resource, political backing, and high moral purpose akin to the spirit of a crusade could ever cause the New England type of society to reproduce itself in a new region, the conditions of such an outcome would seem to have been carefully provided in the case of Lawrence.
At the time when I first went to Lawrence, less than twenty years after the close of the Civil War, what was known locally as the New England spirit was still much in evidence. Many of the original settlers were still living; the most prominent business or professional men were of New England origin, and possession of New England lineage assured to the newcomer a welcome as to an old home. More than half of the faculty of the State university, which had been located at Lawrence in 1869, had had New England college training, and the Congregational church was admittedly the place of worship of the socially elect. The prescribed form of local government was, indeed, that of a city, and the county had the relatively important functions that it has everywhere in the West, but there was nevertheless a fair degree of public interest in municipal questions of a political character, and expressions of opinion through public meetings were respectfully regarded.
Yet the Lawrence of the ’80s showed curiously few of the external or internal characteristics of New England life. Its streets, laid out on the checkerboard plan with small regard to topography, were, for the most part, ungraded, deep with mud in wet weather and with frozen ruts in winter, and flanked with board sidewalks which were a menace to life and limb. Scarcely a dwelling house in the city resembled any style of domestic architecture common to New England, while at least a third of the houses were both cheap and shabby, and dooryards and backyards were veritable eyesores. The water supply was precarious, public sanitation was primitive, and the percentage of typhoid fever and other filth diseases was high. The one redeeming physical feature of the city was its shade trees, most of which had been planted, and in the preservation of which the people seemed to take a real pride.
For a population of about ten thousand Lawrence had not less than ten churches, and while the Congregationalists outnumbered any of the others, they were pressed hard by the Methodists, with the Baptists not far behind. The public schools, notwithstanding the presence of the State university, were below the grade of similar schools in a number of Kansas cities. A few of the old settlers — bear in mind that Lawrence was then only thirty years old — had acquired comfortable properties, chiefly in land, but the larger number appeared to have been rather unsuccessful, and in a community which was just passing under the control of a new generation were likely to be referred to with a smile or a shrug. Political power in city and county, with the exception of that which was wielded sub rosa by a few bankers, merchants, or industrialists, mainly of New England origin, was exercised by a miscellaneous aggregation drawn from many States, and already mixed with Germans and Swedes, some of whom had themselves been immigrants, but who were now prosperous farmers or merchants. In three directions only was a real social solidarity to be found: in the university faculty of some thirty men and women, among the Quakers who gathered regularly at their spacious but ugly meeting-house, and among the adherents of a German turnverein; and only in the first of these groups was a clear New England influence to be felt.
If one penetrated below these surface characteristics of what, let me again remind you, was still regarded in Kansas as preëminently a New England town, resemblances and divergences offered to a New Englander a curious array of contrarieties. The embodiment of public spirit in Lawrence tended to shrink when the expenditure of money was involved, and more than twenty years were to elapse before the city roused itself to get rid of its unsightly and filthy streets; but the bitterness of its political partisanship, in part an inheritance from the Civil War, recalled the days when New England Federalism was sacrosanct and a follower of Jefferson an undesirable citizen. Only one or two of the Protestant ministers who came and went during my six years of residence could fairly be called intellectual persons, and even the Congregational communion yielded easily to the periodical appeals of emotional revivals. Religious dissent from supposed orthodox standards was severely frowned upon, and the most popular professor in the State university was so far under a cloud because of his supposed belief in evolution as to lead him to explain privately that he was only interested, not convinced. One felt that the community had respect for learning, especially in scientific directions, provided the traditional moral order remained intact, but it was not a reading population, and the appeal of beauty or order was small. It was to be expected that the economic interest of the place should centre in land and wheat and corn and cattle, in proposed new railways and eagerly sought federal buildings, for which Wall Street and the East would presumably pay; but it was disconcerting to a newcomer to hear New England referred to as small, remote, or behind the times, or to listen to accounts of visits in which little trace of affection for the mother region of the East could be discerned.
I have cited the case of Lawrence because of my impression that the characteristics of the town were, in essence, much the same as those which have attached to the American frontier ever since the Revolution. Instead of the emigrant taking with him the institutions and spirit of the New England in which he had been reared, planting them in the new wilderness home, modifying them only as climatic conditions or the presence of enemies required, and, withal, cherishing the memory of the place which he had left as a valued possession for himself and his children, we appear to find something quite contrary. The emigrant did indeed conquer the wilderness for civilization, but he was himself transformed by the wilderness that he subdued. The frontier line was an advancing wave, but it was also an ebbing and flowing tide, laying bare the beach only to sweep it later with debris. Whatever the social institutions that were transplanted, whether political, economic, or those of domestic manner and custom, they early became, in the majority of cases, something else, an institutional life adapted to the unwonted conditions of frontier existence. What was true of the first frontier, moreover, was true also of each of the succeeding frontiers which the recurring waves of migration traced, decade by decade, upon the map. Each new settled area had its little working capital of inherited or accustomed institutions, some small part of which doubtless long remained intact, but the capital was too small for frontier needs, and might conceivably have failed altogether had not the new territory itself offered resources of social wealth for its own exploitation.
There are two reasons in particular, I think, why this should have been the case. One is the character of the emigrants; the other is the obvious conditions, and especially the intellectual and moral conditions, of frontier existence. With regard to emigrant character one must speak with caution, partly because not all of the individuals or families that migrated were alike, and partly because we still lack the detailed study of migration on a large scale to which Lois Mathews’ The Expansion of New England is so notable an introduction. Until the history of a considerable number of migrants — say a thousand from Massachusetts and Connecticut for the period prior to 1820 — shall have been studied, their movements charted, and the resulting data reduced to systematic form, we cannot be sure that generalizations are accurate for a given time or place.
Subject to this correction in detail when the study just referred to shall have been made, I venture to suggest that the migrant element of Massachusetts and Connecticut, who carried civilization into the West, were not, in general, those best fitted to contribute to the stability or enlargement of the communities from which they came. Love of adventure, for example, is a disintegrating rather than a centralizing influence in society. The novelty or excitement which it craves is a sure symptom of discontent with accustomed surroundings, an evidence of dissatisfaction with what the community has to offer, a protest against restraints to which one must conform. The community spirit itself may be petty or large, bigoted or tolerant, bad or good; no judgment need be passed at any of those points; it is enough that the community for any reason has ceased to interest, or that its conventions are felt to chafe.
What is true of the individual in this respect is likely to be true also, I think, of any group which, recognizing its solidarity, voluntarily migrates to another place because of dissatisfaction with political or religious conditions. Those who go are those who can be spared. I doubt very much, for example, whether Hooker and his followers, departing from Massachusetts with formal God-speed and without recrimination, would have helped the growth of Massachusetts had they remained, and this notwithstanding the conspicuous success of their colonizing experiment in the Connecticut valley.
A similar observation may, I think, be made regarding those migrations which are said to have been induced by the lure of free or cheaper or more fertile land, or by the general hope of bettering one’s position in life. Throughout the colonial period, and until after the War of 1812, the pressure of population, practically unaffected as it was by European immigration, does not appear to have been so great as to make land excessively dear. The rapid spread of settlement in southern New Hampshire and Maine and the upper Connecticut valley that followed the close of the French and Indian wars, is certainly to be ascribed to other causes than the cheapness or availability of land, although land was doubtless one of the factors; and New England could hardly be called a densely populated region when the “Ohio fever” set in. Had a desire to make more money been dissociated from a restless desire to change one’s place, the increased demand for farm labor and farm products which accompanied the development of New England manufactures after the War of 1812 should, it would seem, have operated to check the westward migration that then went on. The best explanation, though of course not the only one, seems to lie in the fact that the dream of improving the personal economic condition by beginning again in another place, like the spirit of adventure or the hankering for novelty, is born of dissatisfaction with one’s surroundings; and it is not by the efforts of the dissatisfied or the disappointed that a community grows, strengthens, or becomes socially rich in such qualities as interest and hold.
