J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, December 05, 2020

The Prosecution’s Closing Argument

John Adams’s closing argument in the trial of soldiers for the Boston Massacre started on 3 Dec 1770 and lasted until the next day.

Then Robert Treat Paine summed up for the prosecution, concluding on the morning of 5 December, 250 years ago today.

Paine’s notes for that presentation survive, though his handwriting is notoriously hard to read. He planned to say:
Witnesses tell you they saw nothing of the violent Abuses offered to the Soldiers nor heard the Threats and loud Hallowings testified of by others. Some of this Collection were Boys and Negros drawn there by the Curiosity peculiar to their disposition, and without doubt might throw some Snow Balls, and its quite natural to believe from the Evidence and the Nature of the thing that there were some there armed with Sticks and Clubbs determin’d if the Soldiers abused them in the manner they had the Inhabitants that Evning and at times before to try the weight of them and had repaired into K[ing].S[treet]. on a Supposition that those Soldiers who had began the disorder of the Evening at a time when they ought to have been in their Barracks were continuing their disorders there, (for it appears about the time of the attack on the Centry [several?] partys of Soldiers were seen in K.S. armed with clubbs Cutlasses &c.;) and that they had not the least design or Idea of Attacking a Party on duty. And many other peaceable people gathered there meerly to see what was going on.

Can any person living from the history of this Affair as it turns up in Evidence Suppose these persons were such dangerous rioters as to bring them within those Rules of Law which have been read to you that it is lawful to kill them; Shall the innocent and peaceable who by meer Casualty are mixt with [some?] of the ruder Sort be liable to be Shot down by a Party of Soldiers meerly because they please to call ’em dangerous Rioters? Tis the Action [Generally?] and not a few [Angry?] tho threatning Expressions that constitutes any Riot and the Agreement of the whole Body that makes ’em Partys. This appears from some of the Authoritys read. . . .

It is proved to you Gentlemen that all the Prisoners at the Bar were present in K.S. at the firing. It appears by the current of the testimony that 7 Guns were fired, and it appears pretty certain that [William] Wemys, the Corporal was the one who did not fire. It is certain that five men were killed by the firing of which [Edward] Montgomery killed [Crispus] Attucks and [Mathew] Kilroy killed [Samuel] Grey.

But which of the other 5 prisoners killed the other 3 of the deceased appears very uncertain. But this operates nothing in their favour if it appears to you that they were an unlawful Assembly for it has been abundantly proved to you by the Numerous Authoritys produced by the Council for the Prisoners, that every individual of an Unlawful Assembly is answerable for the doings of the rest. They are all considered as Principals, and all that are present aiding assisting and abetting to the doing an unlawful act as is charged in the Several Indictments against the Prisoners are also considered as Principals. . . .

When you recollect further, the Account given you by many Witnesses, that on firing the first Gun the people dispersed and were in a Manner withdrawn to a distance at the firing the last Guns[;] that the last Gun was fired at a Boy at a distance running down Street; that they presented their firelocks again at the few people who came with the Chirugeon [Dr. Joseph Gardner] to pick up the Dead it appears to me you must be Satisfy’d they were possessed of that Wicked depraved malignant Spirit which constitutes Malice, that from the whole Evidence taken together no just Cause appears for such outrageous Conduct and therefore that they must be considered as aiding and assisting each other in this unlawful Act which the lawfulness of their Assembling will not excuse. . .
Paine singled outs Pvts. Montgomery and Kilroy as killing specific victims. Since the corporal was “pretty certain” not to have fired a shot, Paine argued the other privates just must have shot the rest.

Edward Pierce’s notes as a juror show that that was just the sort of distinction he was keeping track of. But would he and his fellow jurors accept the Crown’s argument that all the privates were part of an illegal attack on the crowd?

TOMORROW: The judges’ charges and the verdict.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Historic Holiday Presentations

Lots of local historical organizations are offering special online events to make staying healthy at home this season more interesting. Here’s a selection that caught my eye.

Sunday, 6 December, 5:00 P.M.
Virtual Traditions of the Season
Paul Revere House

Join the Paul Revere House and the Paul Revere Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to learn about how families like the Reveres observed winter holidays in the colonial era. Period music by R.P. Hale, video segments filmed in the period rooms of the Revere House, and discussion of eighteenth-century foodways will bring the past to life in the comfort of your home. Registration will include access to recipes you can chose to prepare in advance or later in the season.

