George Henry Moore.

Prytaneum bostoniense. Notes on the history of the Old state house, formerly known as the Town house in Boston--the Court house in Boston--the Province court house--the State house--and the City hall; online

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Online LibraryGeorge Henry MoorePrytaneum bostoniense. Notes on the history of the Old state house, formerly known as the Town house in Boston--the Court house in Boston--the Province court house--the State house--and the City hall; → online text (page 1 of 8)
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lpr\>tancum Bostoniense.











Read before the BOSTONIAN SOCIETY, February 9, 1886





fl>r\>taneum Bostoniense.











Read before the BOSTONIAN SOCIETY, February 9, 1886








THE kind, I may say cordial, reception given to my
former paper of Notes on the History of the Old State
House has encouraged me again to take up the thread and
follow out the subject. I broke off at that point in the
history, when in November, 1776, the Legislature of the
State of Massachusetts Bay met for the first time within
these walls. No longer Colony or Province, but State !
\1 No longer awaiting any "accommodation" with royal
XJ authority, but then and thereafter one of the great Union
of free and independent States of America that body of
States in union to whom thenceforward belonged the sov-
ereignty which the King of Great Britain was obliged to
relinquish. The change of name was significant and it
$ was not reached or established without " great searchings
t of heart," even in Massachusetts, where rebellion is said
> to have been at a premium at a very early date.*
, As we review the history of this venerated structure,
& we cannot fail to recall those men of old whose names are
identified with its ancient glories. " There were giants in
those days." I am not aware that its doors were ever
darkened by Kings or Princes of the earth excepting
when the chiefs of native tribes of Indians may have stood
here as delegates of their people or as prisoners and host-
ages. The great names of Massachusetts are of course
written in its visitors' book of remembrance : but even
that brilliant record of personal memories and associations
is exalted and dignified by other names never to be for-
gotten in the history of this nation or that of the world,


.' 55866* >

4 The Old State House in Boston.

sides a host of the other worthies who are always present
or accounted for at the roll-call of History.

Washington's first visit to Boston was in 1756. He
celebrated his 24th birthday somewhere on the road be-
tween this city and New York. The purpose of his long
journey from Virginia was to obtain from Governor
Shirley, who had succeeded Braddock in the general
command of the colonial forces, a decision upon disputes
about precedence which had arisen among the provincial
officers. His mission was successful.

Mr. Sparks says : " He was well received and much
noticed, by General Shirley, with whom he continued ten
days, mixing constantly in the society of the town, and
attending with interest to the proceedings of the legis-
lature of Massachusetts, then engaged in affairs of great
moment respecting the requisite aids for promoting the
grand scheme of military operations, recently agreed upon
by a council of several governors assembled at New
York. He also visited Castle William, and other objects
worthy of a stranger's notice." Sparks: ii. 132-133.*

Although no trace of his presence appears in the
printed records of the Legislature, there is little reason
to doubt that he did visit with interest and attention the
principal public building of the Province, especially as the
General Court was at that time in session and the fame
of his services against the French and Indians, especially
with Braddock, was universal throughout the colonies.

He was welcomed by the critical press of the day with
these words : " Last Friday came to this town from Vir-
ginia, the Honorable Colonel WASHINGTON, a Gentleman
who has deservedly a high reputation for Military Skill,

* I do not know the authorities for these statements of Mr. Sparks, but he is
evidently wrong as to the length of Washington's visit at this time ; for it
appears from the papers of the day that he left New York on the aoth of
February and arrived in Boston on the 27th, returning so as to reach New
York again on the gth of March. Of these last ten days a large part must
have been spent on the road between the two places.

The Old State House in Boston. 5

Integrity, and Valour, tho* Success has not always at-
tended his Undertakings." The Boston Gazette : No. 48.
Monday, March I, 1756.

His next visit here was with joyful welcome as the De-
liverer of the City HOSTIBUS PRIMO FUGATIS to quote
the legend happily inscribed on the medal which com-
memorates so great an exploit. This was in 1776 at the
termination of those weary months during which Boston
had been " made a Garrison by the Ministerial Army and
became a common Receptacle for the Enemies of Amer-
ica." Laws: 1776: p. 24.

