Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Faneuil Hall Weather Vane Stolen in 1974

The Faneuil Hall weather vane
The copper weather vane that has topped the cupola of Faneuil Hall since 1742 was once stolen in 1974.

When the theft was discovered in January of 1974, it made national headlines. Police first speculated that the criminal may have used a helicopter to steal the weather vane and believed the thief intended to sell it on the black market.

According to an article in The Telegraph newspaper, the police detective in charge of the case, Paul Revere Carroll, a direct descendant of Paul Revere, got a phone call a few days after the theft from Robert Fandel, chief attorney for Plymouth county, who said he could provide Carroll with a piece of the weather vane:

Illustration of firemen washing the weather vane, circa 1895
“Carroll met Fandel and other officials that afternoon in Boston's Park Square. Fandel was carrying a paper bag, containing the weather vane's spire...He then led police to the rest of the weather vane hidden by rags in the corner of the [Faneuil] tower.”

It was later discovered that the weather vane was stolen by a man who had been arrested shortly after in Abington on a drug charge. Police learned that the man was a former steeplejack who had previously worked on Faneuil Hall in 1967. Although they didn't know his exact motives, they speculated that he stole and hid the weather vane to possibly ransom it off. He confessed his crime in an attempt to get plea bargain in his drug case.

The weather vane had been damaged during the theft but it was finally repaired and regilded before it was returned to its perch on top of Faneuil Hall in July of 1974.
 Workers placed a locking device on the weather vane to prevent future thefts.

Strangely, this was not the first time the weather vane left its perch. It was briefly knocked down during an earthquake in 1755, then knocked down again in 1889 during a flag lowering on Evacuation Day. It has also been removed several times for cleaning and repairs. The most recent repair was between the years 1990 and 1992, when the public got a rare up-close look at the weather vane in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts while it was being regilded.

The weather vane, inspired by the grasshopper weather vane on top of the London Royal Exchange, was designed by Shem Downe, an apprentice of Paul Revere, and weighs 38 pounds, measures 52 inches long, has glass eyes, a copper interior and gilded exterior.
Modern day Faneuil Hall and its weather vane

Faneuil Hall in 1987
Faneuil Hall in 1920
Faneuil Hall in 1903
Illustration of Faneuil Hall in Arthur's Magazine, circa 1845
Engraving of Faneuil Hall, circa 1789


New York Times; Grasshopper Weather Vane on Faneuil Hall is Stolen; January 6 1974:

New York Times: Stolen Weather Vane Found at Faneuil Hall; January 11 1974:

The Telegraph; Mystery Covers Recovery of Historic Weathervane; Jan 11 1974,1345819

The Telegraph, Grasshopper Weathervane Returns; July 24, 1974:,3755080

"Boston Sites & Insights”; Susan Wilson; 2003

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rare Salem Witch Trial Document Sold for $26,000

Margaret Scott's Marker at the Witch Trials Memorial
A rare document from the Salem Witch Trials sold for $26,000 last week at a New York auction house. The document was a court indictment for Margaret Scott, an elderly Rowley woman who was one of the last victims hanged in the Salem Witch hysteria of 1692.

The document was a part of the Eric C. Caren Collection and was purchased by an undisclosed buyer. According to an article in the Salem news, this was the first Salem Witch Trial document to be sold in almost 30 years.

Margaret Scott was accused of witchcraft in July or August of 1692 by a local teenager named Mary Daniel. She was found guilty on September 17 and hanged on September 22 along with Martha Corey, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Mary Easty, Samuel Wardwell, Wilmott Redd and Mary Parker. These were the last hangings in the Salem Witch Trials.

A month after the September 22 hangings took place, Governor Phips forbade any further arrests and many of the remaining accused were released from jail.

Born in England in 1615, Margaret Scott's maiden name was Stevenson. She married Benjamin Scott in 1642 and had seven children, although only three of them lived to adulthood. Her husband Benjamin died in 1671, leaving Margaret a poor widow. Due to her lack of finances, Margaret often begged for money and food. All of these factors made her an easy target for a witchcraft accusation. According to court documents, Margaret Scott's neighbors suspected her of being a witch for many years prior to the Salem Witch Trials but never officially accused her until the hysteria of 1692.

In 1711, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution clearing the names of the convicted witches and offered financial restitution to their descendents. Margaret Scott's family did not wish to be named in the law and did not seek restitution. In 1957, the Massachusetts legislature formally apologized to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials but did not specifically mention any of the victims by name. Finally, in 2001, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution officially exonerating five of the victims not mentioned in the previous resolutions: Susannah Martin, Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd and Margaret Scott.


Salem News; Rare Witch Document Expected to Sell For Thousands; Tom Dalton; March 14 2012; Salem Witch Trials Document Sells for $26,000; March 16 2012

University of Virginia; The Salem Witchcraft Papers; Margaret Scott

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Faneuil Hall Was Built with Slave Money

Engraving of Faneuil Hall, circa 1789
It's a little known fact that Faneuil Hall, which has been dubbed the “Cradle of Liberty” since the American Revolution, was financed with money from Peter Faneuil's slave trading business.

