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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Sunday, September 23, 2018

“There are no Barracks in the Town”

Thursday, 22 Sept 1768, was not only the first day of the extralegal Massachusetts Convention of Towns. It was also the anniversary of the coronation of George III.

That royal holiday was accordingly observed in Boston, as the Boston Evening-Post described:
by the firing of the Cannon at Castle William and at the Batteries in this Town, and three Vollies by the Regiment of Militia, which, with the Train of Artillery, were mustered on the Occasion.——

At the Invitation of his Excellency the Governor, his Majesty’s Health was drank at the Council-Chamber at Noon.
So much for ceremonial harmony. At that same meeting in the Old State House, Gov. Francis Bernard and the Council were in a major dispute.

Three days before, the governor had formally told the Council the news that he’d leaked days before—that British army regiments were on the way to Boston. Under the Quartering Act, the local authorities were required to provide housing and firewood for them. As John G. McCurdy argued at a Colonial Society of Massachusetts session last February, we can think of the Quartering Act as one of Parliament’s taxes on the colonies, requiring resources from local communities without their vote.

Gov. Bernard wanted the Council to start arranging to house four regiments, two on their way from Halifax and two more to arrive later from Ireland. But the Council was determined not to cooperate. In a report to London, Bernard claimed James Otis, Jr., had laid out this strategy for the Whigs:
There are no Barracks in the Town; and therefore by Act of parliament they [the soldiers] must be quartered in the public houses. But no one will keep a public house upon such terms, & there will be no public houses. Then the Governor and Council must hire Barnes Outhouses &c for them; but no body is obliged to let them; no body will let them; no body will dare to let them.

The Troops are forbid to quarter themselves in Any other manner than according to the Act of parliament, under severe penalties. But they can’t quarter themselves according to the Act: and therefore they must leave the Town or seize on quarters contrary to the Act. When they do this, when they invade property contrary to an Act of parliament We may resist them with the Law on our side.
Bernard was anxious to head off such trouble. He wrote:
I answered, that they must be sensible that this Act of parliament (which seemed to be made only with a View to marching troops) could not be carried into execution in this Case. For if these troops were to be quartered in public houses & thereby mixt with the people their intercourse would be a perpetual Source of affrays and bloodsheds; and I was sure that no Commanding officer would consent to having his troops separated into small parties in a town where there was so public & professed a disaffection to his Majesty’s British Government.

And as to hiring barnes outhouses &c it was mere trifling to apply that clause to Winter quarters in this Country; where the Men could not live but in buildings with tight walls & plenty of fireplaces. Therefore the only thing to be done was to provide barracks; and to say that there were none was only true, that there was no building built for that purpose; but there were many public buildings that might be fitted up for that purpose with no great inconvenience.
Bernard proposed that the province make the Manufactory House available for the troops. This building had been put up in 1753 to house spinners and weavers. The province had loaned money to build it, expecting to be paid back from the profits of the cloth-manufacturing enterprise. The scheme never made money, the businessmen behind it defaulted on the loan, and Massachusetts was left with ownership of this big building near the center of town.

The Council formed a committee led by James Bowdoin to consult with Boston’s selectmen about the troops. On 22 September, the day of the toasts to the king, that committee reported that the selectmen “gave it for their Opinion that it would be most for the peace of the Town that the two regiments expected from Halifax should be quartered at the Castle.”

That was a new strategy, avoiding confrontations with the soldiers by housing them in the barracks on Castle William—which was on an island in the harbor. Of course, that meant those troops couldn’t patrol Boston and protect Customs officers, which was the whole point of sending them into town. Bernard wrote, “I observed that they confounded the Words Town & Township; that the Castle was indeed in the Township of Boston but was so far from being in the Town that it was distant from it by water 3 miles & by land 7.”

The governor reproached his Council: “I did not see how they could clear themselves from being charged with a design to embarras the quartering the Kings troops.” Bernard thus hinted that the body was being disloyal to the king—and on the anniversary of his coronation! “I spoke this so forcibly,” he wrote, “that some of them were stagger’d, & desired further time to consider of it.” But one member warned the governor not to expect any progress, “pleasantly” adding, “what can you expect from a Council who are more affraid of the people than they are of the King?”

On 23 September, 250 years ago today, a smaller committee, also led by Bowdoin, was ready to present a formal report on the matter to Gov. Bernard.

Who was now at his country house out in Jamaica Plain. This of course kept him distant from the Convention going on in Faneuil Hall. Province secretary Andrew Oliver told the Council “that the Weather being so stormy the Governor will not be in Town to-day, and desires they will meet him at the Province-House to-morrow ten o’Clock, A.M.”

The next morning was stormy, too. Bernard finally came into town that Saturday afternoon to hear what the Council had to say. Which was the same thing as before, except longer: the only place for the troops was out at Castle William. After cleaning up some errors in their report, the Council had it published in the newspapers on 26 September, making the dispute a public matter.