Register here for $10 per ticket.

Wednesday, 9 December, 7:00 P.M.
The Making of a Reenactment
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

The annual reenactment of the Boston Tea Party is a long Boston tradition and one of the largest moving theatrical productions and reenactments in the nation. Sadly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this large-scale event will not be produced in 2020. To honor the tradition and to commemorate the 247th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, members of the production team will offer a special behind-the-scenes look at the process of researching, planning, creating, producing, and reenacting one of the most iconic moments in American history.

Register here for $15 per ticket.

Friday, 11 December, 7:30 P.M.
The Massacre Orations of Dr. Joseph Warren
History At Play, L.L.C.

The Chicago-based historian and interpreter Spencer Van Herik will portray that Son of Liberty and marvel of modern medicine, Dr. Joseph Warren, in a new livestream event. Herik transports viewers to 6 March 1775 and reinvigorates the orative prowess of the Whig leader and Continental martyr.

Register here for $10 to $25 per ticket.

Wednesday, 16 December, 7:30 P.M.
Taxes, Tea, Revolt, and Revisionism
Revolutionary Spaces

Tune in for local personality Rob Crean on a new comedy talk show, Tea Party Tonight! Along with some of the leading voices in Boston history and research, Rob will explore the roles of our city and its people in the creation and evolution of the American experiment, with plenty of laughs along the way. Broadcast from the historic Old South Meeting House on the 247th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Rob will be joined by scholars William Fowler, Ben Carp, and Chernoh Sesay to dive into the world surrounding the ”destruction of the tea,” what kind of society it wrought, and why eighteenth-century events still have meaning today.

Register here for this free event.

Thursday, 17 December, 7:00 P.M.
The Petition
Revolutionary Spaces

A special remote performance of Cliff Odle’s play about the fight to end slavery at the founding of the nation. Originally written for the Old State House, this historical drama shines a light on the story of eighteenth-century abolitionist Prince Hall. It explores the debates that still inform and divide us: Who counts as an American? What is the obligation of power to serve the people? Do we fight for what is right or what is attainable? The performance will feature actors Alex Jacobs and Stephen Sampson, and will be followed by a talkback with the playwright and cast.

Register here for this free event.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

The Defense’s Closing Arguments

At nine o’clock in the morning on 3 Dec 1770, 250 years ago today, Josiah Quincy, Jr., began his closing argument in the trial of eight soldiers for the Boston Massacre.

While acknowledging how locals were upset that the royal government had sent soldiers to the town in the first place, Quincy tried to excite the jurors’ sense of empathy. He described the confrontation through his clients’ eyes and ears:
“You lobster,” “You bloody-back,” “You coward,” and “You dastard,” are but some of the expressions proved.—What words more galling? What more cutting and provoking to a soldier? To be reminded of the colour of his garb, by which he was distinguished from the rest of his fellow citizens; to be compared to the most despicable animal, that crawls upon the earth, was touching indeed a tender point, To be stigmatized with having smarted under the lash, at the halbert, to be twitted with so in famous an ignominy; which was either wholly undeserved, or a grievance which should never have been repeated:—I say to call up and awaken sensations of this kind, must sting even to madness.

But accouple these words with the succeeding actions,—“You dastard,” “You coward!”—A soldier and a coward! This was touching, (with a witness) “The point of honour, and the pride of virtue.” But while these are as yet fomenting the passions, and swelling the bosom, the attack is made: and probably the latter words were reitterated at the onset; at lest, were yet sounding in the ear. Gentlemen of the jury, for heaven’s sake, let us put ourselves in the same situation! Would you not spurn at that spiritless institution of society, which tells you to be a subject at the expence of your manhood?

But does the soldier step out of his ranks to seek his revenge? Not a witness pretends it: Did the people repeatedly come within the points of their bayonets, and strike on the muzzels of the guns?—You have heard the witnesses.
After Quincy ended, his senior colleague, John Adams, stood and made his own closing argument.