For the fact of his presence in this room during that
visit, we have the evidence of the contemporary record,
so characteristic, that it must not be abated one jot or
tittle of its quaint expression. In the House of Repre-
sentatives :

1776. March 19. It was moved that the Selectmen
of Boston be directed to provide a Dinner in that Town
on Thursday next, [March 21] for his Excellency Gen-
eral Washington, and such General officers as may attend
him to the Lecture to be delivered there at that Time ; and
the Question being put, it passed in the Negative. Jour-
nal : 19.

The failure of this resolution, although it may have
saved the pockets of the Selectmen of Boston, did not
defeat the dinner, which was to supplement and aid in the
digestion of the Thursday Lecture. I can recall no more
characteristic New England entertainment than that of
General Washington on this occasion a long sermon, and
a good dinner, both with the usual trimmings.

The second and successful order for the entertainment
was as follows :

1776. March 23d. On a Motion, Ordered, That Mr.
Brown, Mr. Speaker Cooper, Deacon Rawson, Mr. Pitts,
and Col. Sartel, be a Committee to provide a Dinner for
his Excellency General Washington, and the other Gen-
eral officers, with their Suits, the Council, the Speaker,
and the Ministers of Boston. Journal : 36.

6 The Old State House in Boston.

The press of the day preserved the record of the so-
lemnities as well as the festivities of the occasion :

" Thursday last [March 28, 1776] the lecture which was
established and has been observed from the first settle-
ment of Boston without interruption until within these
few months past, was opened by the Rev. Dr. Eliot. His
Excellency General Washington, the other General offi-
cers, and their suites, having been previously invited, met
in the Council Chamber, from whence, preceded by the
Sheriff with his wand, attended by the members of the
Council who had had the small-pox, the Committee of
the House of Representatives, the Selectmen, the Clergy,
and many other gentlemen, they repair'd to the old Brick
Meeting House, where an excellent and well adapted dis-
course was delivered from the 33d chapter of Isaiah, 2Oth

" After Divine Service was ended, his Excellency at-
tended and accompanied as before, returned to the Coun-
cil Chamber, from whence they proceeded to the Bunch
of Grapes Tavern, where an elegant dinner was provided
at the public expense ; after which many proper and very
pertinent toasts were drank. Joy and gratitude sat on
every countenance and smiled in every eye. The whole
was conducted and concluded to the satisfaction of all."
Massachusetts Gazette (quoted in Ellis's First Church :
207), April 4, 1776.

I shall notice but one or two features of the memorable
occasion of Washington's grand reception and entertain-
ment in 1789, when as President of the United States he
revisited these scenes for the last time, and the Old State
House was the absolute centre of all the action and attrac-
tion of the day.

Upon his arrival in the neighborhood of this building
the President dismounted and was conducted on foot
through a Triumphal Arch erected across the [Cornhill]
Main-Street to the Senate Chamber by the East door of
the State House, whence he passed through the Represen-
tatives' Chamber to the Colonnade erected for the oc-

The Old State House in Boston. J

casion at the West end of the State House.* . . . The
central West window of the State House was the door
through which he passed to the front by four easy steps
from a platform to the floor of the gallery, which was
furnished with arm-chairs and richly carpeted. John
Adams, Samuel Adams, then Lieutenant Governor, and
Ex Governor Bowdoin with other officials were with the
President in the gallery, from which he reviewed the
procession of which he himself in his military uniform
on an elegant white horse had been the most conspicuous
object. Gazette of the United States : November 4,

Surely, it is something to remember that these silent
old walls have been dignified by that great presence, and
consecrated by the recollections and associations that be-
long to it in history.

What would have been the value to New York in 1861
on the day after the firing on Fort Sumter of the " Old
City Hall " in Wall Street, where the speakers who gave
voice to the indignation of the whole people on that oc-
casion might have stood in the very place where Wash-
ington in 1789 took the oath to support the Constitution
of the United States, as the First President, and the Flag
of the Union was first displayed as the symbol of its
authority. The mighty surge of popular wrath against
treason and rebellion was seen and felt around the base of
Washington's Statue in Union Square, but who can esti-
mate the significance and power of that spiritual presence
which would have exalted and inspired such a meeting in
and around the walls of the Old City Hall !