COMING UP: Meanwhile, back in Faneuil Hall.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Opening Day for the Massachusetts Convention of 1768

On Thursday, 22 Sept 1768, 250 years ago today, the Massachusetts Convention met for the first time in Faneuil Hall. Participants were dubbed to be “committees” from their respective towns.

Gov. Francis Bernard sent a strongly worded message from his official home, the Province House (shown here):
As I have lately received from his Majesty [i.e., the Crown government in London] strict Orders to support his constitutional authority within this Government [i.e., in the province of Massachusetts], I cannot sit still and see so notorious a violation of it, as the calling an Assembly of the people by private persons only. For a meeting of the Deputies of the Towns is an Assembly of the Representatives of the people to all intents and purposes; and it is not the calling it a Convention what will alter the nature of the thing. . . .

It is therefore my duty to interpose at this instant, before it is too late. I do therefore earnestly admonish you that instantly and before you do any business, you break up this Assembly and separate yourselves. I speak to you now as a friend to the Province, and a well-wisher to the individuals of it.
Andrew Oliver, the royal secretary of Massachusetts, delivered that message to Thomas Cushing, the Convention chairman (usually speaker of the Massachusetts house). The Convention records noted that the letter was:
said to be by Order of the Governor, but not being signed, it was by a Vote of the Committees returned to the Secretary, with Assurance to him that they should be always ready to pay all due Respect to any Messages which they might be assured should come to them from the Governor of the Province.
The Convention then approved a petition to Gov. Bernard asking him to convene the Massachusetts General Court. Back in June, the governor had ended a legislative session because the lower house refused to rescind its Circular Letter to other colonies. Bernard had explicit orders from the ministry in London to take that action.

The governor therefore declined to receive the petition from the small committee that brought it, sending a note in reply:
Gentlemen,

You must excuse me from receiving a Message from that Assembly which is called a Committee of Convention; for that would be to admit it to be a legal Assembly; which I can by no Means allow.
The Convention responded that this letter wasn’t signed, either. But the three delegates who had been to the Province House “declared in Writing under their Hands that his Excellency delivered the same to them.”

The Convention and the governor having each refused to recognize the other, the first day of the momentous gathering came to a close.

TOMORROW: Meanwhile, in the Council Chamber…

Friday, September 21, 2018

Adams on Rogers on Bernard on Adams

On 21 Sept 1775, John Adams met Robert Rogers, the famous army ranger from the French and Indian War.

After that war, Rogers fought in the British war against Pontiac. Then he tried governing a far west territory, only to get into a feud with Gen. Thomas Gage and rack up a lot of debts. Rogers spent the early 1770s in London—some of that time in debtor’s prison. He returned to North America after the new war broke out.

On that Thursday in September, the veteran was in Philadelphia, chatting with members of the Continental Congress. Here’s how Adams recorded their conversation:
The famous Partisan Major Rogers came to our Lodgings to make Us a Visit. He has been in Prison—discharged by some insolvent or bankrupt Act.

He thinks We shall have hot Work, next Spring. He told me an old half Pay Officer, such as himself, would sell well next Spring. And when he went away, he said to S[amuel]. A[dams]. and me, if you want me, next Spring for any Service, you know where I am, send for me. I am to be sold.—

He says the Scotch Men at home, say d——n that Adams and [Thomas] Cushing. We must have their Heads, &c. [Francis] Bernard used to d——n that Adams—every dip of his Pen stung like an horned Snake, &c.

[Charles] Paxton made his Will in favour of Ld. Townsend, and by that Maneuvre got himself made a Commissioner [of Customs]. There was a great deal of Beauty in that Stroke of Policy. We must laugh at such sublime Strokes of Politicks, &c. &c. &c.
Many authors have since repeated that Gov. Bernard said that “every dip of [Samuel Adams’s] Pen stung like an horned Snake.” But was Rogers a reliable source? There are a few reasons to think not.

Rogers was offering his military services at a price. That means he had good reason to butter up the Massachusetts delegates with flattery or news they wanted to hear. The idea of “the Scotch Men at home” fit into Whig suspicions that Lord Bute (long retired) was pulling strings in the government, for instance. The report that Commissioner Paxton had bought his way into his job was delicious gossip. And what Adams wouldn’t want to know he’d gotten under the skin of Gov. Bernard?

What’s more, Rogers’s offer may not have been sincere. Within a few months, American politicians decided that he was actually gathering information for the British. When the major visited Cambridge, Gen. George Washington declined to meet with him. Back in Philadelphia, the Congress ordered Rogers locked up. If he didn’t already support the Crown, that certainly cemented him as a Loyalist. He escaped, made his way to New York, and tricked Nathan Hale into revealing that he was on a secret mission. If Rogers was trying to wheedle his way into the Adamses’ trust as a British operative, he’d have even more reason to lie to them.

