THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

29 July 2015

Loyalist Lawyers: Exiles from the American Revolution

Add comment Comments (0)

Bostonmassacre101kb

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

[It's Summer Scholars time so here's our first post condensing the talks given this year. Sally E. Hadden, Western Michigan University, brings you this post on part of her research into lawyers living in 18th century Boston. A schedule for the remaining Scholars talks can be found here.]

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

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

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

Redline89kb

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

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

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

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

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

[SH. More on Summer Scholars here]

24 July 2015

Our ‘Young Gentleman’ Thomas Russell and the emerging ‘Problem’ of the Caribbean Language

Add comment Comments (0)

Etymologyjamaic00russgoog_0007Above: Thomas Russell’s Etymology of Jamaican Grammar [BL: DS qX24/5514], available online at archive.org

[Team Americas are pleased to bring you a guest blog from Oliver Jones (King's College London) on his recent work using the Library's collections- PJH]

I first came across The Etymology of Jamaican Grammar, the lone work of one Thomas Russell, within Voices in Exile, the beautiful compendium of sources assembled and analysed by Jean D’Costa and Barbara Lalla.  Written in 1868, Russell’s work moves through the linguistic landscape of the Jamaican Creole language as a clear imperial observer, bemusedly watching shop arguments and categorising what he sees as further proof of the racial stereotypes fermenting throughout the course of the 19th century. 

The life of Russell remains almost completely obscured to us.  The tone and structure of his work, written in a particularly tumultuous moment for Jamaican politics, suggests that he came from a good education, which in turn leads us to suppose that he was white or mostly white and belonged to the middling to upper classes.  In turn, Russell addresses himself as a ‘young gentleman’ in the title of his work.  His younger age can also be attributed to the swagger that his book occasionally possesses, enthusiastic but also arrogant.  However, aside from these general aspects of his social positioning, clues remain few and far between.  Published in Kingston, his book received scarce advertisement and a single newspaper review.  Thomas Russell never published again.

All we know in certainty is that a copy eventually found its way into the library of progressive academic Alpheus Crosby, who published anti-racist literature under the mysterious pseudonym of ‘Quintus.’  Unfortunately, his cover was eventually blown and his position as classics professor at Harvard was revoked in the late 19th century.  Indeed, we might presume that Russell’s work resonated with Crosby’s tolerant ways in two vital respects.  The first is his attempt to structure the Jamaican language.  By claiming that Jamaican Creole exhibits rules, Russell raises its status from that of dialect to that of language. Russell’s various observations and small anecdotes could have manifested themselves in another work of Caribbean fiction from the 19th century.  He could easily have produced another Captain Clutterbuck’s Champagne, a work of satire in which the author William George Hamley depicts his Creole servant character as behaving ‘as a parrot does when listening.’  Instead, he approached it from a more academic perspective.

Jamaica Pottery (AN00732550_001_l)

Above: Tea Pot, roughly dated 1820-40, from Jamaica depicting the ‘Quaco Sam’ poem, the origins of which Russell briefly touches on in his work. (used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license from the British Museum)

The second note that must have resonated with Crosby relates to the submerged culture that Russell glimpsed beneath his own imperial veranda. Russell’s work begins with the contention that ‘surely deserves some further notice, save that of an occasional pilfering of its rich and expressive construction and idioms.’  It is dismissive, he continues, to use it to simply ‘wring out a laugh or to brighten social gatherings, when “dry” English fails.’ Coffee-shop politics or not, the simple structure of Russell’s work engages with Jamaican Creole on an unprecedented level in the Caribbean.   Russell might not have agreed wholeheartedly with Paul Keens-Douglas’ frustration that ‘dialect cool/but not for school’ but his engagement with Creole led him to contest the language’s position as a mere distraction in a similar way.

Despite the promise of Russell’s work, I was initially disappointed by it.  Russell is quick to dismiss Jamaican Creole as a corruption and explains some fascinating aspects of this language as signs of apathy.  However, I began to realise that Russell’s book wasn’t the watershed I initially presumed it to be, it was something far more interesting instead.  What Russell depicts is the lens of a coloniser through which a unique Caribbean product of unique intellectualism.  I began to notice that Russell rapidly retreats into racial stereotype in simple explanation of these politics from below, perfectly symbolising the typical imperial trait regarding fear of what lay outside the coloniser’s control. 

Only one year later, the incredible Trinidadian intellectual and schoolteacher John Jacob Thomas would claim the aliveness of the Creole languages and their inheritance of African linguistic traits in his work The Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar.  This assertion is one that would be supported by academics almost exactly one hundred years after this publication as the discipline of Creole linguistics exploded into existence.  However, Russell’s work offers us a highly intriguing early angle on this linguistic development.  Not only does it demonstrate these Creole linguistic traits in a heavily diluted form.  It also depicts the challenge that they posed not only to an imperial way of thinking but to European intellectual thought as a whole. 

Russell’s struggle with Jamaican Creole ends with a mock warning.  He states that those who study it for too long be careful in case they lose their minds trying to understand it, playing on the humour that Creole language was frequently observed with in 19th century literature.  I like to think that he was giving away more than he thought here, trapped as he was within European frameworks of interpretation that he would be required to reconfigure in order to fully appreciate the nuanced power of the Jamaican language.

Further reading:

Kamau Brathwaite – The History of the Voice

Barbara Lalla & Jean D’Costa – Language in Exile: 300 years of Jamaican Creole

“                                              - Voices in Exile: Voices in Exile: Jamaican Texts of the 18th and 19th Centuries

Mimi Sheller – Democracy After Slavery: Black Publics and Peasant Radicalism in Haiti and Jamaica

[OJ]

22 July 2015

The Future of the Written Word... and the Arctic

Add comment Comments (0)

Arctic

The written word, as we all know, is a bit passé. But Team Americas is keeping with the now, and putting some spoken-word Americana on Soundcloud, thanks to the Eccles Centre (they were all recorded at various events organised by the centre).

The latest is the Future of the Arctic, marking the United States' 2015 role as Chair of the Arctic Council with a panel discussion on this now precarious region. 

[MJS]