Revolutionary Thoughts

Brief windows into the hearts and minds of the people who breathed life into the 18th-century Atlantic world.

Thieves, Strumpets, Tobacco, and the French: A Glimpse into the British Atlantic World, ca1760

On this date, October 10, in 1760, William Fauntleroy appears to have been a but cranky.  A planter and merchant in Tidewater Virginia, he took a few minutes to pen an epistolary snapshot of life in the 18th-century British world in a fascinating letter to his sister, Elizabeth, then in London.  It covers the British criminal justice system, gender, property, transatlantic commerce, and the Seven…

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“So incompetent has the generality of historians been for the province they have undertaken, that it is almost a question, whether, if the dead of past ages could revive, they would be able to reconnoitre the events of their own times, as transmitted to us by ignorance and misrepresentation.”

—   Horace Walpole in his Preface to Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third (1768).

“In all cases that come before this House, where there seems to be a clashing of interests between one part of the country and another, or between one set of people and another, we ought to have no regard to the particular interest of any country or set of people.”

—   James Oglethorpe in House of Commons, 28 January 1732, in debate over the Molasses Act

“The Parliament is just siting & I do suppose like good & Loving Subjects will grant the supply & then if they please go home again & keep Xmas. Indeed it is a pitty to rob them of their Hollidays.”

—   Walter King in London to Thomas Jones in Virginia, 6 December 1743.

“For these ten years past, (it is full that time since I had the pleasure of seing you) My life has been a medley of good, bad, & indifferent, I have met with several rubs that I had little thought off, sufer’d most feelingly for the loss of two Friends that this world can never make up.”

—   Probably Robert Waugh, surgeon, 43rd Regiment of Foot, to his uncle, Christopher Champlin, a merchant at Newport, Rhode Island.  Waugh surrendered with Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781 and remained a prisoner in Virginia for more than a year.  On December 6,1785, when he wrote this letter from Chatham Barracks in Kent, he explained the “medley” of his recent life, which included his recent engagement to his childhood sweetheart, Jess, and his clear ire with an acquaintance: “Believe me I could have kick’d his damm’d stiff Rump all round his house for behaving so ill.”
"He forfeited all claim to the hospitality of Tuckahoe": The Limits of Hospitality in Revolutionary VirginiaTuckahoe Plantation
In the fall of 1777, Thomas Anburey was an officer in the British army that…View Post

“Lord Bottetourt’s great respectability, his character for integrity, and his general popularity, would have enabled him to embarrass the measures of the patriots exceedingly. His death was, therefore, a fortunate event for the cause of the Revolution.”

—   Thomas Jefferson in Private Correspondence of Daniel Webster (i., 364).

“Your governor is becoming very popular as we are told here, and I have the worst proof of it in the increased orders for fineries from the ladies, at this time of general distress in their families. Either our countrywomen are misrepresented by the merchants’ wives, or they are growing deplorably extravagant.”

—   Arthur Lee, in England, to brother, in Virginia, 5 November 1769.

From Williamsburg’s “Poet’s Corner” in 1775: “Winter. A Favourite Song.”

It’s not exactly the Writer’s Almanac, but nobody said that 18th-century poets were long on talent.  They did, however, seem to possess fathomless resources of earnestness.  This one struck me as particularly well suited to today, when here in…

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Family and Attempted Murder on All Hallow’s Eve in Colonial Virginia

While 18th-century Virginians, with their healthy Latitudinarian distrust for anything that even hinted at the supernatural or superstition (fine for French and German fanatics, in their view, but not for the reasonable English), that did not mean that…

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