Apr 192017
 

Today marks the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the first engagements in the war for independence of the North American colonies of Great Britain. As ever, I’m not interested in hailing the battles per se, nor in offering detailed analysis of the battles.  There are plenty of other sources for that. I do want to point out 2 issues, however: one minor, one major.  First the minor one. July 4th 1776 is celebrated as Independence Day in the US, but celebrating independence on ONE DAY – especially that date – is beguiling in the extreme. The war for independence lasted from 1775 to 1783, and the fate of the colonies hung in the balance for most of that time. A simple declaration of independence was important politically, of course, but it did not do anything to further the actual cause of independence.  July 4th is a token and the year 1776 was no more, or less, important than any other year in the late 18th century for the United States. For me, 1791 is a far more important year in US history, which brings me to my major issue.

On 30th December 1791 George Washington informed Congress that Amendments 1 to 10 to the Constitution (of 12 proposed) had been ratified by the requisite number of states and were enshrined as the Bill of Rights. Of these 10 the 2nd is the one I want to focus on, and I do it on this date because it is pertinent to what happened at Lexington and Concord. The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy (present-day Arlington), and Cambridge, near Boston and marked the outbreak of open armed conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen of its colonies on the mainland of British America.

In late 1774 the Suffolk Resolves were adopted to resist the enforcement of the alterations made to the Massachusetts colonial government by the British parliament following the Boston Tea Party. The colonial assembly responded by forming a Patriot provisional government known as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and calling for local militias to train for possible hostilities. The rebel government exercised effective control of the colony outside of British-controlled Boston. In response, the British government in February 1775 declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion.

About 700 British Army regulars in Boston, under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, were given secret orders to capture and destroy rebel military supplies reportedly stored by the Massachusetts militia at Concord. Through effective intelligence gathering, Patriot colonials had received word weeks before the expedition that their supplies might be at risk and had moved most of them to other locations. They also received details about British plans on the night before the battle and were able to rapidly notify the area militias of the British expedition.

The first shots were fired just as the sun was rising at Lexington. The militia were outnumbered and fell back, and the regulars proceeded on to Concord, where they broke apart into companies to search for the supplies. At the North Bridge in Concord, approximately 400 militiamen engaged 100 regulars from three companies of the King’s troops at about 11:00 am, resulting in casualties on both sides. The outnumbered regulars fell back from the bridge and rejoined the main body of British forces in Concord.

The British forces began their return march to Boston after completing their search for military supplies, and more militiamen continued to arrive from neighboring towns. Gunfire erupted again between the two sides and continued throughout the day as the regulars marched back towards Boston. Upon returning to Lexington, Lt. Col. Smith’s expedition was rescued by reinforcements under Brigadier General Hugh Percy, a future duke of Northumberland known as Earl Percy. The combined force, now of about 1,700 men, marched back to Boston under heavy fire in a tactical withdrawal and eventually reached the safety of Charlestown. The accumulated militias blockaded the narrow land accesses to Charlestown and Boston, starting the Siege of Boston. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his “Concord Hymn”, described the first shot fired by the Patriots at the North Bridge as the “shot heard round the world”.

The shot was, indeed, heard round the world. Peoples both in European colonies in the Americas, notably South America, and in European nations themselves, took heed and commenced armed struggles against their monarchic rulers that continued throughout the 19th century. The spirit of republicanism was born. Ironically, the British monarchy is one of the few to have survived into the 21st century but only in radically weakened form. The British monarch is now no more than a figurehead, although a vital one. The importance of Lexington and Concord for me lies in the fact that the North American rebellion was carried out by militias. This brings me back to the 2nd Amendment. Its full text reads:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

(click to enlarge)

Both the people of the US and the Supreme Court argue endlessly about the wording of the Amendment, but the intent seems quite clear to me. The initial clause about militias tends to be treated as a useless frill by those who want to walk around the streets armed to the teeth, but to my mind it is monumentally important. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were framed in the shadow of a war for independence that could not have begun without armed militias – as at Lexington and Concord. The 2nd Amendment was, in part, modelled on legislation enacted in Britain in the wake of the Glorious Revolution.