To put the matter in another way: our early New England settlements appear to have been established by two quite different classes of persons, those who came to build homes and commonwealths, and those who sought novelty, or gain, or something that they denominated freedom. Those of the first class did not at any time remove far from the places where they first planted. A little shifting about until the best sites for the meeting-house and the fort were found; then, as the soldiers say, they “dug in” and fought it through. As newcomers came the area was naturally extended by what was for a time a wilderness conquest, but the newcomers also “dug in” and remained. These were the men and women who created the enduring fabric of town and commonwealth, of church and school and law and social obligation. The restless element, on the other hand, whether their slogan was adventure or trade or religious or political liberty, were only incidentally founders of homes or builders of towns and states; their primary object was the realization of some personal experience, more important in their eyes than social solidarity; and for them the lure of the wilderness was irresistible. I doubt very much if the generation that planted the early settlements of Massachusetts, or the generation that followed them, was greatly moved by the desire for material prosperity or by any conscious yearning for novelty; the controlling motive, I think, was ideas; but the material motive and the desire for personal liberty were strong with those who cut loose and followed the sun.
If what has just been said be true, we have an explanation, comprehensive enough to merit examination in detail, of certain characteristics of the frontier, not only in the early colonial period but in later times as well. With only the exceptions that go to prove the rule, I doubt if the essential features of New England society have been at any time very much reproduced beyond the New England area. Within New England itself, moreover, the diversities of social structure and spirit were considerable, and there is risk of confusion if we dwell too much upon the supposed likeness of New England as a whole or think of it collectively as a type. Let me illustrate this by reference to Massachusetts, easily the best example of a homogeneous and virile society.
With all respect to those who find in politics or economics a sufficient explanation of the past, the dominating influence in the molding of early Massachusetts seems to me to have been religion. As a body of doctrine and a scheme of ecclesiastical organization, religion controlled the intellectual life of the colony for at least four generations; as a rule of personal conduct it determined moral standards. It was not a liberal faith that Massachusetts embraced, and its harsh exactions have come to seem remote, but its tough and unyielding fibre was woven into the texture of individual and social life with a thoroughness which has rarely been equalled anywhere. Looked at as a social influence, religion was a conservative and centralizing force. It was not charitable to new religious doctrines or practices, especially those in which the element of emotion was strong; it put dissenters under the social ban, reserving its moral confidence and its grant of political or social preferment for those who held the true faith, and it looked with horror upon irreligion in any form. Not until more than a century after the colony had become firmly established did its people yield to the excitement of the Great Awakening; and the Great Awakening, while it broke the power of theocracy beyond repair, did not destroy the hold of religion as the interest of life which, on the whole, seemed most worth while.
Second only to religion was the devotion to practical democracy as embodied in the town. To the social unity of a common religion was added the unifying force of compact settlement, direct popular control of immediate interests through the town meeting, direct representation of the town in the General Court, and a tardy and reluctant acceptance of any political organization between the town and the colony. It did not occur to the early generations of Massachusetts that the town, as the unit of local government, could ever be outgrown, and, in the expansion of settlement within the colony, towns propagated towns. It was doubtless because of this close political connection between the town and the colony, both wrapped in a common faith, that the third great characteristic of early Massachusetts, an intense and jealous loyalty to the colony or commonwealth, continued to prevail throughout the whole colonial period, and carried over into the period of union under the Confederation and the Constitution. The indelible mark of distinction which those who founded Massachusetts gave to the social structure which they reared, continued, generation after generation, to impress those who were made free of its jurisdiction. What a theme for an oration in the simple phrase, “a Massachusetts man!”
If, now, the successive advances of the frontier line represent the natural extension of settlement from occupied areas into the wilderness, we should expect to see the dominating characteristics which have just been mentioned reproduced in the new communities beyond the Massachusetts border, with only such modifications as temporary primitive conditions, climate, or enemy resistance necessitated. It seems to me that this was very far from being the case, however. The early settlements in New Hampshire and Maine, for example, owed much in their beginning to migration from Massachusetts; and after the overthrow of the French and Indian power opened the northern wilderness to further occupation, Massachusetts furnished an appreciable number of the new migrants. Neither religiously nor politically, however, do New Hampshire or Maine appear to be very exact reproductions of Massachusetts. It is true that Congregationalism was long the preponderant type of religion, but the traces of theocratic ideas are faint, and neither theological opinion nor schemes of ecclesiastical organization played a large part in the daily corporate life of the people. The reproduction of the town system, in turn, was not accompanied by any such intensity of devotion to the colony as Massachusetts exhibited, and there was long an obvious disparity of public spirit. The spiritual elements of faith, conviction, ambition, and public allegiance which inhered in Massachusetts from the first, reappear only in diluted form once the boundary of the commonwealth is passed.
The process of dilution goes on with increasing rapidity as we follow the frontier line westward. There is less and less of New England, more and more of what has come to be connoted by the vague term “the West.” The frontier was lawless; hard drinking and gambling were prevailing vices; sexual irregularity had frequent illustration; the religion of emotion and spasm was the only religion to which communities responded; schools were wretched and so-called colleges the merest pretence; respect for government was slight notwithstanding the promptness with which local and commonwealth governments were set up; and successive waves of migration gave to the whole population an appearance, and to a considerable extent a reality, of agitation and change. It was in the States that were formed from successive frontier areas, pieced together, as it were, like strata of gravel and rock in geological formations, that the federal government was early and most persistently besought to assume the cost of building roads, bridges and canals, that the phenomena of religious revivals poured contempt upon the intellectual elements of religion, that fiat money and wildcat banking flourished, and that secret societies and political or economic vagaries found a fertile soil. The slovenly conditions of the typical western settlement, with its muddy streets, its vulgar architecture, and its cattle and hogs roaming at large, were the natural accompaniments of a rudimentary community sentiment in which country as such, rather than the particular place in which one lived, was the thing that caught the imagination and gave to life a transitory aim.
Obviously these are not the characteristics of New England, whether comparison be made with what may be called the primary New England of Massachusetts and Connecticut or with the secondary New England of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. They are not the characteristics of New England because, although New England contributed of its men and women to the settlement of the West, the essential traits of New England society were not at any time transplanted. I am not now concerned with contrasting New England and the West in terms of good or bad, more or less, crude or refined; that, as Kipling says, is something else again. But there was in the primary New England of Massachusetts and Connecticut a certain theoretical finish, an intellectual conviction, a moral intensity, and a love of place because the place seemed good, that marked it out as a province, a self-centred and self-contained community which not only lived by rules, but which also loved the rules and esteemed them nourishing. To such a provincial society, ably defended as worth preserving in an illuminating essay by Professor Royce, migration is an alien call.281 It is not land or adventure, but the realization of ideas, that is coveted, and the realization of ideas is not easily separable from fixity of place. I doubt if there are many illustrations in history of the successful transplantation of such a coherent society, or of the successful cultivation of any of its primary elements in areas of different latitude and longitude. Such a society grows and ripens and decays; its roots may shrivel and its leaves fall; but though the winds of change may scatter its seeds far and wide, they find no soil in which to grow for long. There is but one New England; to look for others is as idle as the applause which greets the movements of an actor on a screen.
The so-called expansion of New England, accordingly, to repeat what has already been suggested, appears to have been the work mainly of those upon whom the New England spirit had taken no firm hold. The migrants, to adapt a phrase of the Supreme Court, were affected with a New England interest, but they were not bone, muscle, and nerve of New England life. Transplanted into the conditions of a wilderness, they did indeed retain some traces of their New England origin, but the inherited characteristics were speedily overshadowed by characteristics acquired from the new environment, and the resulting combination, from the point of view of social origins, showed features in which New England lineaments were less and less to be traced at all. Whether there is not presented, in this easy modification or abandonment of New England traits, the suggestion of a certain sterility in early New England culture, an inability to propagate itself beyond the small area in which it first developed notwithstanding its vigor there, is an interesting inquiry that cannot be gone into here. It is a suggestive historical fact, however, that the distinguishing social characteristics of New England, whether before or after the period of statehood, have reappeared in other parts of the United States only in very small areas under exceptional conditions. The attempt to plant in Kansas Territory in 1854–55 a population of New England men and women who should fend off the introduction of slavery was distinctly an artificial proceeding when looked at historically.
I have no time to examine the portions of the American frontier to the formation and extension of which the middle and southern colonies contributed. I venture to think, however, that such an examination would show results much like those which appear in the zone of New England influence. Perhaps we have here an explanation of the political and social sectionalism — or, to use the better but more equivocal term, provincialism — which still, in spite of all the unifying influence of a common federal government and common national problems, leaves the United States only imperfectly a nation. If we abandon legal phraseology and speak in terms of social organization, practice and thought, the United States is still an aggregation of provinces, each as distinct from the others in habit and point of view as are the recognized provincial areas of more than one European country. That these provincial differences exist is due less to striking dissimilarities of soil, climate, or access to markets, than to the fact that culture, being in itself a conservative thing, does not suffer transplantation save at the cost of change in type, and that the acquired characteristics of a given society tend to exceed in number, variety, and influence the characteristics that are inherited.
Here, then, is a field of history which calls for exploration. The connection between geography and social type, not over vast areas through thousands of years but in small areas and in brief periods of time, is a subject regarding which there is need of much more assured knowledge than we now possess. The thesis which I have ventured to defend will be verified, if it be sound, through further and more detailed study of the social composition of early New England communities, the numerical volume of political, religious or social dissent, the content of popular and class education, the nature of the economic struggle, and the personal history of those who migrated. The intellectual content of average life in given circumstances of time and place, if it can be determined with approximate accuracy, should enable us to see whether a culture such as appeared in early New England was adapted only to the elect, and at what points it tended to crowd the migratory elements out. I am inclined to think that in the small settled areas that early America presented, more or less clearly separated one from another and, at the same time, bounded by a wilderness, the primary impulse of expansion came from within; that it was not so much the lure of the beyond as the lack of adjustment to one’s place that sent people on their travels. If this be true, then the history of the American frontier is to be written in terms of the community life that lay behind the moving fringe of settlement, more than in those of the advancing front itself.
Mr. George P. Anderson presented the following communication:
Few American historians mention Pascal Paoli,282 benevolent dictator of Corsica from 1755 to 1769, and his career is almost unknown in this country. Yet from the time of the agitation for the repeal of the Stamp Act until 1770, this military leader of the Corsicans who were battling for independence exerted a marked influence upon the Sons of Liberty and other patriots of the pre-revolutionary period. Because there are many evidences that his deeds and his cause became sources of genuine inspiration in at least four American colonies, it seems profitable briefly to study his relationship to American patriotic circles.
Paoli, personally, was unknown to the American popular leaders. He never visited America, and never lifted his voice in acknowledgment of the admiration he received from there. None the less, his career as a leader and as a general appealed to those of the northern colonists who were frank to express their views as to the heaviness of the British yoke. He proved decidedly popular in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, and his fame penetrated even to Vermont. There are few traces of him in New Hampshire or Rhode Island, and in the southern colonies his impress seems to have been slight. His greatest popularity was attained in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Paoli was popular with the radical wing of the colonists probably chiefly because he was shedding blood in an endeavor to secure justice for a downtrodden people. Moreover, it seems that the patriots became enthusiastic over him because he was waging a brave battle against the French, the ancient enemies of the British empire. He was the kind of hero that colonists not of the pacifist type could readily admire, for, within a decade, they themselves had fought the French and they had not forgotten the cruelty and wrongs they had suffered from their enemies’ allies, the fierce redmen of the northern frontier. For such reasons, in the period immediately following the agitation for the repeal of the Stamp Act, Paoli was hailed as a genuine hero, second only to men like William Pitt, John Wilkes, and Isaac Barré, and his popularity lasted for about four years. The Sons of Liberty instinctively pinned their faith to him, as a man not afraid to fight against tyranny. This suggests that, almost a decade before the Revolution actually opened, they were in a mood to shed their own blood in defence of liberty. It was fortunate for England that, at this juncture, the Stamp Act was repealed.
The Sons of Liberty, just mentioned as admirers of Paoli, were certain patriots who during the Stamp Act period banded together into an organization which in a few months became a power in nearly every colony. The courage of its members was maintained by patriotic speeches and the drinking of numerous toasts to the heroes of the hour and the issues of the day. In England, of course, a reform party existed, and champions of liberty were a power in Parliament and in other public assemblages. Some of these leaders served as inspirations to the agitators for liberty in the colonies, but no one of them was militant enough to satisfy a people who entertained themselves with riots. The quest for a hero, accordingly, soon passed from the isle of Albion to the isle of Corsica, and there ended with the discovery of Pascal Paoli. Though he was a Roman Catholic, his deeds and his contest with France appealed to the imagination of the Sons of Liberty, the men who, of all Americans, were most nearly ready to take the field against their king.
This long-distance hero worship was, as has been said, a wholly one-sided affair, and therefore so much the more astonishing. During the whole period of the American Revolution Paoli remained in England, a passive and silent, if not friendly, witness to British preparations for the contest being waged overseas. His position, however, is not hard to understand. After a disastrous campaign in Corsica he had fled to England, and had been living there upon a pension granted by King George III. Naturally he did not dare to draw his sword in America’s behalf. He thus missed an opportunity to be enshrined in the nation’s heart along with Lafayette, Pulaski, Steuben, and Kosciusko. As a hero to present-day Americans, therefore, he admittedly is almost a curiosity, and yet from 1766 to 1769 he was a prime favorite in American radical circles and his campaign in behalf of the freedom of Corsica was toasted in many a colonial assemblage.
It is important to appreciate the political situation in Corsica at the time when Paoli became a favorite of the American colonists. Genoa, which for centuries had attempted the domination of Corsica, yielded its claims to the French on May 15, 1768, receiving in return a substantial money concession. The French, with a large army, at once began a campaign to subdue the island. They met with many checks and some defeats, but they so greatly outnumbered the Corsicans that the result was a foregone conclusion. At last, at Pontenuovo on May 9, 1769, Paoli was decisively defeated.
Nothing could better illustrate his own valor and that of his devoted people than the fact that at one time when he and about five hundred soldiers were completely surrounded by four thousand French, he called his men together and in passionate terms adjured them to break the cordon. The Corsicans responded, and that night cut their way through the French army so that Paoli could escape to a vessel and be carried to Leghorn. He arrived in London, September 21, 1769. Thereafter he remained a prominent figure in court circles.283
The relationship between Paoli and the English government is vividly portrayed by Guizot. The following extract shows the situation at this period, as seen by French eyes:284
In spite of the French occupations from 1708 to 1756, in spite of the refusals with which Cardinal Fleury had but lately met their appeals, the Corsicans, newly risen against the oppression of Genoa, had sent a deputation to Versailles to demand the recognition of their republic, offering to pay the tribute but lately paid annually to their tyrannical protectress. The hero of Corsican independence, Pascal Paoli, secretly supported by England, had succeeded for several years past not only in defending his country’s liberty, but also in governing and at the same time civilizing it. This patriotic soul and powerful mind, who had managed to profit by the energetic passions of his compatriots whilst momentarily repressing their intestine quarrels, dreamed of an ideal constitution for his island; he sent to ask for one of J. J. Rousseau,285 who was still in Switzerland and whom he invited to Corsica. The philosophical chimeras of Paoli soon vanished before a piece of crushing news. The Genoese, weary of struggling unsuccessfully against the obstinate determination of the Corsicans, and unable to clear off the debts which they had but lately incurred to Louis XV., had proposed to M. de Choiseul to cede to France their ancient rights over Corsica, as security for their liabilities. A treaty, signed at Versailles on the 15th of May, 1768, authorized the king to perform all acts of sovereignty in the places and forts of Corsica; a separate article accorded to Genoa an indemnity of two millions.
A cry arose in Corsica. Paoli resolved to defend the independence of his country against France as he had defended it against Genoa. For several months now French garrisons had occupied the places still submitting to Genoa; when they would have extended themselves into the interior, Paoli barred their passage; he bravely attacked M. de Chauvelin, the king’s lieutenant-general, who had just landed with a proclamation from Louis XV. to his new subjects. “The Corsican nation does not let itself be bought or sold like a flock of sheep sent to market,” said the protest of the republic’s Supreme Council. Fresh troops from France had to be asked for; under the orders of Count Vaux they triumphed without difficulty over the Corsican patriots. Mustering at the Bridge of Golo for a last effort, they made a rampart of their dead; the wounded had lain down among the corpses to give the survivors time to effect their retreat. The town of Corte, the seat of the republican government, capitulated before long. England had supplied Paoli with munitions and arms; he had hoped more from the promises of the government and the national jealousy against France. “The ministry is too weak and the nation too wise to make war on account of Corsica,” said an illustrious judge, Lord Mansfield. In vain did Burke exclaim: “Corsica, as a province of France, is for me an object of alarm!” The House of Commons approved of the government’s conduct, and England contented herself with offering to the vanquished Paoli a sympathetic hospitality; … [later] Corsica, proud of having given a master to France and the Revolution, became definitively French with Napoleon. Corsica was to be the last conquest of the old French monarchy.
Guizot’s statement that the English supported Paoli was perfectly true. Some of the funds doubtless were supplied by the government, but there were also substantial private subscriptions. In 1768 and 1769, Barlow Trecothick and S. Vaughan of London collected money from the public for the relief of Paoli and the Corsicans, and were quite active in behalf of this cause.286 That the General was grateful appears from the following letter:287
Most esteemed Gentlemen,
The goodness and zeal with which so many generous Englishmen interest themselves in the justice of our cause, and the effectual means that they have furnished for the defence of our liberty and country (at the same time that they most powerfully stimulate us to persevere in our undertaking) awake in us sentiments of the most sincere regard and gratitude, the only manner in which we can now thank our benefactors. I however, in the name of the whole nation, return them the most unfeigned thanks for the generous assistance that they have been pleased to procure us, and have remitted by way of Leghorn, agreeable to their letter of the 10th of February. I have applied this collection to the support of the families of those patriots, who, abhorring a foreign yoke, have abandoned their houses and estates in that part of the country held by the enemy, and have retired to join our army; and of all those other families who may in future find themselves involved in the same fate. I have thought this use quite conformable to the magnanimity of those who have contributed this supply, and have reason to think they will not disapprove of it: and at the same time that it will be agreeable to them to be assured of the perfect esteem with which I have the honour to be, &c.288
It is worth noting that Paoli was subjected to many entreaties from the French for a transferred allegiance. He resisted all efforts to be won over to the side of France, and preferred the English to any other outside power. Funds from England had freely been furnished for his campaign, so he had good reason to keep faith. The English statesmen, of course, considered it good politics to try to win Corsica away from France, and hoped eventually to absorb the island into the British Empire. Paoli’s position is shown in the following letter:289
YOU are, without doubt, acquainted with my true sentiments on the situation of our affairs. My character has not been that of a hero of romance, a Quixote, or an Amadis. There is nothing more real than the object I pursue: But if instead of a real object, I pursue a chimera, I am deceived indeed; yet my error shall never cause me to desert the common cause. What are for the most part the objects of our pursuits, but dazzling chimeras, which have no other existence, than that, which our lively and deceived imagination lends them? Upon this principle, I will pursue my first plan; and if that liberty which I seek, is not to be found any where, I still shall account him my enemy, which will undertake to remove the delusion from my sight! Let me enjoy this dream, which to me seems so much like truth.
The offers that have been made me, are both injurious to me, and repugnant to that spirit of liberty, which circulates with my blood in my veins, and which shall circulate with it to the last drop. You little know the courage of the Corsicans, if you can believe they will ever submit to a foreign yoke. All the efforts of Genoa have proved ineffectual, against their valour and love of liberty; And shall we then submit to another power that comes to offer us its chains? The rocks that surround me shall melt away, e’er I will betray a cause which I hold in common with the lowest Corsican. No; I never will become the base destroyer of my country, after having been the generous defender of it. If any man was capable of enslaving me, it would be the Comte de Marbeuf290; and the King his master could not have chosen a more enchanting man: but you know, Sir, the price of liberty, like health, is only known when lost; they are the most precious enjoyments of life. Let the mean slaves of their masters wills fawn at their feet, and renounce the natural rights of humanity; as for me, I have learnt to be free; I know how to live so; and to die free, I would sacrifice ten lives if I had them: I have but one, but that shall not survive my liberty. Be assured, Sir, I shall ever be immoveable. Gold loses its splendor, when offered as the price of liberty. Honours are only able to dazzle fools, if they are not to be obtained but by renouncing the priviledges of human nature. What does it signify to me, that I am able to command a multitude of slaves, who shall come and humiliate themselves at my feet, if, in a quarter of an hour afterwards, I am forced, in my turn, to humble myself at the feet of another, one degree higher than myself? If I fall the victim of liberty, I shall fall nobly, and teach others to sacrifice themselves to the common cause. Our love of liberty will subsist, even among the ruins of our country; it will be enlivened by fire, be born again of the ashes, and will grow, tho’ in irons. Of one slaughtered hero will be produced a thousand; and as Tertullian said of the primitive martyrs of the church, Their blood will be fruitful, and heroes will never be wanting in Corsica.
It is probable that Paoli never could have attained his popularity in England but for James Boswell’s friendly appreciation of him.291 The latter visited Corsica in 1765, and for some weeks was Paoli’s guest. Returning to England, he wrote a book describing Corsica and giving a most favorable estimate of Paoli.292 The book served to give the Corsican general a friendly audience with the British nation, and, for our purposes, it is especially interesting to observe that it had a liberal sale in the colonies, as well as in England. William and Thomas Bradford of Philadelphia, publishers of the Pennsylvania Journal, on September 21, 1769, inserted an advertisement a column in length in that newspaper in which they call attention to Catharine Macaulay’s History of England and the third edition of James Boswell’s book on Corsica and Paoli.293 The advertisement says of the latter volume: “Mr. Boswell’s account of Corsica has been so well received by the public, that two numerous editions of 3,500 copies have been sold within the space of a few months; and the book is so highly esteemed abroad, that it has been translated into the French and Dutch languages, and printed at Amsterdam and Lausanne.”294
However much Paoli ignored his colonial friends, he was a student of world affairs, and not ill-informed in American history. One of his references to the colonies in America is found in Boswell’s volume on Corsica and Paoli. By a curious coincidence this reference is to William Penn, founder of the state in which occurred the Battle of Paoli, the most enduring American reminder of the Corsican. Boswell quotes the general as having made this observation:295 “He said the greatest happiness was not in glory, but in goodness: and that Penn in his American colony, where he had established a people in quiet and contentment, was happier than Alexander the Great, after destroying multitudes at the conquest of Thebes.”
In turning now specifically to the influence exerted in America by the name of Paoli, it seems to be more satisfactory to trace the impressions made by it in the order of their importance and supposed historical permanence, rather than to attempt to consider them in chronological order.
The explanation of Paoli’s popularity in Pennsylvania — and the resulting influence of his name in the west and middle west — rests in the coincidence that Paoli’s struggle and defeat occurred just at the time when Pennsylvania was stirred to a high pitch of enthusiasm by John Dickinson’s Farmer’s Letters.296 Most of these letters appeared early in 1768, and in the following year the Corsican had become a popular hero.
The sons of Saint Patrick of Philadelphia observed the anniversary of that saint on Friday, March 17, 1769, with an elaborate celebration at which there were thirty-six toasts. The twelfth was: “Paschal Paoli & the brave Corsicans.” The affair was held at the house of James Byrne, who kept a tavern. A newspaper account of the dinner states that several patriotic gentlemen were present.297 Doubtless this social meeting suggested to some of the visiting patriots that the tavern would be a suitable place for the Sons of Liberty to meet in the near future when they planned to celebrate Paoli’s birthday. It is not surprising that Paoli, who was fighting tyranny in Corsica, should have appealed to the Irish contingent in Philadelphia, who were then as dissatisfied with British rule in the Emerald Isle as are the Irish of the present generation.
On April 10, in this same year, the proposed jollification in honor of the birthday of Paoli occurred. The patriots evidently were a little uncertain as to the exact date of his birth, for the celebration was five days late. In this Volsteadian era, the following account of the meeting proves rather thirsty reading:298
Last Monday a number of Gentlemen met at Mr. Byrne’s, in commemoration of Paschal Paoli’s Birth Day. These Toasts were given at Dinner; and in the evening the bells were set a ringing.
- 1 The King.
- 2 The Queen and Royal Family.
- 3 Paschal Paoli.
- 4 Lord Chatham.
- 5 Lord Cambden.
- 6 Lord Shelburne.
- 7 Col. Barre.
- 8 Mr. Burke.
- 9 May Corsican Virtue prevail over French Policy.