Lafayette came to America in 1777. He first saw the
spires of Boston on the morning of Saturday, the 29th of
August, 1778, as he approached the town from Rhode

* President Washington's own account of this part of his reception describes
his "entering the State House at the S end and ascending to the upper
floor and returning to a Balcony at the N. end." It is not strange that he
" lost his bearings " in that progress under the Arch across Cornhill, down
State St. to the Eastern front, and up the steps of the principal entrance.

8 The Old State House in Boston.

Island, where a critical scene was in preparation for a
great disappointment in that eventful summer. Mr.
Sparks states that the youthful general was at this time
present at a conference between the Massachusetts Coun-
cil and the Count D'Estaing, commander of the French
fleet then in New England waters. Sparks : vi. 58. The
Legislature was not in session from the 23d June to the
i6th September, and I have found no mention of the pres-
ence of Lafayette in the Old State House at this time
but there is little occasion for doubt that the interview
took place in this room, just before the Battle of Rhode
Island and Sullivan's retreat. He was in Boston but
one day, staid with General Hancock, and sat out on
Sunday on his return to camp. Boston Gazette: Mon-
day, August 31, 1778.

In the following year, Lafayette returned to France,
where he was welcomed with enthusiasm. Coming back
to America in 1780, he arrived at Boston on the 26th of
April. He was at this time " charged by the Court of
France to announce to General Washington its intention
to send a fleet and army to co-operate with the troops of
the United States." Sparks : vii. 195.

On the 28th of April a joint committee was appointed
to consider what provision should be made " for the re-
ception and entertainment of the Marquis de la Fayette,
who has lately arrived from France and is expected in
town this day, and for other Gentlemen of public char-
acter who may at any time come into this State." The
committee reported the same day, and, upon the arrival
of the Marquis, and his intimation that he was desirous of
paying his respects to the Legislature, arrangements were
made for his reception in the Representatives' Room where
the President of the Council would congratulate him upon
his arrival, in the name and behalf of the General Assembly.
Seats were assigned for the Council, as also for the Mar-
quis de la Fayette and his suite when they should incline
to attend the House.

The newspapers of the day duly report his arrival and a

The Old State House in Boston. 9

41 grand reception." He was "personally and publicly
received by a Committee of both Houses. . . . Soon
after he had a conference with the General Assembly ;
when the present state of Europe respecting America was
inquired into, and the Marquis's accounts received with
applause." Continental Journal: May 4th, 1780. I
think I hear the echo of that applause with which the
fleet of De Grasse and the army of Rochambeau was wel-
comed in advance, as the men of Massachusetts first heard
the glad tidings from the lips of Lafayette !

And they emphasized their applause by prompt and
timely action. On the next day, April 29th, 1780, I find
among the resolves, a grant of Six Thousand Pounds was
made from the public treasury of Massachusetts as a loan
to enable Colonel Thomas Chase, the Continental Quarter
Master General in that Department, to comply with the
orders of Major General Marquis de la Fayette.* Re-
solves : 248.

At the close of the war, Lafayette went back to France.
In 1784, he again visited the United States, arriving at
New York on the 4th of August, and receiving every-
where tokens of the grateful and affectionate regard of
the American people. He arrived in Boston, on Friday
Evening, October I5th, and was received with unre-
strained enthusiasm. On the next day, the Legislature
appointed a joint committee to consider and report proper
measures to be taken on the occasion, and later in the
same day each house laid an injunction on the committee
to sit immediately. Journal: 139, 140. The 'House fur-
ther ordered that a chair be assigned for the Marquis,
whenever he might incline to attend their debates, and
sent a special committee of three members at once to in-
form him of the order, who reported promptly that they
had attended this business. Ibid. 139.

* Lafayette left Boston on Tuesday, May 2, 1780, on his way to join Wash-
ington and the Grand Army of the U. S., and arrived at Morristown, N. J.,
on the loth of May. A letter from him dated May 2, 1780, was read in the
Massachusetts Council and "sent down " to the House the same day.

io The Old State House in Boston.