Finally, Rogers may have been unreliable for everyone by this point because of his drinking. Though he took command of the Queen’s Rangers in August 1776, he was removed in early 1777 and never achieved anything meaningful during the war.

Gov. Bernard definitely didn’t like Samuel Adams and his writing. But he never used a snake metaphor for that writing or anything else in his correspondence between 1759 and 1769, as published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. In fact, as an aristocratic gentleman and government authority, Bernard generally tried to shrug off the “stings” of his opponents’ rhetoric.

Thus, while it’s possible Bernard really did liken Samuel Adams’s pen to a snake’s tooth, I think it’s safer to write that Maj. Rogers quoted him as saying so.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Edward Oxnard’s Theatrical Reviews

Edward Oxnard (1747-1803) was a Harvard graduate who became a merchant in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. He was an Anglican, and his brother Thomas worked for the Customs service, so it was natural for him to become a Loyalist when the war broke out. He sailed for London in the summer of 1775.

In the capital of the British Empire, Oxnard experienced something he couldn’t have seen in post-Puritan New England: theater. But lack of broad experience with plays didn’t stop him from expressing strong opinions. Here are some extracts from Oxnard’s journal about what he saw, starting on 20 Sept 1775:
In the evening went to the Haymarket to see [Samuel] Foote. The play was called the Commissary; the entertainment, cross questions.

Their majesties were there. The King entered first, and the plaudit was universal: the Queen entered some time after. His majesty is a very good figure of a man. He seemed to be much dejected. Her majesty appears to be a small woman; her countenance carries such a sweetness, as attracts the esteem of all. She was dressed in white, with a diamond stomacher; a black cap with lustres of diamonds. A maid of honor stood behind her chair the whole time, as well as a Lord behind his majesty’s. I observed the King & Queen conversed as familiarly together, as we in general do in public company. Two beefeaters stood on each side of their majesties the whole of the play.

I take Foote to have been a good actor, but to have lost much of his humor and drollery by age. I dislike much his entertainments, as they are pointed at particular persons, remarkable for some peculiarity.
After a brief career in the law, Samuel Foote (1720-1777) had made himself into London’s most popular comedian. He was known, as Oxnard noted, for mimicking famous people. After a career of financial ups and downs, he had gained control of the Haymarket Theater, probably as compensation for the leg he’d lost in a carriage accident with the Prince Edward, the Duke of York.

The engraving above shows Foote in his Commissary role as the newly wealthy Zachary Fungus. He wrote that play for himself in 1765. At the time Oxnard visited the Haymarket, Foote was working on a play based on bigamy allegations against the Duchess of Kingston. She and her friends attacked the playwright, insinuating that he was gay. In 1776 the duchess was indeed convicted of bigamy. Foote was acquitted of sodomy, on the other hand, but he died the next year.

Back to Oxnard on 11 October:
In the evening Mr. [Samuel] Quincey, Col. [Benjamin] Pickman, Mr. [William] Cabut & myself went to Covent Garden, but could not get in, the house being so exceedingly full, owing to their majesties being there.

From thence went to Drury Lane, the play, “Win a wife & rule her.” The pantomime, “Harlequin’s Jacket,” the scenery was beyond anything I have ever imagined & was shifted with the greatest dexterity. The house has been lately fitted up in a most elegant manner.
The main play that day was actually titled Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, by Beaumont and Fletcher, somewhat adapted by David Garrick. It was standard for a full-length comedy to be performed alongside a shorter “entertainment” or “pantomime,” as Oxnard saw.

And 20 October:
In company with Mr. [John or Edward] Berry went to Covent Garden Theatre to see the Tragedy of Cato played. The celebrated Mr. Sheridan performed the part of Cato to admiration. He justly merits the applause which his treatise on Elocution gives him, as an author. The Commonality take on themselves to determine the merits of a performance, and if it does not suit their taste, they express it by hissing; should that prove ineffectual, they pelt the actors with apples till they drive them from the stage or make some apology.
Cato was an immensely popular tragedy by Joseph Addison. The star that night, Thomas Sheridan, was an Irish actor, teacher, and author of the A Course of Lectures on Elocution (1762). He was also the father of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Presumably the star had not been driven from the stage with apples.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Booth on Jeremiah Lee in Marblehead, 3 Oct.

On Wednesday, 3 October, Robert Booth will speak about “Col. Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead: First Leader to Die for Independence.” This event is cosponsored by the Marblehead Museum and the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.

The event description explains:
Jeremiah Lee (1721-1775) was among the most successful American shipping merchants, drawing his wealth from the exportation of salt codfish and the importation of commodities from the Caribbean and southern Europe, with plenty of illicit commerce along several coasts.

In the 1750s and 1760s Lee, owner of the town’s grandest house as of 1766, and his brother-in-law Robert “King” Hooper were friendly rivals for the social and business leadership of Marblehead, then second only to Boston as the largest and richest town in Massachusetts. As Britain cracked down on the wide-open trade of the American merchants, