How the Father Shaped the Son started out to be pretty boring. It wasn’t illustrated because I didn’t know what kinds of illustration would be useful or enjoyable. Initially the content came from Wikipedia, which is not the source of all my historical research, but is the easiest to reproduce. Just now I’m interested in Samuel Adams Sr. (1689-1748)  because his life and career had a profound influence on his son. Unfortunately, no portrait of him exists, at least none that I have found. He was was a prosperous merchant and a deacon of the Old South Church (or Meeting House).

Old South Church today

This church would play an important role in events leading up to the revolution, so let’s take a look. It seems to be like any other old church — of which Boston has plenty. But when you take a look inside, and learn that it could hold 5000 people (most likely not seated) you begin to be impressed:

interior of the Old South Meeting House




Besides being a staunch Puritan, Adams Sr. was a leading figure in Boston politics. He knew how to manipulate the political structure of the time; we’ll see how when we get around to exploring the son’s mastery of his father’s skills. At this point, though, I’d like to open discussion around the Land Bank of 1739.

Massachusetts was facing a serious currency shortage. Deacon Adams and his political buddies created a “land bank”, which issued paper money. All you had to do was put up land as security for the loan, and then you had what you needed to buy tools or seed or whatever. Otherwise you had to barter. (England liked keeping the colonists short of cash. I’m not sure why.)

Massachusetts wasn’t the only colony to use the idea of a land bank. Here’s a picture of a note from Connecticut:

Ben Franklin wrote a treatise on the advantage of land banks, rather than using gold or silver as the basis of currency. He showed it was more stable, less apt to depreciate and could be controlled by selling some land or purchasing more. So Land Banking wasn’t  a hair-brained scheme, but the aristocrats in Boston’s government opposed it, and the British merchants who sold their wares to colonial tradesmen on credit certainly didn’t like it because they lost the interest on their loan. Here at home it was generally supported by the citizenry and the popular party, but the court party  (the aristocrats in the Royal Governor’s circle) used its influence to have the British Parliament dissolve the land bank in 1741. Directors of the bank, including Deacon Adams, became personally liable for the currency still in circulation, payable in silver and gold.

I take this to mean that if you had some land bank bills in your possession, you could go to one of the proprietors and he would be required to refund their value in coin. Although the proprietors were pretty well off, there was only so much money they could refund, and then the lawsuits began, bankruptcies went forward, and even after Deacon Adams’s death the younger Samuel Adams would often have to defend the family estate from seizure by the government.[19] For Adams, these lawsuits were a constant personal reminder that Britain’s power over the colonies could be exercised in arbitrary and destructive ways. His second cousin, John, wrote years later that the dissolution of the bank caused a greater furor at the time than the Stamp Act did twenty five years later.

When he was graduating from Harvard with a Masters Degree in 1743, Samuel’s thesis was entitled “Whether it be lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved”.

It’s not hard to figure out what he was thinking about.



The Diversions of Boston

When I set out to write historical novels set in colonial Boston, I found myself often diverted by discoveries of the old city that lie beneath the present one. Take for example, the old State House. 

All you’ll see in the background here are Boston’s skyscrapers.

There it is, right in the middle of everything, surrounded by tall buildings. That’s one of the nice things about this city — the unexpected presence of an artifact when you least expect it. But I am interested in showing you a diversion that amused and amazed me for some time.

A careful look reveals as background of hills.

If you look closely enough at the cover of my first colonial book, you’ll see that there are hills in the background. Rather substantial ones. These were part of what was called The Shawmut Peninsula. Today only Beacon Hill remains, but it is 40 feet lower than the Puritans found it.  A British map I located shows us the prominent position these hills played, and what interests me is the remnants. Let’s compare a section of an old, 1776 map and a more modern one.

The same downtown section


Map detail courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhall Map Center at the Boston Public Library

Two blocks “up” from the State House (circled in red) is Cambridge Street, an extension of Tremont that curves around Pemberton Hill. Even though Pemberton is no longer there, the current map shows us that its curve remains, a living reminder of what once was there. And before then —

This is the earliest sketch we have of the peninsula.

The Shawmut Peninsula was composed of a glacial deposit called a moraine. The ice moved along, pushing debris ahead of it, and when it stopped and melted, the stuff it was pushing stayed where it was. Pemberton Hill was part of the Tri-Mountain (Beacon Hill, Mount Vernon and itself). The street running in front of its highest point (Beacon Hill) became Tremont (TriMount). It’s easy to spot on the old map. The modern one has undergone a lot of “clean up” so that my point about Pemberton will make sense, and spotting Tremont Street isn’t so easy. Copps Hill and Fort Hill have histories of their own, which we may explore — some other time.