1784. October 18 (Monday). The Hon. Mr. Lowell
brought down the report of the committee of both
Houses, appointed to consider, &c., as follows, viz. That
the President of the Senate and Speaker of the H. of R.
invite the Marquis de la Fayette, to meet the two Houses
of the Legislature in the Senate Room on Tuesday, the
19th day of Oct. inst. at twelve o'clock, that they may con-
gratulate him on his safe arrival in America, after the final
establishment of a peace, to which his friendly influence
in Europe, and his distinguished exertions in a military
character in America, have largely contributed, and of
which the anniversary of the iQth of October, a day always
to be marked in the annals of America, among other in-
stances, happily reminds us : And that His Excellency
the Governour and the Honorable Council, be also in-
vited to join in the congratulations.

J. LOWELL, per order.

In Senate, Oct. 18, 1784.

Read and accepted, and thereupon Ordered. That the
President of Senate and Speaker of the H. of R. take
order accordingly. Sent down for Concurrence. Read
and Concurred, p. 141. On the ipth, meeting at io
A.M. after a brief session, the House adjourned to 4 P.M.
and met accordingly, p. 142.

This judicious programme was duly carried out by a
reception and congratulations in the manner proposed ;
"to which congratulations the Marquis was pleased to
make a polite and elegant reply." It is not difficult to
believe this, for to say nothing of the charm of his courtly
French manners, he was skilled in oratory and became a
master of the English language.* A grand dinner followed
at Faneuil Hall : and the town was full of festivity. I
am unable to say whether it was designed or not, but the
coincidence is to be noted as a fact that on that " evening
[October 19, 1784] the lamps in the various parts of the

* " Lafayette would speak beautiful English for an hour together, . . .
was what he should call a great speaker." JEREMY BENTHAM. John Neal's
Notices of Bentham in Principles of Legislation, etc.

The Old State House in Boston. 1 1

town, which had not been lighted for nine years before,
were again lighted."* Centinel : October 20, 1784.

Lafayette was accompanied upon this visit by the Mar-
quis de Car. un. in, a Knight of Malta and Captain of
Dragoons, afterwards distinguished in French diplomatic
annals as the Duke de Caraman. Ibid, and also January
8, 1785. Lafayette's last visit to Boston will be noticed
before I close.

As a Boston boy and printer's apprentice, Benjamin
Franklin's feet were undoubtedly familiar with the floor
of the Exchange walk " for all the inhabitants " which
was the most popular feature of the Town House. A run-
away in 1723, he returned for a few days in the following
year, before he had fairly begun his long and successful
career in the Quaker City. In his later life he delighted
to recall the decennial visits which he made or purposed
making from that time forth. He visited Boston in 1733,
I743 !753. and I 763- In 1773 he was in England, but in
1775 he had a sight of it, although he could not enter, it
being then in possession of the enemy. He has told us
that he hoped to have been here in 1783, but could not
obtain his dismission from his employment at that time in
France, and in 1784 he said " Now, I fear, I shall never
have that happiness." Letter to Samuel Mather, from
Passy, May I2th, 1784.

Of all these years only in 1753 and 1763 could he have
entered this third Court House, which he undoubtedly
did, holding so important a public office as that of Post-

* In the earlier days of the town, the inhabitants sometimes hung out lights
upon dark nights, but public lights in the streets were not long in use before
the Revolution, during which, as it here appears, they were disused and neg-
lected. In February, 1769, it was suggested in one of the newspapers, that
as "house and shop breaking is become so frequent in this town Qti<rrf i.
Would not that be prevented in a great measure by lighting the streets ?
2. Is not the March meeting a proper time to take that measure into con-
sideration?" Boston Chronicle: Feb. 23, 1769. Their first appearance
seems to have been in 1773 ; when a newspaper of the 3d of March reports
that "Last evening two or three hundred lamps, fixed in the streets and
lanes of this town were lighted. They will be of great utility to this metrop-
olis." Massachusetts Gazette: March 3, 1773.

12 The Old State House in Boston.

master General of North America, so that his is certainly
among the great names to recall here and now with
grateful pride.

Here, too, was seen after the conclusion of the War, the
author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of
the Democratic Party.

On the I2th of June, 1784, by a formal vote of the House
of Representatives, a chair was assigned for the Hon.
Thomas Jefferson, Esq., late Governor of Virginia, and
now one of the ministers of the United States for nego-
ciating commercial treaties, if he is inclined to attend the
debates of the House. Journal : 77.

Mr. Jefferson had been elected by Congress minister
plenipotentiary, etc., on the 7th of May. He left Annap-
olis, where Congress was then sitting, on the nth of May,
and, accompanied by his eldest daughter from Phila-
delphia, proceeded to Boston, where he arrived on the
25th June. He visited New Hampshire, and returning
to Boston, sailed thence on the 5th of July for Cowes,
where he arrived on the 26th. Memoirs: i., 51, 52.
Massachusetts Centinel : June 30, 1784.

With these great names it would not be difficult to re-
call many others eminent an the world's history and liter-
ature, of men who have been attracted hither by the
memories which identify these walls with the greatest of
our own heroes and the wisest of our own statesmen.
There is a long roll of distinguished men of France, of
very different character and standing from " the shoals
of Frenchmen " * who vexed the soul of Washington by
their importunities for rank and pay in the Revolutionary
Army Talleyrand, Chastellux, the Counts Segur and
Mathieu Dumas, Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, that famous
Girondist, Brissot de Warville, and many others. Among
them I think I see the author of " Atala," and "The
Genius of Christianity " that wonderful idol of his con-
temporaries, who also worshipped himself as well as that

* Washington to General Gates, and also to the President of Congress
February 20, 1777.

The Old State House in Boston. 13

most charming of Frenchwomen, Madame Recamier ;
who witnessed an unexampled series of vicissitudes in
human affairs, and only ceased " living on his past " as
he described himself, in 1848, just when the new cycle was
about to commence. That typical Frenchman, Chateau-
briand, visited America in 1791, and made a pilgrimage
to Boston and Lexington as the scene of the first hostili-
ties between England and the Colonies. It is not to be
doubted that his attitude within these walls was marked
and characteristic. I should like to read the manuscript
journals of that visit to Boston and its vicinity.*

I cannot forget now the names of some whose services
to the cause of American freedom were conspicuous and
brilliant in the beginning, though darkened and obscured
by the clouds that settled for all time about the end of
their respective careers. General Lee was here before
the opening of hostilities, arriving in Boston on the first
of August, 1774; and his "plaudits of the Boston
wights " were remembered afterwards by New Yorkers,
while his letters bear witness to the impressions he de-
rived from that visit.

The author of " Common Sense " and " The Crisis "
the most famous of the political writers of his day in

* Chateaubriand never forgot Lexington, which was the subject of a passage
in his first book and his last. In hisEssai Historique stir Us Revolutions, icr
part., chap, xxxiii., published in London in 1797, he said :

"Bientot apres le sang coula en Amerique j'ai vu les champs de Lexing-
ton ; je m'y suis arrete en silence, comme le voyageur aux Thermopyles, a
contempler la tombe de ces guerriers des deux mondes qui moururent les pre-
miers, pour obeir aux lois de la patrie. En foulant cette terre philosophique,
qui me diioit, dans sa muette eloquence, comment les empires se perdent et
s'elevent, j'ai confesse mon neant devant les voies de la Providence, et baisse
mon front dans la poussiere."

In his Mimoires cFoutre-tombe, i. 125, Ed. N. Y., 1848, is the following:

" J'allai en pelerinage a Boston saluer le premier champ de bataille de la
liberte Americaine. J'ai vu les champs de Lexington ; j'y cherchai, comme
depuis a Sparte, la tombe de ces guerriers qui moururent pour obfir aux
saintes loix de la patrie. Memorable exemple de I'enchamement des choses
humaines ! un bill de finances, passe" dans le parlement d' Angleterre en 1 765,
e*leve un nouvel empire sur la terre en 1782, et fait disparattre du monde un
des plus antiques royaumes de 1'Europe en 1789 ! "

14 The Old State House in Boston.

America Thomas Paine, was among those who fre-
quented these scenes at times during the course of the
war. When John Laurens went out to secure the great
French Loan in 1781, he was accompanied by Paine, as
secretary. They sailed from Boston in the Alliance frig-
ate, February n, 1781, and returned from Brest to Bos-

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Online LibraryGeorge Henry MoorePrytaneum bostoniense. Notes on the history of the Old state house, formerly known as the Town house in Boston--the Court house in Boston--the Province court house--the State house--and the City hall; → online text (page 1 of 8)