“Having never been a Favourite of the Great”: A Revolutionary Printer’s Commitment to His Principles

The Ludwell-Paradise House.
The Ludwell-Paradise House.

This post is about the sincerity with which people up and down the social scale applied political thought to personal action in the revolutionary world.  Here I’m referring to William Rind, one of Williamsburg’s printers, who lived at the Ludwell-Paradise House on Duke of Gloucester Street, and probably there printed his edition of the Virginia Gazette.

Neither one of the well-known (and well-heeled) “Founders” who led provincials into secession from the British Empire, nor one of the almost-as-celebrated (and probably almost-as-apocryphal) men and women of the lower sorts who pushed the elites into rebellion, Rind was one of those folks whom often get lost in the historiographical scrum over who mattered most in the American Revolution. His American Revolution seems not to have been one imposed from the top down, nor one instigated from the bottom up, but perhaps was one that developed from the middle out (I’ll direct any more considered inquiry of the role of printers in the Revolution and Early Republic to my friends Joe AdelmanJeff Pasley. and Todd Andrlik). In any case, Rind was a particular favorite of the patriots in Williamsburg and seems to have taken the lofty motto he chose for his newspaper–“Open to all Parties but Influenced by None”–quite seriously, as the letter below suggests.

This unpublished letter (until recently stuck in a drawer at Eyre Hall on the Eastern Shore) was written in February 1769 in response to a complaint from a Northampton County patriot, Severn Eyre, that Rind had not been quick enough about printing an essay criticizing the new governor, Lord Botetourt. While unique in a number of respects, it is of especial interest for the window it opens–however briefly–into a particular moment in the lives of people who lived in this place during the constitutional crisis.  Rind and his assistant, William Lumley, permit us to follow them on a cold winter’s day from Blovet Pasteur’s shop (next to the Raleigh Tavern), down the street to Rind’s office, into Lumley’s trunk, and then inside Rind’s own head as he considers the practical issues of printing a newspaper and its connection to his political faith. It allows us a glimpse into the ways political thought informed the daily lives of people such as Rind, and does so in a way that helps us attend to the complex intersection of constitutional abstraction, political culture, and individual behavior in Revolutionary Williamsburg, which makes studying that time and place so terribly interesting.

I received yours of the 22d ultimo by which I am sorry to see you have taken offence at my not publishing the Piece signed Curtius sooner. It would have been very inconvenient to me to have printed it then, as it would have put me to the Expence of giving a Supplement, at a Time I was so scarce of Paper, as to be afraid I should be obliged to stop my Gazette for want of it. You say, “you know the Piece was delivered into my own Hands ….” What Wm Lumley, who lives with me, Subjoins to this will, I doubt not, convince you that you was misinformed in that Point, as also that no “Court Sycophant” (having never been a Favourite of the Great) nor any Person out of my House, had ever Seen it till it was printed. I have ever made it a Rule to consult no Man what Pieces I shall publish, and shall ever adhere to it. But, I think, the Authors should give their Names to the Printer for his private Satisfaction, which should by no means be divulged, when the Pieces are of such a Tendency as to create him Enemies, and as he is ignorant in anonymous Pieces whether they come from Friends or Foes, the Consequences may be often hurtful to him. I do not expect any Gentleman will insure me his Vote; but I hope you will do me the Justice to believe that I act up to my Motto, and I think I have often proved it, Sometimes to my great Loss; both by the Expense of printing 2000 Supplements a Week, and by losing many subscribers, who prefer old News, to new Pieces, of what Nature soever. I will therefore still hope for the Continuance of your Friendship, which I desire no longer that I shall be thought to maintain a free Press. I am, with Gratitude and Respect, Sir,
Your much obliged humble
Wm. Rind

Sir Williamsburg, Feby 11th 1769
The piece signed Curtius was left at Mr. B. Pasteurs Shop, where I happened to step in, when he gave it me. I know not whether it was the same Day that it was left with him, or the next.
I opened it in the Shop, & seeing it was a Piece for the Press, I put it into my Pocket without reading it. When I came home I shewed it to Mr. Rind, & we both read it; & then I took it into my own Room, & locked it up in my Trunk, with some other Pieces; & there it has remained til given to the Compositor to set for the Press. These particulars I could very safely make Oath to, were it necessary.
I am very respectfully
Sir, Your unknown hbl Sevt
Wm. Lumley

[Eyre Family Papers, VHS]

A War of Passion: Charles James Fox and the Enthusiasm of the American Revolution

While I ponder the warp and woof of the dialogical origins of the American Revolution and what that might mean for those of us who daily attempt to straddle the 18th and 21st centuries (an unsteady endeavor at times), I thought I’d share these words to ponder from a 29-year-old Charles James Fox.

ImageFox hardly needs an introduction to anyone with even a passing familiarity with late 18th-century British politics. Fox’s connection with Williamsburg was a bit tenuous, having attended Eton at the same time as some of its luminaries. Snippets from surviving correspondence suggest that Ralph Wormeley, a member of Virginia’s Council and a loyalist during the Revolution (both of his younger brothers served in the British army and he was placed under arrest in 1776 and 1781), appears to have been on friendly terms with him, although it must be said that Wormeley appears nowhere that I’ve seen in Fox’s voluminous correspondence. Fox’s connection to the American cause during “the Troubles,” on the other hand, was direct and explicit. His argument during the 1774 debate over the Quebec Act that “My idea is that America is not to be governed by force, but by affection and interest,” is as much a reflection of that as is the following passage.