The English Bill of Rights of 1689 emerged from a tempestuous period in English politics during which two issues were major sources of conflict: the authority of the King to govern without the consent of Parliament and the role of Catholics in a country that was becoming ever more Protestant. Ultimately, the Catholic James II was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution, and his successors, the Protestants William III and Mary II, accepted the conditions that were codified in the Bill. One of the issues the Bill resolved was the authority of the King to disarm its subjects, after James II had attempted to disarm many Protestants, and had argued with Parliament over his desire to maintain a standing (i.e. permanent) army. The bill states that it is acting to restore “ancient rights” trampled upon by James II, though some have argued that the English Bill of Rights created a new right to have arms, which developed out of a duty to have arms

I know, I know, this all gets murky quickly and I am not a lawyer. The Supreme Court goes over this ground repeatedly. Many argue that the “ancient right” to possess a weapon stems from the Right to Life which allows people the right to self defense, that is, the right to own a weapon to defend yourself against mortal attack. I get it. But the text of the 2nd Amendment is crystal clear. The right to bear arms exists in the context of militias raised to defend against tyranny. Furthermore, the Amendment speaks of the right to BEAR arms, not to OWN them. This is not some semantic quibble; it’s a critical point. There’s a vast difference between being able to go to a well-stocked armory in the town to pick up a weapon to assist a militia and having a private arsenal in one’s home. I won’t belabor the point. It’s been made numerous times before to no avail.  I’ll pick up pots and pans instead.

Prior to the Revolutionary War cookbooks in the North American  colonies were reprints of British originals such as Hannah Glasse’s  The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, first published in 1747, and reprinted numerous times. American Cookery (1796) by Amelia Simmons was the first truly North American cookbook, using local ingredients, such as cornmeal, and recommending pearl ash (potassium carbonate) as a leavening ingredient for the first time in print. It is an important window into distinctively American cooking in the late 18th century. Recipes like this one amuse me greatly:

To make a fine Syllabub from the Cow.

Sweeten a quart of cyder with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.

Sure, I’ll just hop out to the barn and milk Betsy into my cooking pot. Or . . . how about the quantities for puff pastry number 2?

Puff Pastes for Tarts.

No. 1. Rub one pound of butter into one pound of flour, whip 2 whites and add with cold water and one yolk; make into paste, roll in in six or seven times one pound of butter, flowring it each roll. This is good for any small thing.

No. 2. Rub six pound of butter into fourteen pound of flour, eight eggs, add cold water, make a stiff paste.

That’ll do the trick when I’m feeding a militia. You can dip into the whole text here: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/12815/pg12815-images.html It will give you plenty of ideas for a colonial dinner party. This recipe especially appeals to me because I think turkey and oysters go well together (even though I’m not a huge fan of cooked oysters):

To smother a Fowl in Oysters.

Fill the bird with dry Oysters, and sew up and boil in water just sufficient to cover the bird, salt and season to your taste—when done tender, put into a deep dish and pour over it a pint of stewed oysters, well buttered and peppered, garnish a turkey with sprigs of parsley or leaves of cellery: a fowl is best with a parsley sauce.

I can’t provide a modern recipe right now because I can’t get hold of either turkey or oysters at present. Oyster stuffing for roast turkey is still a staple in the rural South, but this recipe is more basic – just turkey and oysters. I’ll try it out when I get the chance.

Sep 032016
 

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The Treaty of Paris which finalized the peace between Great Britain and the 13 North American colonies that became the United States, was signed in Paris by representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America on this date in 1783. Britain acknowledged the right of the United States to be sovereign and independent. The treaty also set the boundaries between the British Empire and the new country, and also included details such as fishing rights and the restoration of property and prisoners of war. The Treaty took over a year to settle because, as always, the devil is in the details. France and Spain also had a large stake in the establishment of boundaries at the time.

Many things come to mind as I contemplate this treaty. First, this is not a date that means much any more in the US. Declaring independence on 4th July is a BIG DEAL – but WINNING independence has largely been forgotten except for a few vagrant (and mostly wrong) memories of Washington, Valley Forge, and “redcoats.” There were 7 years between declaring and winning independence. Even when the battles were over there was a lot to decide, and not a lot of agreement. Second, after signing the treaty both sides set about ignoring the details, particularly with regard to boundaries, one of the key issues in the War of 1812, which people in the US often see as a Second War of Independence, whereas people in Britain see it as an extension of the Napoleonic Wars, if they think about it at all.

Peace negotiations began in April 1782, and continued through the summer. Representing the United States were Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and John Adams. David Hartley and Richard Oswald represented Great Britain. The treaty was signed at the Hotel d’York (presently 56 Rue Jacob) in Paris on September 3, 1783, by Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Hartley. A contemporary artist attempted to record the events but the British representatives refused to sit, so the painting was left incomplete.

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The key episodes came in September, 1782, when the French Foreign Minister Vergennes proposed a solution that was strongly opposed by his ally the United States. France was exhausted by the war, and everyone wanted peace except Spain, which insisted on continuing the war until it could capture Gibraltar from the British. Vergennes came up with the deal that Spain would accept instead of Gibraltar. The United States would gain its independence but be confined to the area east of the Appalachian Mountains. Britain would take the area north of the Ohio River. In the area south of that would be set up an independent Indian state under Spanish control. It would be an Indian buffer state.

The Americans realized that they could get a better deal directly from London. John Jay promptly told the British that he was willing to negotiate directly with them, cutting off France and Spain. The British Prime Minister Lord Shelburne agreed. He was in full charge of the British negotiations and he now saw a chance to split the United States away from France and make the new country a valuable economic partner. In the west the United States would gain all of the area east of the Mississippi River, north of Florida, and south of Canada. The northern boundary would be almost the same as today.The United States would gain fishing rights off Canadian coasts, and agreed to allow British merchants and Loyalists to try to recover their property. It was a highly favorable treaty for the United States, and deliberately so from the British point of view. Prime Minister Shelburne foresaw highly profitable two-way trade between Britain and the rapidly growing United States.

Great Britain also signed separate agreements with France and Spain, and (provisionally) with the Netherlands. In the treaty with Spain, the territories of East and West Florida were ceded to Spain (without a clear northern boundary, resulting in a territorial dispute resolved by the Treaty of Madrid in 1795). Spain also received the island of Minorca. The Bahama Islands, Grenada, and Montserrat, captured by the French and Spanish, were returned to Britain. The treaty with France was mostly about exchanges of captured territory (France’s only net gains were the island of Tobago, and Senegal in Africa), but also reinforced earlier treaties, guaranteeing fishing rights off Newfoundland. Dutch possessions in the East Indies, captured in 1781, were returned by Britain to the Netherlands in exchange for trading privileges in the Dutch East Indies, by a treaty which was not finalized until 1784.

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Historians have often commented that the treaty was very generous to the United States in terms of greatly enlarged boundaries. Historians such as Alvord, Harlow, and Ritcheson have emphasized that British generosity was based on a statesmanlike vision of close economic ties between Britain and the United States. The concession of the vast trans-Appalachian region was designed to facilitate the growth of the North American population and create lucrative markets for British merchants, without any military or administrative costs to Britain. The point was the United States would become a major trading partner. The French foreign minister, Vergennes, later put it, “The English buy peace rather than make it”. Vermont was included within the boundaries because the state of New York insisted that Vermont was a part of New York, although Vermont was then under a government that considered Vermont not to be a part of the United States.

Privileges that the North Americans had received from Britain automatically when they had colonial status (including protection from pirates in the Mediterranean Sea) were withdrawn. Individual states ignored federal recommendations, under Article 5, to restore confiscated Loyalist property, and also ignored Article 6 (e.g., by confiscating Loyalist property for “unpaid debts”). Some, notably Virginia, also defied Article 4 and maintained laws against payment of debts to British creditors. The British often ignored the provision of Article 7 about removal of slaves.

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The actual geography of North America turned out not to match the details used in the treaty. The Treaty specified a southern boundary for the United States, but the separate Anglo-Spanish agreement did not specify a northern boundary for Florida, and the Spanish government assumed that the boundary was the same as in the 1763 agreement by which they had first given their territory in Florida to Britain. While that West Florida Controversy continued, Spain used its new control of Florida to block US access to the Mississippi, in defiance of Article 8. The treaty stated that the boundary of the United States extended from the center of the Lake of the Woods (now partly in Minnesota, partly in Manitoba, and partly in Ontario) directly westward until it reached the Mississippi River. But in fact the Mississippi does not extend that far northward. The line going west from the Lake of the Woods never intersects the river.

