Legal Professionalization and the American Revolution

nypl.digitalcollections.1d31b7c0-ed26-0132-b11b-58d385a7b928.012.wJohn Adams thought that James Otis set the whole American Revolution in motion in 1761. Otis’ argument against writs of assistance, in a legal case that year, Adams wrote, “was the first scene of the first Act of opposition to the Arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the Child Independence was born.”[1] Of course, Adams also though that July 2nd would be the most famous date in history. So forgive me for at least questioning Adams’ view that the “Writs of Assistance Case” basically jumpstarted the Revolution. That said, I do think the evidence base for the “Writs of Assistance Case” suggests that it was a major turning point in the development of the colonial legal profession. Picking up on themes in yesterday’s guest post by Craig Hanlon, the case may help make sense of the connections between legal professionalization and the American Revolution. Continue reading

Guest Post: John Adams–Attorney and Barrister

Today’s guest post comes from Craig Hanlon, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Stirling. He holds a B.A. (Hons.) and a M.Res., both from Stirling. His dissertation focuses on John Adams’s legal career.

Johnadamsvp.flippedJohn Adams is a familiar figure to early American historians. His public service before, during, and after the Revolution has received considerable attention over the years, and quite rightly so. But there are gaps in Adams-related scholarship. Perhaps most prominently, Adams’s legal career prior to the American Revolution has been heretofore underappreciated. From 1758 until his appointment to the Continental Congress, in 1774, Adams was an attorney and barrister. He practiced in the courts of Massachusetts. My research examines Adams’s legal career in detail, particularly his professional and intellectual development between 1758 and 1774. I start from the premise that Adams’s knowledge and understanding of the law related to, and indeed influenced, his political ideology.[1] Continue reading

Edifying Terror: Publicity and the Problem of Punishment

Emily Merrill is a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation, “Judging Empire: British Military Courts and the Politics of the Body,” explores the intersections of gender, military, and empire in the late eighteenth century by examining cases of bodily assault prosecuted by British military courts during the Revolutionary War.

The brutality of military discipline in the British Army, which regularly sentenced enlisted soldiers to severe floggings of hundreds of lashes with the cat o’nine tails for relatively minor crimes—such as drunkenness or not wearing their uniforms properly—horrified civilian observers in Britain and America alike.

What justifications did the officers who administered these punishments give for this customary treatment of offenders? Did they believe that these severe floggings would convince miscreants of the error of their ways, or instill in them a determination to reform their behavior? Or were they unconcerned with rehabilitation, seeking only to inflict suffering upon convicted soldiers in retribution for their crimes? Continue reading

Revisiting Red Jacket, alias Cow Killer

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Lately I’ve been thinking about names and what they mean. The Seneca orator Red Jacket had several of them. Red Jacket lived on the Buffalo Creek reservation, and according to Christopher Densmore, he was less influential than other leaders—though his name increasingly appears in council speeches in the 1780s and 1790s.[1] U.S. Indian commissioner Timothy Pickering recorded his Seneca name as “Saco-que-y-wan-tau,” translating as “Sleeper Wake up.”[2] Usually Red Jacket seems to appear in the records as Red Jacket—but I am interested in a fourth name. According to most historians Red Jacket’s alias, Cow Killer, was derogatory, meant to tease him for “his distinct disinclination to fight during the American Revolution.”[3] Continue reading

Guest Post: Slave Horse: The Narragansett Pacer

Today, The Junto welcomes guest poster Charlotte Carrington-Farmer, Assistant Professor of History at Roger Williams University. Her current research focuses on framing dissent, deviance, and crime in early America in a wider Atlantic World context.

Image via Ann Holst and Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, Kingston, Rhode Island

Image via Ann Holst and Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, Kingston, Rhode Island

Once considered a breed of “no beauty,” the Narragansett Pacer moved fast enough for an 18th-century rider to cover 50-60 miles a day of rocky New England ground. As a natural pacer, its backbone moved through the air in a straight line without inclining the rider from side to side. Bred in and named for a southern community of coastal Rhode Island, the story of Narragansett Pacer horse is tightly entwined with the history of the early slave trade. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, these horses were traded for rum, sugar and slaves. Often, the horses were raised by slaves on the plantations of Narragansett, then shipped around the Atlantic World to work on sugar plantations alongside other slaves. Continue reading

After the Trail

Sioux Shield FP op

Oglala Sioux Shield, ca. 1846

Consider the sixth-grader of 1907. Gertrude F. Greene’s syllabus passed over Plato, sidelined Scottish ballads, and resisted the Alaskan derring-do of The Fur-Seal’s Tooth. At the top of her reading list—first to devour on a snowy winter break from the old Belcher School—she ranked Francis Parkman’s Oregon Trail (1849). In under a century, Parkman had gone from cliffhanger to canon. Why? What might students learn from a 23-year-old romantic historian’s rambles in the Indian country of 1846? Glints of Parkman’s early artistry shone through, but only when you shook up the story a bit. His sketch of life with the Oglala Sioux melded ethnography and emotion, sense and sensation. His Oregon Trail had been greatly curated, edited, and revised in the retelling. And yet Ms. Greene’s sixth-graders missed out on the juicier bits. What Parkman saw (“a strange variety of characters”), what Parkman heard (“harsh and guttaral” dialects), and what Parkman ate (buffalo, fish, dog) on the road filled his private journals, first made available to readers in the 1940s. There, stashed away in the “no-filter” notebooks that Parkman used to piece together his first blockbuster, lay the real adventure. Continue reading

Before the Trail

Francis Parkman's Medicine Chest

Francis Parkman’s Medicine Chest

Pratt must be paid. There was a route to examine one last time, and three shirts to stuff into a knapsack bulging with flannels and history books, powder and shot. The Berkshire Hills trip was a rush job; he needed to return for graduation in late August, 1844. Into the knapsack went a 4” x 2½” dusky-green journal, with shorthand notes in pencil. After a boyhood spent hunting and riding bareback on the Medford frontier, the blue-eyed Harvard senior, 20, knew how to pack for a research errand into the wilderness. Already, he boasted colorful adventures from past summer forays, fine-tuning the field skills that history professor Jared Sparks did not cover in class. Take July 1841: Scaling his first New Hampshire ravine, the rookie historian slipped and swung free, clawing air. As he “shuddered” and clung to the crag, a hard sheaf of pebbles fell, “clattering hundreds of feet” to the sunny gulf below.


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