HIT AND RUN HISTORY on WGBH: The Opportunist

Joseph Barrell

Boston has come a long way since Revolutionary War days, when it was just a small peninsula, ringed by wharves and criss-crossed with cobblestoned cow paths.  So the crew of Hit and Run History heads down to the Outer Cape to learn about Joseph Barrell, a grocer who made his fortune in the war and then seized upon the idea of global trade that his contemporary, architect Charles Bulfinch, seeded in him.

Watch The Opportunist here on WGBH.

Andy's Note:  One of our hallmarks is to take viewers to the places that history happened and show how you can still find living there.  In the case of Joseph Barrell, we were challenged.  He lived in the outskirts of downtown Boston during the 1770's and '80's.  "Downtown" at the time meaning the area immediately surround the State House and Fanueil Hall (which was then fronting on the Town Dock, where Quincy Market is today).

Barrell's home and farm was where Downtown Crossing is now.  There are streets here now that didn't exist then, gaping holes where building have just been torn down to make way for even larger ones.  Asphalt, glass, brick and steel.  On the one hand, if there hadn't been a Joseph Barrell and his ilk of venture capitalists, Boston would have probably ended up more along the lines of New Bedford, Portland or New Haven.  A small city of regional note.

Andrew Buckley of Hit and Run History and Pleun Bouricius

But to bring you the story, we headed down to a place that would have looked very much like Boston at the time of the Revolution.  In this case, one of my favorite places in the world -- Fort Hill in Eastham.  We were in luck when we shot here in August, since Pleun Bouricius, a humanities scholar whom we had talked to previously in our first episode, was visiting Wellfleet from her home in Western Mass.

The contrast could not have been more different from these interviews with Pleun.  From a cold, windy, narrow Boston street last time to a lush, green sweeping panorama of the fields of Fort Hill and Nauset Marsh beyond.  What a great setting to walk and talk about the senior partner in the story of John Kendrick (who hailed from Orleans, just down the shore) and Columbia Expedition.  

Watch The Opportunist online at wgbh.org/history. For more information on Hit and Run History following the story of John Kendrick and the Columbia Expedition visit hitandrunhistory.com

John Derby hailed from a wealthy merchant family in Salem, Mass. He gained fame during the Revolution for delivering news about the war across the Atlantic. The Hit and Run History crew tracks down how Derby turned to the profitable service of raiding English shipping fleets as a privateer.

Exploring Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., the crew stumbles upon the grave of John Derby, then heads over to the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, to talk with historian Emily Murphy about Derby's life.

Watch The Privateer here on WGBH.

Andy's Note:  We've been to Salem three times now.  First, in December of 2008, for some heavy-duty scouting at the Peabody Essex Museum and talking our way on board the then-closed tall ship Friendship

Then we returned on a brutally cold day to speak with Emily Murphy, PhD, who is the historian for the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.  We were filming our pilot episode at the time, and we wanted to mention something about John Derby.  Towards the end of the conversation, she mentioned that there was a portrait of Derby in the house next door, but we'd have to wait on permission.

Andrew Buckley of Hit and Run History and Emily Murphy of Salem Maritime NHS

Jumping forward to this summer, one the same day we were filming inside the Special Collections room at the State House (see our episode The Architect), I got a call back from Emily.  She was excited to hear about the new web series on WGBH, and wanted to set up a time to speak more extensively on John Derby.  

So on the Saturday scheduled for the interview, Matt Griffin and I headed up to Salem on the hottest day of the summer.  96 degrees when we arrived.  We were desperate for some shade, and we ended up grabbing a bench and plunking it down in a corner surrounded by nice, cool brick.

John Derby

Editing this episode was a bit of a challenge, too, since we had so much good material from Emily.  But also because we had earlier gone to Mount Auburn Cemetery looking for some of our missing owners.  We found two:  Charles Bulfinch and John Derby.  But as we already had plenty on Bulfinch, we had to leave our visit to his grave out, and used the discovery of Derby's grave as our intro to Emily's interview.

Using Mark Cutler's "King of the World" let us have a little fun, too, with our footage of going up the Washington Tower at Mount Auburn.  Best line from Mount Auburn:  Jay Sheehan's "WHOA!" on reaching the top.

Hit and Run History:  The Columbia Expedition is now the centerpiece of the history page for PBS-powerhouse WGBH.  Watch The Privateer here online at wghh.org/history. For more information on Hit and Run History following the story of John Kendrick and the Columbia Expedition visit hitandrunhistory.com.

Photo credits:  Matthew J. Griffin

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