- 10 The Friends of America and Corsica in Great-Britain.
- 11 May G. Britain be always just & America always free.
- 12 The Spirit of Paoli to every American.
- 13 May Paoli meet with equal Renown, but a happier Fate than the younger Brutus.
- 14 Mr. Boswell.
- 15 The Parliament of Paris.
- 16 May the Spirit of a Wallace animate every Scotsman.
- 17 May the attempts of France upon Corsica meet with the same Fate as those of Persia upon Greece … repulsed with shame.
- 18 May every British minister be convinced that Nothing is lawful but what is just.
- 19 Liberty to Mankind.
- 20 The glorious Sentiment of William the Third.
- 21 May Fortune encourage and Honour reward the brave Supporters of their native Freedom.
- 22 May the glorious Spirit of Corsica animate America to the latest Posterity.
- 23 May Misery, Contempt and Infamy be the Lot of those who owe their Greatness to their Country’s Ruin.
- 24 Liberty and Loyalty.
- 25 May the illustrious House of Brunswic be as auspicious to the Liberties of America, as it has been to those of Great-Britain.
- 26 May Licentiousness never be mistaken for Liberty, nor Servility for Loyalty.
- 27 May the Enemies of Liberty feel every Calamity … except Slavery.
- 28 Mrs. McCaulay.
- 29 Mr. Wilkes.
- 30 Serjeant Glynn.299
- 31 The County of Middlesex.
- 32 A speedy Export to all the Enemies of America, without a Drawback.
- 33 The Massachusetts Ninety-Two.
- 34 The late Assembly of New-York.
- 35 The late Assembly of Maryland.
- 36 The late Assembly of Virginia.
- 37 The late Assembly of S. Carolina.
- 38 The late Assembly of Georgia.
- 39 The Town of Boston.
- 40 Unanimity to the Colonies.
- 41 Mr. Delaney.300
- 42 Mr. Cushing.
- 43 Mr. Otis.
- 44 Mr. Adams.301
It seems probable that there were forty-five toasts and that the newspaper account unintentionally omitted one.302 Seven of the above toasts relate either to Paoli or Corsica. The selections show who were held in the highest regard at that time by the patriots, both in England and in the colonies.
In 1769, when Paoli was fighting his last battles against the French, his fame in the colonies was greatest, and at its August session in that year the Court of Quarter Sessions held at Chester, Pennsylvania, a town about twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia, acted upon a petition presented by Joshua Evans to maintain as a tavern his house in Tredyffrin, a small town on the turnpike running to Lancaster.303 The petition was granted and in response to popular feeling the establishment was called “The General Paoli Tavern.” The hostelry was located near the home of Anthony Wayne. It soon became a popular meeting place for the critics of the British government, and by the time of the outbreak of the Revolution had acquired unusual prominence as a convenient point for the patriots to assemble.
In time this tavern came to be referred to colloquially as “The Paoli.”304 Around it there grew up a little settlement which became a hamlet. To this day the locality is known as Paoli and there is a line of the Pennsylvania railroad known as the Paoli Branch.305
In this locality occurred the Battle of Paoli, usually called in Pennsylvania the “Massacre of Paoli.” This engagement, one of the little-known conflicts of the Revolution, took place on September 20, 1777, in the district adjacent to the Paoli Tavern. It was an aftermath of the battle of Brandywine, which had been fought nine days before. The affair was a night surprise by British troops headed by Major-general Charles Grey. The American forces were led by General Anthony Wayne. Few American histories refer to the event, doubtless because it was a painful reverse for the patriot arms. In brief terms, the affair consisted of an attack upon Wayne’s troops delivered between midnight and one o’clock in the morning. The attacking force was much larger than Wayne’s detachment, which consisted of about twelve hundred men.
The British used bayonets, and not a shot was fired by them. For that reason the incident has been regarded as an unusual type of warfare, as many of Wayne’s sleeping soldiers were butchered in their beds or as they arose from them in a dazed condition. By the irony of fate, Wayne was there in furtherance of a plan to surprise the British. Wayne was perfectly familiar with the topography of the district, and thought he was safely located. Loyalists, however, were numerous in that section of the country, and through the treachery of neighbors Wayne’s hiding place was soon betrayed to the British, who were only four miles distant.
The British soldiers fell on his camp like a whirlwind. They thrust to death sixty-one soldiers, wounded many more, and captured a few, so that the colonial loss was about three hundred, about one fourth of Wayne’s command. The general himself barely escaped capture, and much of the baggage had to be abandoned. The British loss did not exceed twelve, which effectively shows Wayne’s lack of preparation. The incident was very depressing, and six days later the first detachment of British troops entered Philadelphia, which had been their objective point. Wayne, who was severely criticized for his lack of foresight, at a subsequent court-martial, which he himself sought, was exonerated.306 This battle is the only one in which Wayne, while having an independent command, was ever defeated.307
In the town of Willistown, near the scene of this struggle, there now stands a twenty-two-and-a-half foot monument of Quincy granite which commemorates this battle. It is in a reservation of twenty-three acres and the stone is known as the Paoli monument. Originally a monument was erected in 1817 upon the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the battle, but the present stone was put in place in 1877 at the centennial anniversary of the event.
The inscriptions on three sides, of the monument were written in 1817 and copied on the later memorial. As the wording reflects public opinion in Pennsylvania, and shows how the attack was regarded as a deviation from ordinary warfare, it is here reproduced:308
Sacred to the memory of the Patriots who on this spot fell a sacrifice to British barbarity, during the struggle for American Independence, on the night of the 20th September, 1777.
The Atrocious Massacre which this stone commemorates was perpetrated by British troops under the immediate command of Major-general Grey.
Here repose the remains of fifty-three309 American Soldiers, who were the victims of cold-blooded cruelty in the well known Massacre at Paoli, while under the command of General Anthony Wayne, an officer whose military conduct, bravery, and humanity, were equally conspicuous throughout the Revolutionary War.
The British commander who attacked Wayne’s troops, Major-general Charles Grey, was an experienced officer and did not believe in dallying and temporizing with the Americans as did some of the other British generals who hoped for an accommodation that would save bloodshed. On the night of the raid on Wayne, Grey ordered his troops to remove the flints from their muskets and to depend upon the bayonet for subduing the enemy. The story that he ordered his men to give no quarter has been denied, but it is certain that few of Wayne’s soldiers who were trapped had an opportunity to surrender. There is no doubt that the British used the bayonet effectively that night, and ever afterward Grey was known in America as the “no-flint general.”310
Fourteen days after the Battle of Paoli, there occurred the Battle of Germantown, in which the British suffered severely. In this contest Wayne led what was left of the soldiers he had commanded at Paoli, and his troops, vividly remembering the recent slaughter of their comrades, grimly turned the tables. The battle was fought October 4, 1777. Two days later Wayne wrote to his wife as follows:311
Our People Remembering the action of the Night of the 20th of Sep’r near the Warren — pushed on with their Bayonets — and took Ample Vengeance for that Nights Work — our officers exerted themselves to save many of the poor wretches who were Crying for Mercy — but to little purpose; the Rage and fury of the soldiers were not to be Restrained for some time — at least not until great numbers of the enemy fell by our Bayonets.
The Warren tavern referred to in the letter was kept by Peter Mather, who was a Tory, and it was at this hostelry that the news of Wayne’s location in that vicinity was conveyed to the British. In some way the password: “Here we are and there they go!” was learned at the tavern and this was told to Grey. The result was that the British by giving this password got close to Wayne’s troops before their presence was known. The consequences are thus related in a recent publication:312
After the action the landlord, Mather, was charged with having led the British to Paoli, but this he denied. That the people of the neighborhood did not believe him, however, was shown by their avoidance of the tavern and its proprietor. From that day he did not prosper. “God frowned on him,” was the popular explanation. From innkeeper he became a drayman. In later years he made his living by pushing a handcart. When the boys saw him on the street they were accustomed to jeer at him. “Here we are and there they go!” and “Remember Paoli!” they would cry.
The “Massacre at Paoli” made an important impression upon Wayne, and the defeat was a rough lesson that he never forgot. Nearly two years later, on July 16, 1779, he captured Stony Point, not far from West Point, and on that occasion his bravery won for him the title of “Mad Anthony.” Doubtless he deserves great praise for his exploit at Stony Point, but in view of his unprepared condition at Paoli, where in spite of ample warning his troops were cut to pieces, he might well have been given the title “Mad Anthony” on this earlier occasion.
The significance of his attack on Stony Point lies in the fact that in its essentials it was a reproduction of the procedure of the English at the Battle of Paoli. Like them, Wayne attacked about midnight, with a chosen body of thirteen hundred and fifty troops, and instructed his soldiers to depend upon the bayonet. The only firing of musketry was done by a small detachment, in order to distract the attention of the enemy from the real point of attack. Wayne arranged for two bodies of troops of one hundred and fifty each to approach the fort on the right and left. Each was preceded by an officer leading twenty men, who thus formed a sort of flying wedge. Upon this small preliminary group fell the first fury of the defending party, and in one of these advance guards seventeen of the twenty men were either killed or wounded.
The main body quickly followed the initial assault, and the attack was successful. The struggle was soon over and the fort surrendered. The British lost sixty-three killed, seventy wounded, and five hundred and forty-three captured. The Americans had fifteen killed and eighty-three wounded. Wayne himself was in the forefront and was severely injured. Wayne received the credit for the exploit, which admittedly called for great personal bravery, but it was George Washington who first conceived the idea of the undertaking. Washington selected from among all his generals Wayne as best fitted for this particular assault. He outlined a plan but left the details to the General. Washington afterward said that Wayne had improved his plan of attack. This simply means that Wayne had utilized in reverse form his own experience at Paoli. Historians do not mention this because they know little about the Battle of Paoli.
Although Pennsylvania furnishes the most enduring monument to Paoli’s name, the earliest American recognition of the Corsican influence was in Massachusetts. Thus in Boston, at the first anniversary of the 14th of August, the Sons of Liberty in 1766 drank fourteen toasts, of which the twelfth was: “Added vigour to the Spark of liberty kindling in Spain, and Success to General Paoli and the struggling Corsicans.”313
When the Sons of Liberty of Boston met at the Greyhound Tavern in Roxbury on August 15, 1768, for their annual celebration, they drank forty-five toasts. Number 21 of these toasts was: “The truly heroic Pascal Paoli, and all the brave Corsicans!” This affair started in Boston around Liberty Tree in the South End and culminated in Roxbury. It ended with a parade round Jamaica Pond. It was said that the cavalcade surpassed all that had ever been seen in America.314 Patriotism at this period was at a high pitch, and the Sons of Liberty were in a militant mood because they were expecting that the Crown soon would send over troops to intimidate the town of Boston.
It will be recalled also that the British government in the spring of 1768 had attempted to coerce the General Court of Massachusetts. That body, early in the year, had sent to the other colonies a circular letter in which the right to protest against the acts of Parliament had been set forth. This action greatly incensed Lord Hillsborough, Prime Minister, who sent word to Massachusetts that the General Court must rescind its action in issuing the circular letter. This by the decisive vote of ninety-two to seventeen the General Court refused to do. The seventeen who favored the Crown and voted to rescind were immediately attacked in the press, and branded as Rescinders. Per contra the ninety-two who refused to rescind were hailed as heroes and patriots. The incident at once became a cause célèbre, not only in Massachusetts, but throughout the other colonies. It was a test of strength significant of future contests in the Legislature, finally to culminate nearly seven years later at Lexington and Concord in the appeal to arms.
One of the results of this situation was the printing of a satirical article which purported to be an account of a celebration held in the “nether Dominions of his Inf——l M——y.”315 The story ran: “We hear that a very magnificent Festival has been celebrated in the Capital of his Highness on account of the late vigorous exertions of his faithful Servant, in the noble Cause of oppression and slavery.” At this celebration, so this news account reported, there were seventeen toasts, — the number equalling the number of rescinders. These toasts were phrased in the same satirical vein, and Number 7 was: “Vigour to the arms of France, the Downfall of Corsica, and Destruction of Paschal Paoli.” This is cited merely to show that the General’s name continued a topic of conversation at this period. The other toasts were in similar vein. For instance, Number 16 was: “May the Legs of Pitt be still fetter’d with the Gout, and those of a Wilkes still be gouted with Fetters.”
In spite of American disapproval of British policies, the loyalty of the average colonist to the King himself is one of the most surprising features disclosed by a study of the pre-revolutionary period. The blame, it seems, was attached to the Ministry, the members of which, so the colonists thought, were deceiving the King. On June 5, 1769, the House of Representatives of Massachusetts observed His Majesty’s birthday and drank, neither forty-five nor ninety-two, but twenty-four toasts. An examination of these toasts shows that Pascal Paoli was included in the number. The inclusion of Paoli’s name by the lower branch of the Legislature is significant, inasmuch as heretofore in Massachusetts the Corsican had been championed only by the Sons of Liberty, admittedly a much more radical organization than the General Court. It will be observed that Wilkes, Glynn, and the other English radicals were entirely omitted from the toasts, while English statesmen known to be friendly to the colonial cause were included. The following list, if studied with care, shows that the thoughts of the law-makers of Massachusetts moved in a high plane and covered a wide latitude. It almost suggests not a League of Nations, but a league of national thought. The toasts follow:316
- 1. The King, Queen and Royal Family
- 2. North America.
- 3. The Restoration of Harmony between Great-Britain and the Colonies.
- 4. Prosperity and Perpetuity to the British Empire in all Parts of the World.
- 5. The Marquis of Rockingham and the glorious Administration of 1766.
- 6. Duke of Richmond.
- 7. Lord Chatham.
- 8. Lord Cambden.
- 9. General Conway.
- 10. Lord Shelburne.
- 11. Lord Dartmouth.
- 12. The late Governor Pownal.
- 13. Col. Barre.
- 14. Mr. Burke.
- 15. Dr. Lucas the Patriot of Ireland.317
- 16. Paschal Paoli and his brave Corsicans.
- 17. The Cantons of Switzerland.318
- 18. The King of Prussia.319
- 19. The King of Sardinia.320
- 20. The distressed Poles.321
- 21. Their High Mightiness, the States-General of the Seven United Provinces.322
- 22. The Farmer of Pennsylvania and all American Patriots.
- 23. The Republick of Letters.
- 24. Liberty without Licentiousness to all Mankind.
Doubtless Paoli was a popular toast at the meetings of patriots in many towns, other than Boston, in the eastern part of Massachusetts, but not many of their proceedings have been preserved. One reference to Paoli’s cause is found in an account of a celebration by the Sons of Liberty on September 19, 1768, at Petersham. There were thirteen toasts at this affair, the sixth of which was: “The brave Corsicans.”323
A striking recognition of the popularity of the Corsican general in Massachusetts is found in the naming by John Hancock of one of his merchant vessels as the Paoli. The exact date at which the ship received her name cannot be stated, but it almost certainly was in the latter part of 1768. The first printed notice of her sailing is dated January 14, 1769, the vessel being booked for early passage to England.324 Discerning British statesmen might well have noted the significance of Hancock’s choice of Paoli as the name for one of his ships. It was a plain indication of his admiration for a man who was fighting against tyranny.
An idea of Hancock’s business acumen can be secured from a letter written on December 27, 1770, to his London agents, Haley and Hopkins, in which he speaks of the Paoli:
The Brig Paoli,
James Hall, Master, lying at Hancock’s Wharf, will sail in three Weeks, has good Accomodations for Passengers.--- For Freight or Passage apply to the Master on board, or to John Hancock, Eſq; at his Store.
Boston, Jan. 16, 1769.
advertisement in the boston post-boy & advertiser, january 16, 1769
engraved for the colonial society of massachusetts from a copy owned by the massachusetts historical society
I fear you will think me rather guilty of Intrusion with my navigation, having so often occasion to request your favour with respect to freight for my vessels. In the case of the Paoli, beg to say that if without interfering with your more particular connections, you could give the Paoli freight back to Boston, I should take it a singular favour, but upon the whole, if a freight back cannot be had & Brig will not fetch £800 sterling or more, I must ask the favr. of you to send her to Lisbon for a load of salt to bring to Boston, which you will please to conduct for me. I give Capt. Hall orders accordingly, and in case of war, please to Insure £800 on the Brig the whole voyage, and also the amount of the Salt Cargo, and if a war, please to keep my navigation fully insured, Goods and freight; this you will please to note.325
The following memorandum made by Joseph Peirce is of interest because the goods conveyed in the Paoli arrived at a time inconvenient for him, as he was caught in the toils of a non-importation agreement. As a sidelight upon the difficulties of a merchant in Boston at this period when the radical colonists were holding a non-importation agreement as a club over the British government, the invoice account is noteworthy:326
Memorandum of Goods imported from London by Joseph Peirce in the Brigantine Paoli, James Hall, Master, dated Boston. June 10th, 1769.
- 1 small Cask qty glass ware.
- 1 small trunk qty 4 pt printed linnen hands.
- 1 small case qty Haberdashery.
- 1 case & 1 bale qty Linnens.
- 1 small box qty 3 doz Stoughton elixir.
The above memorandum of Goods amounted to £191.5.6 Stg. having unluckily, arriv’d since the commencement of the time for non importation and, a committee being appointed by the Merchants and Traders of this Town to recieve all such Goods, although I never signd, nor was ever apply’d to to sign the agreement enterd into by the Merchants & Traders for non-importation of British Goods, yet, I do cheerfully, of my own free will and accord, put the said Goods under the direction of the committee aforesaid, and promise upon my honor not to dispose of a single article, without their approbation & consent, — and as I also expect a package in another Vessel, I further promise whenever it may arrive to put it under the same direction.
Boston June 10th 1769
That the Corsican leader remained in the minds of the radicals of Boston is still further evidenced by an article, more than a column in length, in the Boston Gazette for January 30, 1769, signed Paoli. In this spirited communication Governor Francis Bernard is criticized in most caustic terms. The reference to him is by the title “Verres,” thus comparing him to Caius Verres (c. 120–143 b.c.), Roman Governor of Sicily, who is famous for his bad administration. Whoever wrote the article in the Gazette was familiar with Roman history, and recognized the force and propriety of signing himself Paoli, thereby contrasting the Corsican patriot with the tyrant of Sicily. The author is not known, but the vigor and sting of the phrasing suggest Josiah Quincy, Jr., Dr. Thomas Young, or Dr. Benjamin Church as the author.
Dr. Thomas Young, who in the summer of 1769 corresponded with John Wilkes of London in behalf of the Sons of Liberty of Boston, when writing to him speaks of Paoli as follows: “Paschal Paoli in Leghorn, no doubt on his way to Frederick; where the Hero, neglected by Britain, will be received with open arms. Hens patriae nuper terror, nunc gentium fastidium!”327
The Doctor’s letter also shows that the Wilkes correspondence was brought by Hancock’s vessel. In a letter to Wilkes, on July 6, 1769, he wrote: “On reception of your last from Capt. Hall in the Paoli, we assembled, and after spending the evening very agreeably four gentlemen were added to the committee.”328
A few weeks later the Sons of Liberty of Boston assembled for their fourth annual celebration of the 14th of August. On that morning in 1769 the members met at Liberty Tree in the South End and drank fourteen toasts. The eleventh was: “Speedy Deliverance to the illustrious PAOLI and the brave Corsicans.”329 In the afternoon three hundred and fifty-five of the Sons of Liberty went to Liberty Tree Tavern, in Dorchester, known also as Robinson’s Tavern, and there drank forty-five toasts.330 Number 27 was: “Paschal Paoli, the brave Corsicans, and the generous Individuals who have nobly contributed to their relief, against the Despotism of Genoa, and the most infamous Attack from France, while shamefully neglected by every power in Europe.” At this time Paoli had recently suffered what proved to be his final defeat, and was in flight from Corsica.
Twice in 1769 the Genuine Sons of Liberty of New York showed their attachment to the cause of liberty by honoring Paoli when drinking toasts to men and measures. At the house of Edward Smith, “Innkeeper in the Fields,”331 on March 19 of that year, the members of this organization drank twenty-two toasts, of which Number 19 was: “Success to that uncorrupted Patriot General Paoli, and the brave Corsicans.” On the same day at another large meeting at the house of Mr. Vanderwater, the same health was drunk.332
On November 1 of this same year, at the house of Mr. De La Montagne, in the Fields, the toast “Paschal Paoli and his Honest Countrymen” was drunk.333 The phrasing of this toast perhaps indicates that the failure of his campaign is recognized, but its justice is in no way lessened.
The Sons of Liberty of New York continued to drink toasts to the Corsican hero, who to them typified defiance of monarchy, and in 1770, when the organization purchased a house at the corner of Broadway and Bowery Road to use as headquarters, it was called “Hampden Hall.” At this house on March 19, 1770, a patriotic celebration, which was in the nature of a house-warming, was attended by three hundred people. On this occasion the usual forty-five toasts were drunk, Number 30 of which was “General Paoli.”334 This was the last time that the name of Paoli was publicly invoked by the New York Sons of Liberty, and he seems elsewhere about this time to have disappeared from the list of heroes who were toasted on convivial occasions. His campaign for freedom having proved unsuccessful, it was useless in the American colonies to attempt to encourage enthusiasm by referring to a cause that was lost. Thus Paoli passed from view. His place was taken by events such as the Boston Massacre, the burning of the Gaspee, the Boston Tea Party, and other domestic developments which in turn occupied the stage and were preliminary to the Revolution.
In spite of the great popularity of Paoli in America just before the Revolution, displayed in the evidence offered here, it appears that, after the war was well under way, rumors spread in the colonies that the Corsican general had accepted a command in the British army and was fighting against his American admirers. George Clinton, while stationed at New Windsor, N. Y., wrote this entry in his papers on February 21, 1777: “Authentic advise has been Receiv’d at Head Quarters that the famous (or Infamous) Pascal Paole, the Corsican chief is now in Canada and has a Command in the British army.”335 This report was unfounded, as Paoli never came to America. One naturally wonders, however, whether the British did not unavailingly seek to enlist his aid.
Another side of Paoli’s influence is seen in the fact that several patriot families in Boston named sons Paoli, or Pascal Paoli. One of these admirers was Ebenezer Mackintosh, the Stamp Act rioter and patriot.336 The given name has even persisted in New England until modern times — a man named Paschal Paoli Leavens (1804–1874) living in Berkshire, Vermont, comparatively recently. This Mr. Leavens sprang from a family that emigrated to Vermont from Killingly, Connecticut, another straw indicating that Paoli’s influence had spread into that colony. The Connecticut newspapers of this period contained many references to Paoli’s military exploits copied from the current English newspapers.
In his study of the Leavens name, the Rev. Philo F. Leavens traces the emigration from Connecticut to Vermont, and after naming the children of Penuel Leavens, in which list appears the name of Paschal Paoli Leavens, observes:337
We pause at the singular name of this second son and ask ourselves where it was obtained. To answer the question will show the intelligence and sympathies of the times. Paschal Paoli … from 1757 was generalissimo of his country (Corsica) and ruled it with great wisdom for thirteen years. By an unworthy bargain Corsica was then sold to France [by the Genoese] and Paoli retired to England. He was living there during the period of the American War of Independence.… This Paschal Paoli was one of the best known men of the last century. It will readily be believed that my heart gave a throb when I came upon his monument in Westminster Abbey. I take it as significant, that his fame had penetrated the wilderness of Vermont and made such an impression that his name was bestowed upon the child born in the year 1804. The fact shows, I say, that the people clearing up new estates in Windsor [Vermont], took into the circle of their thoughts the affairs of all the world and were in sympathy with the mighty struggle for liberty and the “rights of man” waging on all sides.
It is interesting to add that one of Paschal Paoli Leavens’ sons, born January 4, 1836, was named Henry Paoli.
The first-born son of Captain Samuel Tenney of Oakham, Worcester County, Massachusetts, was named Paschal Paoli Tenney. He was born October 12, 1812.338 This appearance of the name, a generation after the Corsican general had ceased to be an active influence in colonial affairs is surprising, and illustrates the extent of the impress of his reputation on New England.