Adams was more logical, trying to break down the prosecution’s case, anticipate counterarguments, and most of all emphasize how threatening the crowd was.
Now suppose you should have a jealousy in your minds, that the people who made this attack on the Sentry, had nothing in their intention more than to take him off his post, and that was threatened by some; suppose they intended to go a little farther, and tar and feather him, or to ride him, (as the phrase is in Hudibras) he would have a good right to have stood upon his defence, the defence of his liberty, and if he could not preserve that without hazard to his own life, he would be warranted, in depriving those of life, who were endeavouring to deprive him of his; that is a point I would not give up for my right hand, nay, for my life.

Well, I say, if the people did this, or if this was only their intention, surely the officer and soldiers had a right to go to his relief, and therefore they set out upon a lawful errand, they were therefore a lawful assembly, if we only consider them as private subjects and fellow citizens, without regard to Mutiny Acts, Articles of War, or Soldiers Oaths; a private person, or any number of private persons, have a right to go to the assistance of their fellow subject in distress and danger of his life, when assaulted and in danger from a few or a multitude.
Both men provided the jurors with lots of precedents from British common law and reviewed the testimony in depth. But in the end their argument came down to a plea of self-defense, which anyone could understand.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

A Juror’s Notes on the Boston Massacre Trial

Edward Pierce (1735-1818) was a carpenter, farmer, and deacon in Dorchester. He came from the family that built and expanded the Pierce House, erected around 1683 and thus one of the oldest surviving structures in the state.

The Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society’s 1859 local history called Pierce “a prominent man in town, and well remembered by our older people.”

Pierce’s reputation as a builder was so strong that Col. Josiah Quincy hired him to construct a new mansion in Braintree in 1770 (shown above).

Pierce also oversaw the expansion of the Dorchester meetinghouse in 1796 “by dividing it in the middle lengthwise, and removing the north part twelve feet, and the tower six feet.” As compensation, he received “all the new pews, excepting those to be granted to individuals who lost theirs by the alteration”; I assume he then sold the rights to those.

In 1770, the same year Edward Pierce took on the big job for Col. Quincy, he was also seated on the jury for the trial of the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre. That might seem like a conflict of interest since one of the colonel’s sons was a prosecutor, but another son was a defense attorney, and people didn’t have the same ideas of conflict of interest that our legal profession does today.

Deacon Pierce kept notes during the trial, preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society. A transcription was published in The Legal Papers of John Adams, listing each soldier by name and then several witnesses speaking about them:
Hugh Wite. James Baley Saw White. Josiah Simpson Saw White. Thos: Hall Saw White.

William Warren. James Dodge Knew Warren. Nicholas Feriter Saw Warren at the fray. Josiah Simpson Saw Warren Under arms in the Party. Theodore Bliss Saw Warren fire.

William Whems, Josiah Simpson Saw Whems Under arms in the Party. Thos: Hall Saw Whems.

John Carroll. Mr. Austin Saw Carrall and heard Six or Seven Guns. James Baley Saw Carrall fire the Second Gun. John Danbrook Saw Carrall. Thos Hall Saw Carrall.

William McCawley. Mr. Austin Says that he Saw McCawley Load his Piece and Push his Bayonet at him.

Matthew Killroy. Lanksford Saw Killroy Present his Gun and fird and Gray fell at his feat then Pushd his Bayonet at Lanksford and run it through his Cloaths. Francis Archible Saw Killroy. Hemenway heard Killroy Say he would not Miss an opportunity to fire on the Inhabitance. Nicholas firiter Saw Killroy. Joseph Crosswell Saw Killroy. Bayonet Bloodey the next morning. Thos Crawswell Saw Killroy. Jonathan Cary Saw the Same.

James Hartengem. John Danbrook Saw Hartengem. Josiah Simpson Saw Hartengem.

Hugh Montgomery. Test. James Baley Saw Mongomory fire the first Gun. Pointed towards the Molatto he Stood the Third from the Right. Parms Saw Mongomery and Pushd at me With his Bayonet twise. John Danbrook Saw Mongomory fire and Saw two Persons fall Near together. Ted: Bliss Saw Mongom Push his Bayonot and fire he thinks he heard Six Guns fire. Thos Wilkinson Saw Mongomory and heard Seven Guns fire and one Snap.
We can thus see what Pierce thought was important to keep track of. He wanted to have at least one witness placing each accused soldier on King Street. He also wanted to have positive evidence of whether each man fired his gun or otherwise behaved aggressively.