Fox’s statement is interesting to me for a number of reasons, not least of which is Fox’s continued use of the language of sensibility–which centers on passion, affection, and emotion–at the core of Georgian political culture (and its departure from the political language of the utterly sensible Augustan world it supplanted, at least temporarily). “Enthusiasm” was once a word to be decried as the characteristic of one who has, more or less, lost his or her mind. One prominent historian of my acquaintance has referred to enthusiasm as “the anti-self of the Enlightenment.” Fox’s language is also interesting for his employment of “interest,” that oft-employed and even more often misunderstood 18th-century word, the shifting meaning of which encapsulated changing relationships among Britons on both sides of the Atlantic in the period.

Fox’s speech is overwrought and overstated and could serve as the battle cry for all those adherents to revolutionary sensibility for whom “moderation” was something to abhor. Just imagine what Edmund Burke–not far removed from his days as the doyenne of the sublime and not yet shaken to his core by the violence of the French Revolution–might have thought as he sat and listened to it.

“The war of the Americans is a war of passion; it is of such a nature as to be supported by the most powerful virtues, love of liberty and of country and at the same time by those passions in the human heart which give courage, strength, and perseverance to man; …every thing combines to animate them to this war, and such a war is without end; for whatever obstinacy enthusiasm ever inspired man with, you will now have to contend with in America: No matter what gives birth to that enthusiasm, whether the name of religion or of liberty, the effects are the same; it inspires a spirit that is unconquerable and solicitous to undergo difficulties and dangers, and as long as there is a man in America so long you have him against you in the field.  The war of France. . . is a war of interest; it was interest that first induced her to engage in it, and it is by that same interest that she will measure its continuance.”

The Cardinal Rules of Being a Scholar, or Practicing History the Jack Greene Way

For this Friday, something short and thoughtful: The principles on which I was trained as a historian by my legendary dissertation supervisor.

1. Never think that you are the first to do something.

2. Always start from a solid documentary foundation (And 1 document is enough).

3. Never think that you have said the last word on something.

4. Never automatically believe what anyone else has said or written: Always question authority.

5. Never think something is good just because it is new.

6. Never think something is bad just because it is old.

7. Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

8. The best project is a finished one.

9. At a conference, never go to dinner with a group that is planning to divide the bill evenly. (Otherwise known as Cardinal Rule of conferences #1)

10. Seldom change your mind about historical problems once you have dealt with them.

A Colonial Virginia Tale of Sex and Betrayal: Bartholomew Dandridge Sets a Trap

Amongst the miscellaneous manuscripts of Robert Bolling (c1730-1775) is this practically picaresque “anecdote” regarding two friends who were Bolling’s contemporaries: Bartholomew Dandridge (the brother of Martha Washington) and Richard Johnson.  It was never published and is, in fact, crossed out rather heavily by a later hand, but not so desperately as to render it unreadable.  Written in the 1760s, it probably says more about the author’s perspective on gender, culture, and morality among male elites in the late colonial period than it does the subjects’ points of view given that Bolling–a prolific writer of exceptionally bad poetry (with all apologies to the late, great Leo Lemay) that was heavily tinged with misogyny and an almost Gothic sensibility–was one of the more curious figures of his time and place (which, for colonial Virginia, is saying quite something), and not known as a “particular Friend” to any of the parties involved.

Barthol: Dandridge Esqr having lost his wife first Wife married second of the name of Burbridge: After a few years of Marriage he began to suspect an attachment between his Lady and his own particular Friend Dick Johnson one of the gambling horsejockey gentlemen so common in this Country; devoid of Honor Faith & all Generosity of Sentiment. Tis easy to believe their Intimacy cou’d not subsist with such Suspicion in the Breast of Mr Dandridge: The latter left Newcastle where they both resided & went to [blank] in [blank] [where it was] confirmed tis said, by a Letter intercepted in what before was surmised: He forged a Letter from his Wife to Johnson inviting him to a Stable at some Distance from the Mansion House about Twilight on a certain Day.  Johnson went with all the Ardor of a keen Lecher, tying his Horse huriedly to the Stable to taste those Embraces which he knew by Experience to be so ravishing. Poor Fellow he found himself closely embraced but not by Mrs Dandridge. An Overseer & his Negroes secured and carried him to the injured Husband. Mr Johnson being stripped & tied received the mosaical Law. His Fortitude was not Proof against [damaged] thinking besides, that Mrs Dandridge realy writ the Letter of Invitation to betray him: he made a general Confession corroborating the scene by a Token of a very delicate Nature. Near Mrs. Dandridge’s offending Member was a Scar. Johnson mentioned & described it. He declared she had told him by what accident twas occasioned. Dandridge a clever worthy young Gentleman was more to be pitied than Johnson: Convinced beyond a Doubt of his Wrongs his Heart became a Prey to Melancholy & his Family most miserable. Husbands shou’d beware principally of their best Friends, & take Care that those Friends be Men of Honor, two Precautions which are very friendly to that tender fragil Existence or Fancy called Chastity.

[Source: Misc. Mss, Brock Collection, Huntington Library]