One of the results of this study of Paoli’s influence may be the possible solving of the meaning of some of the initials appended by the Sons of Liberty to their otherwise anonymous public notices posted during the Stamp Act period and subsequently. I present herewith what may prove to be a partial solution. Briefly stated, my theory is that the initials used in at least two cases represent persons who had committed their lives to the cause of liberty. The first clue is secured by noting that the Sons of Liberty at Wallingford, Connecticut, signed a set of resolutions dated January 13, 1766, with these words: “A true copy, examined per P. P. clerk.” The document maintains that the Stamp Act is unconstitutional and calls for a meeting of the Sons of Liberty in each town in the county, to be held at the court house in New Haven on the third Tuesday of February, 1766.339
Assume that the initials P. P. appended to the Wallingford resolutions stand for Pascal Paoli, the Corsican patriot. An examination of the records of the pre-revolutionary families of Wallingford does not disclose any person whose initials are P. P. Bearing in mind that the Sons of Liberty at this period was a secret organization, it is hardly probable that the initials of any actual resident of Wallingford or vicinity would have been attached to such a notice. The initials appended assuredly were not chosen at random. What is more natural than the conjecture that to the initiated Son of Liberty, at least to those known as “high Sons of Liberty,” those symbols meant an inspiration because they stood for some one who was battling or had battled for liberty?340
In Boston, the Sons of Liberty attached various initials or names to their notices. Just before the Boston Tea Party, on November 3, 1773, when the question of the disposition of the tea that was soon to arrive was agitating the radicals of the town, a notice was posted reading as follows:
To the Freemen of this and the neighboring Towns.
YOU are desired to meet at LIBERTY-TREE THIS DAY, at TWELVE O’Clock, at Noon — Then and there to hear the Persons to whom the Tea, shipped by the East India Company is consign’d, make a publick Resignation of their office as Consigners upon oath — And also swear that they will re-ship any Teas that may be consigned to them by the said Company by the first vessel sailing for LONDON.
Boston, November 3, 1773.
O. C. sec’ry.
Shew us the Man that Dare take down this.
Search does not disclose that the signature O. C. represents any known Boston radical figure. It might, however, stand for Oliver Cromwell and hence fit into the theory that the initials of men whose lives had been dedicated to reform and the championship of liberty were employed by the Sons of Liberty in signing some of their public notices. That Cromwell’s name was in the minds of some of the Boston radicals about this period is evidenced by the fact that Nathaniel Barber, a sturdy patriot, named a son who was born August 24, 1768, Oliver Cromwell Barber.341 There was also the long-established inn in School Street, kept by Joshua Brackett, another patriot, known as “O. Cromwell’s Head Tavern.” This hostelry was so detested by the royalists that when some of them had occasion to traverse School Street, they habitually chose the other side of the street, rather than pass under the tavern signboard which exhibited a painting of the bust of the Lord Protector. No argument is required to demonstrate that the colonists were well aware that Cromwell at a critical period in English history had taken arms against his King and for a time had established a noteworthy reform régime. What more natural, then, than the employment of the initials of such a statesman by the Sons of Liberty, who were waging a campaign in favor of parliamentary reforms?
This theory that O. C. stands for Oliver Cromwell is reinforced by the knowledge that a little later anonymous notices in Boston were signed “Joyce Junior,” another reference to a figure in the Cromwell era.342 It is perhaps significant, too, that both the Joyce Junior and O. C. notices close with a warning against the tearing down of the notices. Mr. Albert Matthews has made out a strong case indicating that Joyce Junior is a reference to George Joyce, who, it was said, executed King Charles I. The adoption of the names of these revolutionary figures as signatures for the militant notices of this period is another striking indication of the deep-seated purposes of the colonists. They, too, were protesting against the ministerial policies of England, and meant to show that they were ready to overthrow their King.
Corroborating evidence to support the Oliver Cromwell theory is supplied by an examination of the proceedings of the Sons of Liberty in New York. This evidence relates to a very early period in the history of that organization, near the very beginning of the Stamp Act troubles, in November, 1765. The Sons of Liberty of New York were most zealous during the Stamp Act period, and from the first found consolation and comfort in the attitude of John Holt, who published the New-York Journal. The organization, however, was fearful that Holt would shrink from the responsibility of issuing his newspaper on unstamped paper, which would be in direct violation of law.
As November 1, 1765, approached, the day when the Stamp Act was to go into effect, the situation in New York became tense. On the evening of October 31, the Sons of Liberty threw a letter into the window of the publisher’s office, admonishing and threatening him in case he contemplated stopping the publication of his paper. Holt responded with a manifesto resolving to issue his newspaper as usual. Holt was always a dependable patriot and the notice probably was entirely unnecessary.
The text of the warning follows:343
As you have hitherto proved yourself a friend of liberty, by publishing such compositions as had a tendency to promote the cause we are engaged in, we are encouraged to hope you will not be deterred from continuing your useful paper, by groundless fear of the detestable Stamp Act.
However, should you at this critical time shut up the press, and basely desert us, depend upon it, your house, person, and effects will be in imminent danger. We shall therefore expect your paper on Thursday as usual; if not on Thursday evening.
Signed in the name, and by the order, of a great number of the Free Sons of New York.
On the Turf, the 2d November, 1765
The especially interesting feature of the above notice is the signature, John Hampden. This name, of course, is not that of a New York patriot, but that of the great English statesman and soldier (c. 1595–1643) whose history is identified with the early struggle against King Charles I and his party. In his day Hampden, indeed, was a “son of liberty,” and for that reason his name was invoked by the liberals of New York. This signature supports the theory that “O. C.” stood for Oliver Cromwell. Holt’s paper was popular among the Boston radicals, and the various colonial organizations of the Sons of Liberty are known to have copied each other’s methods.
This hypothesis that the Sons of Liberty appended to their notices the initials of men who had been champions of liberty, meets with a check when one considers that most of the early notices of that Boston organization were signed “M. Y.” This signature seems not to represent the initials of any known English, continental, or colonial man who could instinctively be associated with campaigns for liberty or reform. I have searched in vain in biographies for a champion of liberty whose initials were “M. Y.,” who would have been known to the group of Boston radicals, but no man fulfilling the conditions is found. On that account the theory appears to have a flaw, but the evidence in behalf of “O. C.” is so strong that it does not seem as if it should be abandoned in spite of the fact that “M. Y.” is a stumbling block.
The problem of discovering who “M. Y.” may be, is left to be solved by more skilled and learned students of history. There is, however, some consolation in the present failure to identify “M. Y.,” for the authorship of those notices seems to have been a mystery in the colonial days when the notices so signed were posted in Boston.
Finally, there are at least six localities in this country that bear the name Paoli. First there is the hamlet in Pennsylvania where the battle was fought. Probably the other places either directly or indirectly received their name from this village. Next comes the shire town of Orange County, Indiana, about seventy miles east of Vincennes.344 In 1816 Indiana was admitted to the Union as a state, and in this same year the town of Paoli was first settled, being then in the midst of a forest country. By the census of 1920 the town had a population of 1635. The town clerk, A. Ray Gasaway, after investigation and consultation with local historians, writes me that it is the current belief there that the town was named for “General Paschal Paoli of Corsica.” The influence of Pennsylvania in the settlement of Indiana was very marked, and doubtless some of Wayne’s old soldiers located in that state, as there is a Wayne County and the city of Fort Wayne. Within twenty-five miles of Paoli is the town of New Philadelphia, a suggestion of the influence of the Keystone State in the settlement of that section of the country.
Two other towns called Paoli, both small, are found, one in Oklahoma, and the other in Colorado. There also are post offices called Paoli in Wisconsin and North Dakota. The origin of all four doubtless could be traced either to the Pennsylvania village or its offshoot, the Indiana town. So the Corsican patriot’s name is permanently perpetuated in an overseas republic, while his native isle remains a Department of France.345 Paoli’s dream of independence for Corsica not only remains unfulfilled, but the movement for freedom for the island seems to have disappeared as a political issue.
One readily believes that Paoli deserved the long-distance worship the colonists for a few years accorded him. Yet to-day in our libraries there cannot be found any biographical study of Paoli which touches upon the fact that he ever exerted even a passing influence upon American affairs. None the less, study makes it apparent that Paoli was an inspiration to the Sons of Liberty in those stirring days when public opinion was being shaped so that later it was possible for the colonies to take a stand for independence.
It is especially fitting that Paoli’s bicentennial should not pass unnoticed by this society which pays particular attention to events of the colonial period. Paoli’s personality, perhaps, hereafter will appear less obscure, and his nobility of purpose will be a little better appreciated.