By Pierce’s reckoning, witnesses confirmed that all eight men were on the scene of the shooting. However, witnesses described only William Warren, John Carroll, Mathew Kilroy, and Edward Montgomery as firing their guns. In addition, Montgomery, Kilroy, and William Macauley pushed at people with their bayonets. And witnesses linked Montgomery and Kilroy’s shots with the fall of particular victims.

Edward Pierce’s brother Samuel kept a terse but useful diary through the Revolutionary period, recording, among other things, when Edward broke his leg in 1761. Here’s what Samuel wrote about in the dramatic year of 1770:
Feb. 22. A boy was shot at Boston by an informer.
March 6. Four men killed in Boston by the soldiers.
March 12, The soldiers go from Boston to the Castle.
April 19. Richarsan had his trial for his life.
May 28. I had 18 men to making stone wall in one day.
May 30. There was an ox roasted whole at Boston.
Aug. 11. Mr. Whitfield came to Boston.
Sept. 10, Castle William is resined to Col. Dalrymple.
Oct. 20. Was a violent storm as ever was known in these parts, and did a vast deal of damage.
Dec. 2. Little Sam first wore jacket and bretches.
Samuel Pierce never mentioned his brother’s service in the province’s most closely watched trial nor mentioned the verdict. On 2 Dec 1770, 250 years ago today, he had something more important to record.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Violence Beyond King Street on the Fifth of March

By modern standards, the judges overseeing the trial of the soldiers for the Boston Massacre should have limited the testimony to what happened in King Street or specifically involved the defendants.

However, prosecutors Robert Treat Paine and Samuel Quincy wanted to call witnesses to violence and threats from other soldiers that night. Or as acting governor Thomas Hutchinson later wrote: “The Counsel for the Crown urged to be admitted to prove the threats &ct. of the Soldiers preceding the Action.”

The judges were dubious, but defense attorneys John Adams and Josiah Quincy, Jr., were agreeable as long as they had the same leeway to introduce testimony about violence and threats by civilians.

That tactic actually split the defense team, again according to Hutchinson. Robert Auchmuty, senior attorney for Capt. Thomas Preston and a strong advocate for the Crown in other respects, didn’t like letting people testify about aggressive soldiers, but he wasn’t arguing this case.

Adams himself reportedly didn’t want to put too much testimony about aggressive townspeople on record. Hutchinson stated:
Quincy one of the Counsel for the prisoners was for giving very large Evidence against the Inhabitants to prove a premeditated design to drive out the Soldiers & frequent abuse as well as threats Adams was against it & [Sampson Salter] Blowers who acted as an Attony to prepare the Evidence told me that Adams said if they would go on with such Witnesses who only served to set the Town in a bad light he would leave the cause & not say a word more. So that a stop was put & many witnesses were not brought who otherwise would have been.
Some supporters of the Crown even feared Adams was sabotaging the soldiers’ case, but Hutchinson declined to replace him “as it would have been extremely irregular” and Auchmuty wasn’t ready to step in.

As a result, we have records from the trial of confrontations elsewhere in town that night. For instance, Sgt. William Davis of the 14th Regiment described running into a crowd he estimated as about 200 people near Wentworth’s wharf:
I saw no soldier in the street; I heard them saying damn the dogs knock them down, we will knock down the first officer, or bloody backed rascal we shall meet this night; some of them then said they would go to the southward, and join some of their friends there, and attack the damned scoundrels, and drive them out of the town, for they had no business here.

Apprehending danger if I should be in my regimentals, I went into a house at the North end and changed my dress, and in my return from the North-end, about nine, coming near Dock square, I heard a great noise a whistling and rattling of wood; I came near the Market place, and saw a great number of people there, knocking against the posts, and tearing up the stalls, saying damn the lobsters, where are they now; I heard several voices, some said let us kill that damned scoundrel of a Sentry, and then attack the Main guard; some said, let us go to Smith’s barracks [also called Murray’s barracks], others said let us go to the rope-walks;

they divided: The largest number went up Royal-exchange-lane, and another party up Fitch’s alley, and the rest through the main street, up Cornhill. I passed by the Golden-Ball, I saw no person there but a woman, persuading a man to stay at home; he said he would not, he would go amongst them, if he lost his life by it. . . .

