What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?
It was perhaps inevitable that I would end up studying the Revolution as I grew up in the Boston area and my dad started taking me to visit places like Lexington Green, Old North Bridge, and the Freedom Trail when I was three years old.
Inspiration to start writing struck one day when I was milling around on the end of Long Wharf in Boston imagining the British arriving to occupy Boston in the fall of 1768. I was picturing the warships anchored in Boston Harbor and the British troops disembarking and marching up King (now State) Street. I realize that probably not many people do things like this in their spare time. But instead of simply marveling about it, I decided to start writing.
How do you choose a topic to write about?
I tend to choose a topic for a new article while still in the throes of writing another. Often during the course of my research, something only tangentially related to what I’m working on will grip my imagination. A certain personality or place might spark my interest and I’ll find myself pondering it. For example, I came across the term “donation people” when researching whether Samuel Whittemore attended the Massachusetts Convention of Towns in 1768. Once I was done with the Whittemore article, I was able to more fully research the donation people and what I learned spawned a whole different article. So a thread exists that connects all of my articles, even if the subject matter seems unrelated on the surface—and even if the thread is visible only to me.
What historians or books have most influenced your work? Why?
I’ve always appreciated Esther Forbes’s ability to almost add a fourth dimension to her writing. In both Paul Revere and the World He Lived In and Johnny Tremain she conjured the sights, sounds, and smells of a long-gone Boston in a really special way. She could get beyond the dry recapitulation of events and imbue her work with a lively, human energy that made her work especially memorable.
What’s the most challenging aspect of writing an article?
The hardest part is overcoming the inevitable moment when I begin to think I have made a terrible mistake in attempting the article. Sometimes an idea can feel like a will-o’-the-wisp luring me forward into a swamp—and the only way to get out is through the research and writing. My Smoking the Smallpox Sufferers article felt like that—let’s face it, stuffing people into boxes filled with burning brimstone in an effort to fumigate them and rid them of disease is an odd topic not widely known. It can be hard to locate sources when I’m sometimes not even sure what I’m looking for, and it can be hard to formulate questions to ask when I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say. But I guess it’s all part of the research and writing process!
Which of your own JAR articles is your favorite or most rewarding? Why?
I think Displaced: The Donation People of 1775 and The Route Is By Way Of Winnisimmet: Chelsea And The Refugees are particularly meaningful to me because they incorporate some of my best research. My study of the civilian exodus from Boston during the siege in 1775 evolved into a quest to unearth some of the individual names of displaced Bostonians who arrived unannounced at Winnisimmet Ferry and who suffered at Point Shirley. Finally, after many days of laboring under various misapprehensions related to roman numerals and Latin words, I located primary source materials and completed the articles to my satisfaction—names and all.
What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?
Up until recently, I would have sworn that my overwhelming interest in the Revolution lies in the Boston area. But last year, Don N. Hagist disrupted my stubborn fixation on Boston by suggesting that I pursue some research related to American prisoners of war held in New York. Since then, I’ve been studying the prison ships and land jails of New York as well as the experiences of American officers paroled to Long Island with the goal of synthesizing my research into a book-length project.
What other hobbies/interests do you enjoy?
Right now I’m researching my family tree. I have a branch with deep roots in Connecticut and Rhode Island and my hope is to find a Revolutionary War ancestor. Not only would I like to flesh out that individual’s life and experiences, but I’d most like to find a family connection to the war as a “thank you” to my dad for taking me to all the historic sites when I was young and setting me off on this journey of research, writing, and discovery. I’ve gotten as far back as the 1810s so maybe there is a Rev War ancestor hiding somewhere!
Why is Journal of the American Revolution important to you?
JAR provides a platform for contributors to explore so many fascinating aspects of the Revolution. I’m grateful that I can contribute to this community and pursue and write about my own interests, whether it’s Samuel Whittemore, cannonball injuries, or disease on the Jersey prison ship. Also, JAR forges connections with other kindred spirits who are—quite simply—just really into the Revolution, and I enjoy being part of that community.