In the Great Lakes region, Great Britain violated the treaty stipulation that they should relinquish control of forts in United States territory “with all convenient speed.” British troops remained stationed at a number of forts (Detroit, Lernoult, Michilimackinac, Niagara, Ontario, Oswegatchie, Presque Isle) for over a decade. The British also built an additional fort (Miami) during this time. They found justification for these actions in the unstable and extremely tense situation that existed in the area following the war, in the failure of the United States government to fulfill commitments made to compensate loyalists for their losses, and in the British need for time to liquidate various assets in the region. This matter was finally settled by the 1794 Jay Treaty.

The cuisine of the 13 colonies reflected the cuisines of their regions of origin. Colonization occurred in four waves:

Virginia. The first wave of English immigrants began arriving in North America, settling mainly around Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Maryland. The Virginian settlers were dominated by English noblemen with their servants (many were Cavaliers fleeing in the aftermath of the English Civil War 1642–51) and poor peasants from southern England. The society the Cavaliers brought with them was highly stratified and this was reflected in food and eating habits. The aristocrats that would be the basis for the First Families of Virginia were very fond of game and red meat. Roast beef was a particular favorite, and even when oysters and goose were available, wealthy colonists could complain about the absence of meat. Virginia was the only place in North America where haute cuisine of any kind was practiced before the 19th century.

New England. New England was first settled beginning in 1620, and it was dominated by East Anglian Calvinists, better known as the Puritans. The religious fundamentalism of the Puritans created a cuisine that was austere, disdainful of feasting and with few embellishments. Though New England had a great abundance of wildlife and seafood, traditional East Anglian fare was preferred, even if it had to be made with New World ingredients. Baked beans and pease porridge were everyday fare, particularly during the winter, and usually eaten with coarse, dark bread.

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Delaware Valley. The Quakers emigrated to the New World from the Northern English Midlands during the 17th century, and eventually settled primarily in the Delaware Valley. They were similar to the Puritans in the strictness that they applied to everyday life, and their food was plain and simple.

The most typical cooking method of the Quakers was boiling, a method brought from ancestral northern England. Boiled breakfast and dinner were standard fare, as well as “pop-robbins,” balls of batter made from flour and eggs boiled in milk. Boiled dumplings and puddings were so common in Quaker homes that they were referred to by outsiders as “Quakers’ food”. Travelers noted apple dumplings as an almost daily dish in the Delaware Valley and cook books specialized in puddings and dumplings. Food was mostly preserved through boiling, simmering or standing.

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A popular genre of dishes made from this favored method of food preparation was “cheese” (or “butter”), a generic term for dishes prepared by slow boiling or pressing. It could be made from ingredients as varying as apples (i.e., apple butter), plums and walnuts. Cream cheese had its origins in Quaker cooking, but was in colonial times not true cheese made with rennet or curds, but rather cream that was warmed gently and then allowed to stand between cloth until it became semi-solid.

Backcountry. The last major wave of British immigrants to the colonies took place from 1720–1775. About 250,000 people travelled across the Atlantic primarily to seek economic betterment and to escape hardships and famine. Most of these came from the borderlands of northern Britain and were of Scots-Irish or Scottish descent. Many were poor and therefore accustomed to hard times, setting them apart from the other major British immigrant groups. They settled in what would come to be known generally as the “Backcountry,” on the frontier and in the highlands in the north and south.

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The back country relied heavily on a diet based on porridge or mush made from soured milk or boiled grains, a diet that was despised in wealthier parts of the colonies as well as in Britain.  Oatmeal porridge was popular but eventually the oatmeal was replaced by corn, and became what is known in the South as grits. Cakes of unleavened dough baked on bake stones or circular griddles were common and went by names such as “clapbread,” “griddle cakes,” and “pancakes.” Rabbit, squirrel, and possum were common hunted meats.

The Revolutionary War disrupted the diet a little, although historians differ concerning the extent. For example, wool was in great need for uniforms, so slaughtering sheep became uncommon, thus pig rearing increased in popularity for meat over lamb and mutton. Imported foods from Britain were banned, and had been highly taxed anyway. Coffee replaced tea as a hot drink, and whisky replaced rum because it could be distilled from corn instead of from sugar which was imported from the British West Indies. Colonists preferred eating barley over brewing beer with it, and, in any case, making alcoholic cider is simpler than brewing beer.

What passes as “American” cuisine these days reflects these colonial realities. I’ll leave you to it, whether it be Boston baked beans, Philadelphia cream cheese, or grits.