It was past nine, for I heard bells ring before. One of them was loading his piece by Oliver’s dock, he said he would do for some of these scoundrels that night.
John Cox, brick-layer, testified to a different scene in the South End:
I saw three soldiers, two belonging to the Neck, and one to the Main Guard, by Liberty-tree, I was at Mr. [John] Gore [Jr.]’s shop opposite the Tree; one said to the other, bring half your guard, and we will bring half ours, and we will blow up this damned pole; I said, so sure as you offer ye scoundrels to blow up that pole, you will have your brains blown out.
Soldiers in New York had blown up the Liberty Pole there a few weeks earlier, prompting bigger fights.

Gregory Townshend, merchant:
Just after the bell rung nine, hearing the bell ring again, I went out thinking it was fire; I saw numbers of people running from the South-end some had buckets, the principal number had clubs in their hands. I asked where is the fire, I received for answer, at the Rope-walks and in King street. Numbers were coming with buckets, and the rest said Damn your bloods do not bring buckets, bring clubs.
Henry Bass, another merchant—and a member of the Loyall Nine:
I went down the main-street, and coming near Boylston’s alley, I saw a number of boys and children from twelve to fifteen years old, betwixt Mr. [William?] Jackson’s and the alley; some of them had walking canes. A number of soldiers, I think four, sallied out of the alley. . . .

I took the soldiers for grenadiers, all of them had cutlasses drawn. . . . They came out of the alley, and I imagine from the barracks; they fell on these boys, and every body else that came in their way, they struck them; they followed me and almost over took me, I had the advantage of them and run as far as Col. [Joseph] Jackson’s, there I made a stand, they came down as far as the stone shop. . . .

these lads came down, some of them came to the Market square, one got a stave, others pieces of pine, they were very small, I do not know whether any of the lads were cut. I turned and then saw an oyster-man, who said to me, damn it here is what I have got by going up; (showing his shoulder wounded) I put my finger into the wound and blooded it very much.
Each legal team thus tried to portray the other side as needlessly aggressive and their own clients as responding with reasonable force. Of course, that was the problem in the first place.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Van Horn on “The Power of Objects,” Plus a Panel on “Caribbean Connections”

Tonight, on Monday, 30 November, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host an online talk by Jennifer Van Horn on “The Power of Objects in 18th-Century British America.”

The event description says:
Over the course of the eighteenth century, Anglo-Americans purchased an unprecedented number and array of goods. Prof. Jennifer Van Horn investigates these diverse artifacts—from portraits and city views to gravestones, dressing furniture, and prosthetic devices—to explore how elite American consumers assembled objects to form a new civil society on the margins of the British Empire. In this interdisciplinary transatlantic study, artifacts emerge as key players in the formation of Anglo-American communities and eventually of American citizenship.

This presentation is the second annual lecture in honor of President Emeritus Dennis Fiori in recognition of his leadership.
Jennifer Van Horn is a professor of art history and history at the University of Delaware. She has had fellowships at the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Winterthur. Van Horn has published articles on early American prostheses (wooden legs and dentures) and women’s embroidery in the new American republic.

This online event is scheduled to start at 5:30 P.M. It is free to all, but audience members must register in advance here.

In addition, on Tuesday evening the M.H.S. will host a panel discussion on “Caribbean Connections” as part of its Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar. The participants will be:
  • Casey Schmitt, Cornell University, exploring the intersection of warfare and human trafficking in the seventeenth century, as unmet demand for enslaved labor in smaller markets coupled with near-constant warfare among major European powers reinforced practices of raiding and captivity.
  • Charlotte Carrington-Farmer, Roger Williams University, discussing how eighteenth-century New Englanders diversified their thriving business in horse breeding to supply mules to the West Indies.
  • Ryan Quintana, Wellesley College, commenter.
This discussion is scheduled to run from 5:15 to 6:30 P.M. Again, people should register in advance to receive all the necessary information.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Why Was Samuel Emmons Called to Testify?

On 28 Nov 1770, the attorneys prosecuting eight soldiers for the Boston Massacre called Samuel Emmons to the witness stand.

According to defense counsel John Adams’s notes on the trial, Emmons’s testimony consisted entirely of:
I dont know any of the Prisoners. Nor anything.
Prosecutor Robert Treat Paine wrote Emmons’s name in his notes and then crossed it out. The published record of the trial, prepared from John Hodgson’s shorthand notes, didn’t mention Emmons at all.

Hiller B. Zobel’s The Boston Massacre quotes Emmons as adding, “I was not in King Street. My brother was.” However, those words don’t appear in the many documents transcribed in The Legal Papers of John Adams, co-edited by Zobel. I don’t see an Emmons brother among the other witnesses.

So why was Samuel Emmons on the witness list?

I think the answer appears in the 1 Jan 1764 Boston News-Letter, where Emmons advertised:
TAR-WATER,
MADE of Genuine Tar, to be sold by Samuel Emmons, Ropemaker, in Milk-Street, nigh the Foot of the Rope-Walks.
Bishop George Berkeley and other authorities promoted water infused with tar as a medicine. Tar was also used in preparing ropes for use on ships, so a ropemaker might well have a supply around. Emmons’s advertisement put him in the part of central Boston where John Gray’s ropewalk stood.

Thus, Emmons was almost certainly a witness to the big brawls between ropemakers and soldiers on 1 and 2 March, one of the events that raised tensions before the Massacre. Three of the soldiers on trial—Mathew Kilroy, William Warren, and John Carroll—were involved in those fights, as was victim Samuel Gray.

It looks like the prosecutors put Samuel Emmons on their list of possible witnesses as part of a plan to make the ropewalk fight a significant part of their case, just as it played a big role in the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. Later on 28 November they called ropemaker Nicholas Feriter to the stand; he described being involved in the fight and seeing Kilroy and Warren on the other side.

In a modern trial, those prosecutors would have learned more about what Samuel Emmons did and didn’t have to say before calling him to the stand. But Samuel Quincy and Paine didn’t have the time and personnel that modern prosecutors command. Who knows what the jury made of his remark?

More about Samuel Emmons appears in Robert Love’s Warnings, by Cornelia H. Dayton and Sharon V. Salinger. In 1753 he married Rachel Love, daughter of town employee Robert Love. They had their children baptized in the West Meetinghouse. In the 1780s Samuel became disabled because of “several touches of the Palsey,” and Rachel supported the family by keeping a small shop with a liquor license.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The First Day of Testimony Against the Soldiers

The first witness in the trial of Capt. Thomas Preston for the Boston Massacre was a barber’s apprentice named Edward Garrick.

He testified about how Pvt. Hugh White conked him on the head for speaking rudely about a passing army captain.

Edward’s testimony might have been more useful in prosecuting White, showing he had was aggressive and violent toward locals before anyone threatened him. But the prosecutors at the soldiers’ trial never called the boy, and we have no indication why.

Instead, the Crown’s opening witness on 27 Nov 1770 was “Jonathan Williams Austin, clerk to John Adams, Esq.” Which is to say, an assistant and trainee of the senior defense counsel.

By modern standards, this is a clear conflict of interest. But Austin had already testified for the Crown at the Preston trial. Even though the captain was acquitted, prosecuting attorneys Robert Treat Paine and Samuel Quincy must have felt the law clerk was a solid witness because they brought him back.

“Do you know either of the prisoners at the bar?” Quincy asked as his first recorded question.

Austin replied that he recognized Pvt. William Macauley: “I was about four feet off: McCauley said ‘Damn you, stand off,’ and pushed his bayonet at me: I did so.” After the shots, Austin recalled, he saw Macauley reload.

The prosecutors asked the next two witnesses, merchant Ebenezer Bridgham and James Dodge, the same first question, and similar questions of town watchman Edward G. Langford and clerk Francis Archbald. The attorneys’ goal was to establish that the defendants were definitely among the soldiers on King Street, and hopefully among those who fired at the crowd. Thus:
  • Bridgham said he saw a tall soldier he thought was Pvt. William Warren fire his gun, but didn’t see Cpl. William Wemms do so.
  • Dodge named Warren and White as present, and said the first shot came from the left side of the squad.
  • Langford identified White and Pvt. Mathew Kilroy, also said the first shot came from the left side, and testified that “immediately after Kilroy’s firing” ropemaker Samuel Gray fell dead, and “there was no other gun discharged at that time.”
  • Archbald also testified to Kilroy’s presence.
Determining which soldiers were present and fired was crucial because on the morning after the shooting people had examined the eight muskets and found that one hadn’t been discharged. One of the soldiers therefore hadn’t killed or wounded anybody. But which one? The prosecution had to prove each shooter’s guilt.

Here are some vivid details from the exchanges.
Q. Was you looking at the person who fired the last gun?
A [from Bridgham]. Yes, I saw him aim at a lad that was running down the middle of the street, and kept the motion of his gun after him a considerable time, and then fired.
Q. Did the lad fall?
A. He did not, I kept my eye on him a considerable time.

Q. Was the snow trodden down, or melted away by the Custom-House?
A [from Dodge]. No, the street was all covered like a cake.

A [from Langford]. Samuel Gray…came and struck me on the shoulder, and said, Langford, what’s here to pay.
Q. What said you to Gray then?
A. I said I did not know what was to pay, but I believed something would come of it by and bye. He made no reply. Immediately a gun went off. . . . I looked this man (pointing to Killroy) in the face, and bid him not fire; but he immediately fired, and Samuel Gray fell at my feet.

A [from Archbald]: I saw a soldier, and a mean looking fellow with him, with a cutlass in his hand: they came up to me: somebody said, put up your cutlass, it is not right to carry it at this time of night. He said, damn you ye Yankee bougers, what’s your business:
At five o’clock, the judges adjourned until the next morning. Since most trials of the time were over in a day, that was unusual, but—after Capt. Preston’s trial—not unprecedented.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Finding Jurors for the Boston Massacre Trial

On 27 Nov 1770, 250 years ago today, the second trial for the Boston Massacre got under way.

It was supposed to start a week earlier, but the court had trouble finding twelve jurors who were ready to sit on what promised to be an unusually long, unusually charged trial.

The defense team was giving the jurors extra scrutiny. Acting governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote to Gen. Thomas Gage in New York:
My great concern is to obtain an unbiased Jury and for that purpose, principally, I advised Captain [Thomas] Preston to engage one of the Bar, over and above the Council to conduct the Cause in Court, in the character of an Attorney who should make a very diligent inquiry into the characters and principles of all who are returned which he has done and it may be to good purpose, but after all it will be extremely difficult to keep a Jury to the Rules of Law.
That appears to be the reason that the young solicitor Sampson Salter Blowers joined John Adams and Josiah Quincy, Jr., on the defense team. (Blowers appears above later in life, when he was a judge in Nova Scotia.) Robert Auchmuty, senior counsel for the defense in Preston’s trial, saw his job as done.

The defense lawyers challenged every potential juror from Boston as too close to the case. After all, the town was paying Robert Treat Paine to be a special prosecutor. And the judges accepted those challenges. As a result, the jurors all had to come from other towns in Suffolk County (which at that time included all of present-day Norfolk County as well as Hingham). 

The trial record, which is unusually thick for the eighteenth century and published in volume 3 of The Legal Papers of John Adams and thus on Founders Online, shows the difficulty in seating a jury of twelve. The men called were: 
  • Samuel Williams, Roxbury, challenged for cause.
  • Joseph Curtis, Roxbury, challenged for cause.
  • Nathaniel Davis, Roxbury, sworn.
  • Joseph Mayo, Roxbury, sworn.
  • Abraham Wheeler, Dorchester, sworn.
  • Edward Pierce, Dorchester, sworn.
  • William Glover, Dorchester, challenged peremptorily.
  • Isaiah Thayer, Braintree, sworn.
  • Samuel Bass, Jr., Braintree, challenged peremptorily.
  • James Faxen, Braintree, challenged peremptorily.
  • Benjamin Fisher, Dedham, sworn.
  • John Morse, Dedham, challenged peremptorily.
  • James White, Medway, challenged peremptorily.
  • Nehemiah Davis, Brookline, challenged peremptorily.
  • Samuel Davenport, Milton, sworn.
  • Joseph Houghton, Milton, sworn.
  • James Richardson, Medfield, challenged peremptorily.
  • John Billings, Stoughton, challenged peremptorily.
  • Joseph Richards, Stoughton, challenged for cause.
  • Consider Atherton, Stoughton, sworn.
  • Abner Turner, Walpole, challenged peremptorily.
The clerk then called the Boston men whose names were at the bottom of that list, and the defendants challenged them all.
  • John Brown, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Joseph Barrell, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Silas Aitkins, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Harbottle Dorr, Boston, challenged for cause.
The judges had Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf bring in more men, and the process resumed.
  • Samuel Sheppard, Boston, challenged peremptorily.
  • John Goldsbury, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Samuel Peck, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • William Gouge, challenged for cause.
  • Joseph Turrell, Boston, challenged for cause.
  • Jacob Cushing, Jr., Hingham, sworn.
  • Josiah Lane, Hingham, sworn.
  • Jonathan Burr, Hingham, sworn.
Finally, the court officers did a little legal maneuvering to ensure the last three men from Hingham were indeed eligible, and the opening arguments began.

