Author: J. L. Bell

J. L. Bell is the author of The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War (Westholme, 2016). He maintains the website, dedicated to history, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in New England. His other historical writing includes Gen. George Washington's Home and Headquarters—Cambridge, Massachusetts, a comprehensive study for the National Park Service, and contributions to Todd Andrlik's Reporting the Revolutionary War (Sourcebooks, 2012), James Marten's Children in Colonial America (New York University Press, 2007), and many journals and magazines. He has been elected a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, a Fellow of the American Antiquarian Society, and a Member of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.

Law Posted on

The Secrets of Samuel Dyer

As recounted in a previous article, in October 1774 a sailor named Samuel Dyer returned to Boston, accusing high officers of the British army of holding him captive, interrogating him about the Boston Tea Party, and shipping him off to London in irons. Unable to file a lawsuit for damages, Dyer attacked two army officers […]

by J. L. Bell
Myths and Legends Posted on

The Declaration of Independence: Did John Hancock Really Say That about his Signature?—and Other Signing Stories

When we picture the Declaration of Independence, most of us immediately think of the document handwritten on parchment and signed at the bottom by fifty-six members of the Second Continental Congress. Few individuals from the first two generations of Americans shared that view, however. The vast majority of those citizens never saw the Congress’s document, […]

by J. L. Bell
Conflict & War Posted on

Peter Salem? Salem Poor? Who Killed Major John Pitcairn?

Maj. John Pitcairn of the British marines became notorious among New Englanders after the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress published depositions from dozens of men declaring that he had ordered light infantrymen to fire on the peaceful Lexington militia company. (Modern historians discount those claims, agreeing that […]

by J. L. Bell
Features Posted on

The General, the Corporal, and the Anecdote: Jacob Francis and Israel Putnam

On August 18, 1832, a seventy-eight-year-old New Jersey man named Jacob Francis went before Hunterdon County officials and described his military service in the Revolutionary War. His affidavit became the core of his application for a federal government pension available to surviving veterans.[1] According to Francis, he had joined the Continental Army besieging Boston in […]

by J. L. Bell
The War Years (1775-1783) Posted on

Misinformation, Disinformation, and Gen. Washington’s Gunpowder Supply

In the summer of 1775, Gen. George Washington fell victim to bad information about the Continental Army’s gunpowder supply. When he finally received accurate data, it left him temporarily speechless, fearful of a British attack, and unable to carry out his plans to free Boston. Nearly two hundred years later, a historian created a counter-narrative […]

by J. L. Bell
Prewar Politics (<1775) Posted on

You Won’t Believe How Samuel Adams Recruited Sons of Liberty

In his 1936 biography Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda, John C. Miller wrote this about the leader of Boston’s Whig activists: Sam Adams discovered these taverns with their “tippling, nasty, vicious crew” excellent recruiting grounds for the mobs he later raised against the Tories and Crown officers. Adams himself was a familiar figure in Boston […]

by J. L. Bell
Interviews Posted on

An Interview with Richard C. Wiggin

Richard C. Wiggin is the author of Embattled Farmers: Campaigns and Profiles of Revolutionary Soldiers from Lincoln, Massachusetts, 1775-1783. This book is a very detailed study of all the Revolutionary War soldiers from one American town, designed to preserve their names and biographical information. In the late nineteenth century, many town histories contained a chapter […]

by J. L. Bell
Arts & Literature Posted on

Washington’s Five Books

On 10 November 1775, slightly more than four months after he had taken command of the American troops besieging Boston, Gen. George Washington sent a list of books to an old military colleague in Virginia. William Woodford (1734–1780) had just been reappointed an officer for their home colony. Woodford complained about the “inexperience” of his […]

by J. L. Bell
Critical Thinking Posted on

Birth of the “Caucus”

America’s Revolutionary decades produced a new republican system, and with it new republican language. One term that surfaced early in that period and remains with us today is “caucus.” The word’s origin is mysterious, but its meaning has stayed fairly steady and the earliest uses offer a good glimpse into pre-Revolutionary politics. The first form […]

by J. L. Bell
Critical Thinking Posted on

“Intolerable Acts”

I started with an innocent question about the British Parliament’s Quartering Act of 1774: Did American Patriots list that law as one of the “Intolerable Acts” that led them to outright rebellion against Great Britain? Some of the Revolutionary histories I’d read said that was one of the five Intolerable Acts, along with the Boston […]

by J. L. Bell