Peter Faneuil was a wealthy slave trader and Boston merchant who, in 1738, inherited a large fortune from his uncle Andrew Faneuil, also a local slave trader who owned a warehouse on Boston's Merchant Row where he sold his slaves.

As slave traders, Peter and Andrew Faneuil were prominent in the Triangle Trade. This was a triangular shaped shipping route where merchants shipped fish and lumber from New England to Africa and then shipped slaves from Africa to the West Indies. After selling the slaves in the West Indies, the merchants would then purchase molasses, sugar cane and rum from the local sugar plantations to bring back to the American colonies.

In July of 1740, Peter Faneuil offered to build a public marketplace for the city of Boston using his own money he and his family made off of this triangle trade. At the time, there was no marketplace for peddlers to sell their goods and they often clogged up the lanes and roads with their pushcarts.

After commissioning local artist John Symbert to draw up plans for the building, Faneuil then offered the proposed marketplace as a gift to the city of Boston. Over 700 Boston town meeting members debated whether to accept the gift before finally voting in favor it.

Faneuil Hall today
Construction on Faneuil hall began in 1740 and took nearly two years to complete. The plan for the building included an open ground floor for a meat and produce market and a large assembly room on the second floor. The steeple of the building was topped with a 38 pound gold-gilded grasshopper weather vane that was based on a similar grasshopper weather vane on top of the London Royal Exchange.

Peter Faneuil died of dropsy just six months after the building was completed in 1742 and the city decided to name the building “Faneuil Hall” in his honor.

In 1761, a fire gutted the interior of the building but it was quickly rebuilt. The building was enlarged in 1806 by Boston architect Charles Bullfinch, who doubled its width and added a third floor.

During the American Revolution, the large second-floor assembly room became a hotspot for patriotic speeches and meetings, leading patriot James Otis to dub it the “Cradle of Liberty.”


The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers”; Brion McClanahan, Brion T. McClanahan; 2009 

History of the Huguenot Emigration to America”, Volume 2; Charles Washington Baird; 1885 

Boston Miscellany: An Essential History of the Hub”; William P. Marchione; 2008

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

John Alden's Account of His Witch Trial Examination

John Alden Jr. accused by a child
John Alden Jr. was the son of Mayflower pilgrim John Alden and a merchant from Boston who suddenly found himself caught up in the Salem Witch Trials when he was accused of witchcraft by a local child during a business trip to Salem in May of 1692.

After he was accused, police officials brought Alden to the Salem court for questioning. Alden wrote his own account of this examination and the events of the courtroom that day, during which he suggested the afflicted girls at the center of the hysteria, whom he referred to as “wenches,” were merely pretending to be bewitched and also said they were being prompted by a man standing behind them to name Alden as a witch:

"Those Wenches being present, who plaid their jugling tricks,
falling down, crying out, and staring in Peoples Faces; the Magi-
strates demanded of them several times, who it was of all the People
in the Room that hurt them? one of these Accusers pointed several
times at one Captain Hill , there present, but spake nothing; the
same Accuser had a Man standing at her back to hold her up; he
stooped down to her Ear, then she cried out, Aldin , Aldin afflicted
her; one of the Magistrates asked her if she had ever seen Aldin,
she answered no, he asked her how she knew it was Aldin ? She
said, the Man told her so."

Although the girls had never met Alden before and had never seen him, his name was not unfamiliar to them thanks to several rumors around town that Alden was secretly supplying the French military and Wabanaki Indians with ammunition and supplies during the French and Indian Wars. As some of the afflicted girls lost their parents in this war, many historians speculate that since the girls believed Alden may have profited off of a war that killed their parents, it made him a potential target. This theory is supported by the fact that during the examination, one of the girls outright accuses Alden of selling supplies to the Indians as well as fathering illegitimate children with Indian women:

“Then all were ordered to go down into the Street, where a Ring
was made; and the same Accuser cried out, “there stands Aldin , a
bold fellow with his Hat on before the Judges, he sells Powder and
Shot to the Indians and French, and lies with the Indian Squaes,
and has Indian Papooses.”

Realizing the danger he was in, Alden held no hope for a fair trial and sought other means of escaping his fate. After being held in a Boston jail for over four months, Alden managed to escape the jail in September with the help of some of his friends and fled immediately for New York where several other accused witches were hiding out.

It wasn't until the witch trial hysteria began to die down that winter that Alden declared "the public had reclaimed the use of its reason” and decided to go back to Salem and post bail. He finally appeared in court on April 25, after the hangings had stopped, and his case was dismissed.


University of Virginia; Important Person in the Salem Court Records

University of Virginia; Salem Witch Trial; John Alden

"The Salem Witch Trials”; Lori Lee Wilson; 1997