Joseph Mayo (1721-1776) of Roxbury was named foreman of the jury. He owned a large farm a little past the intersection of modern Washington Street and South Street in Roslindale. A veteran of the Louisbourg expedition of 1745, he was a captain of his town’s militia company. Mayo had also served on town committees to promote non-importation and to instruct the Massachusetts General Court representatives to stand up for the province’s charter rights. But the defense team felt, based on their inquiry, that he could assess the case fairly.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Abigail Adams’s Quiet Thanksgiving in 1798

On 29 Nov 1798, Abigail Adams sat down to an unusually small Thanksgiving dinner.

An autumn Thanksgiving feast was an important tradition in New England, and in October Massachusetts’s governor, Increase Sumner, issued a proclamation naming the date for that year.

But that holiday applied only within the state, not nationally. John Adams had gone back to work as President in Philadelphia.

Furthermore, all of Abigail and John’s children were also away from Quincy. Nabby Smith was with her husband and children in New York, as was Charles Adams with his wife and children. (Those spouses were also siblings, by the way.) John Quincy Adams was serving his father and country as minister to Russia, and he had taken baby brother Thomas Boylston Adams along as his secretary.

Abigail was thus facing an empty nest. She wrote to John:
This is our Thanksgiving day. when I look Back upon the year past, I perceive many, very many causes for thanksgiving, both of a publick and Private nature. I hope my Heart is not ungratefull, tho sad; it is usually a day of festivity when the social Family circle meet together tho seperated the rest of the year.

No Husband dignifies my Board, no Children add gladness to it, no Smiling Grandchildren Eyes to sparkle for the plumb pudding, or feast upon the mincd Pye. Solitary & alone I behold the day after a sleepless night, without a joyous feeling. am I ungratefull? I hope not.

Brother [Richard] Cranchs illness prevented Him and my sister [Mary] from joining me, & [Peter] Boylston Adams’s sickness confineing him to his House debared me from inviting your Brother & Family. I had but one resource, & that was to invite mr & mrs [David and Lydia] Porter to dine with me; and the two Families to unite in the Kitchin with Pheby the only surviving Parent I have, and thus we shared in the [“]Bounties of providence”
The Porters worked on the Adams estate. Phoebe Abdee had been enslaved to Abigail Adams’s father, the Rev. William Smith of Weymouth. After she became free, Adams hired her to help run the farm as well, but the phrase “the only surviving Parent I have” indicates how much more the woman meant to her. 

A New England Thanksgiving of this time always included a sermon. In the Quincy meetinghouse that was delivered by the Rev. Kilborn Whitman (1765-1835), who had left his pulpit in Pembroke in a disagreement over salary. But Abigail Adams didn’t attend:
I was not well enough to venture to meeting and by that means lost an excellent discourse deliverd by mr Whitman, upon the numerous causes of thankfullness and gratitude which we all have to the Great Giver of every perfect Gift; nor was the late Glorious Victory gained by Admiral Nelson over the French omitted by him, as in its concequences of Great importance in checking the mad arrogance of that devouring Nation.
By this point in her life Adams was quite comfortable talking about politics. Indeed, one senses she missed the oportunity to discuss foreign policy with her family over Thanksgiving dinner.

As for Whitman, the congregation invited him to become the partner and ultimate replacement for the Rev. Anthony Wibird, but the vote wasn’t unanimous and he wisely decided not to stay. Whitman was already studying the law and soon went into that profession instead, back in Pembroke.