People's History, Founding Myths, and the American Revolution


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Try as we might, we can never quite get it right. All works are in progress. The end of any book project is always somewhat arbitrary, determined at least in part by the author’s patience. Once the book is exposed to public scrutiny, mistakes are observed — here are some from Ray’s Revolution books. If you see more, please let him know so he can post them on this site and correct in future printings.

Revolutionary Founders:
On pages 45-46 of the hardcover, this sentence is a bit misleading: “At town meetings, enfranchised citizens (approximately 90% of adult males, plus widows with property) came together several times a year to govern themselves in local matters.” Although widows with property possessed the legal qualification to vote (see Documents page for the “List of Voters for the Year 1779 in Worcester,” which included eight propertied widows and the estates of eleven deceased voters among 218 names), this does not mean they actually participated in town meetings, a political activity beyond the “private sphere” that defined women’s roles at that time. This sentence has been corrected in the paperback edition.

Idiot’s Guide to the Founding Fathers:
* Page 130. Grammatical error. The first sentence in the second paragraph should read, “Before 1776, Americans did not look fondly upon the colonial superior court judges, who were appointed by the Crown and beholden to it.”
* Page 144. Typo. In the Founder ID, line 7. “We’ve” should read “We’re.’
* Page 253. Factual error. The balloting in Congress for the presidency began on February 11, not on February 3, 1801.

* Thomas Young did not inject Ethan Allen with a smallpox vaccine; that was not done till the late 1790s. Instead, he inoculated Allen with a small dose of the actual smallpox (variola) virus to induce a mild case of the disease. (25)
* The gallery in the Massachusetts State House assembly chamber was not “upstairs,” an entirely separate story, but rather a raised platform. (57)
* The first Massachusetts Bay Charter was in 1629, not 1621. (Page 152)
* Charlestown, Massachusetts, is misspelled “Charleston” on pages 176, 178, and 201. The genesis of this mistake is interesting. Charleston, South Carolina, is mentioned frequently in the book, since it was home to one my lead characters, Henry Laurens. Before the Revolution, Charleston was called “Charles Town” or “Charlestown,” and to establish historical authenticity, I went with contemporary usage in the early going. After that, in my draft, I found myself switching back and forth between contemporary and modern spelling. For clarity, I finally settled on the modern spelling for subsequent usages. To make sure I didn't miss any, I clicked “change all” on my computer — “Charlestown” to “Charleston” — and the Massachusetts town was swept up in the net! Then, because “Charleston, Massachusetts” never appeared in the index, the mistake remained undetected.
* Paul Revere landed of course on the Charlestown shore, not the Cambridge shore as misstated on page 179. (It was the Regulars who landed on the Cambridge shore.) This is a serious error, for it masks the critical role Charlestown’s patriots played in the alarm.
* Clarification: Dunmore’s Proclamation was written on November 7, 1775, but published a week later. For historical purposes, the date of its publication is more significant. (219, 220, 223)
* In chapter 12 (296): “Like Pennsylvania, each of the other states needed to develop a new constitution.” Although this is correct in spirit, it is technically incorrect. All states did have to decide how they would govern themselves in the future, but Connecticut and Rhode Island, which were charter colonies rather than royal colonies, chose to stick with their old forms, which had included basic structures for self-rule.
* Hamilton wrote his remarkable September 3, 1780, letter from Liberty Pole, New Jersey, as stated on page 361, not Liberty Tree, as appears on 360.
* George Washington’s letter to Henry Lee, cited on page 485, was written on September 22, 1788, near the close of the Constitutional Convention, not of course in 1778, as stated in the notes on page 557.

Founding Myths:
* In chapter 3 (61): “Samuel Adams was not a member of the Sons of Liberty …” This is misleading and perhaps inaccurate. There are two meanings to “Sons of Liberty” in Boston. The label can refer to the group meeting in John Marston’s tavern in the late 1760s (and possibly earlier or later as well), or in a generic sense to all of Boston’s most active patriots. Generally, in common usage, the later sense is intended. We do not have any membership list for the Marston’s tavern group, although we do know from extent letters written by active participants that they had “members” and “committees.” Samuel Adams is not among the handful of known members, but that in no way establishes that he was not active in that group. Since at least 45 people were, it seems likely that he was among them. See Founders (59) and the correspondence between the “Sons of Liberty from the Town of Boston” to John Wilkes, Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, 47:190-211.
* In the fall of 1774, John and Samuel Adams were delegates to the First Continental Congress, not the Second Continental Congress (139).
* Patriots dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor, not 742 chests (69).
* “Jefferson’s image has suffered of late because he fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemings.” (108) This sentence, as it stands, is misleading. We do not actually know that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Hemings’s children. DNA evidence is consistent with that hypothesis, but it does not prove conclusively that Thomas was the Jefferson whose DNA seems to have emerged centuries later in the Hemings’ line. Likewise, oral testimony coming through Hemings’s descendents, although suggestive, can in no way be deemed conclusive. My point is that Jefferson’s image has suffered since many people now believe in the Jefferson-Hemings connection. I am discussing here perceptions, not facts.
* On page 120, Virginia slave holders included Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and James Madison - not James Wilson.
* Page 186: Vermont’s 1777 Constitution freed males slaves at the age of twenty-one, not at age twenty-two (as in one printing) and not at age two (as in another printing).
* The date for the British surrender at Yorktown is stated as October 17 on pages 211 and 219, but October 19 for the caption to the Currier lithograph on page 210 and the quotation from a textbook on page 225. Both dates are correct. There is no error here but some confusion. Cornwallis sent Washington his note of surrender on October 17; the details of the surrender were negotiated on October 18; the formal surrender was on October 19.

First American Revolution:
According to Revolutionary historian John Bell, John Howe’s spy report (195-196) is dubious. It did not appear until 1827, and it may have been conjured to please an American audience. Much of this material, however, duplicates the report by Captain Brown and Ensign D’Bernicre, which is definitely authentic. (See footnote 66, 251-252.)

People’s History of the American Revolution:
* In the hardback edition, most slaves with only one name were not listed in the index. This has been corrected in the paperback edition.
* The hardback edition (p. 9) stated there were as many religious pacifists as there were soldiers in the Continental Army. This is incorrect, although there were about 80,000 people who belonged to pacifistic religious sects.
* The myth that “Sam” Adams (should be “Samuel”) issued the “signal” for the Boston Tea Party is implied, although not explicitly stated (cloth, 18; paper, 22).See Founding Myths, chapter 3.
* The number of slaves who fled to the British from Washington and Jefferson needs to be revised (cloth, 262; paper, 331). See Founding Myths 185 and 319-320.
* Abigail Adams’s letter to John about the all-women raid on a coffee merchant was written in 1777, not 1778, as stated on cloth page 118 and paperback page 150.
* Some of the sources for the numerous stories of common people could bear closer scrutiny. Tales appearing in 19th century local histories should be properly deconstructed.

Two Peoples, One Place.
On page 67 of the hardcover, the pictures of L. K. Wood and Josiah Gregg should be reversed. The left image is of Gregg, the right of Wood. This has been corrected in the paperback edition.

More Tree Talk:
The takeover of the Pacific Lumber Company by MAXXAM was in 1985, not 1986 (171).

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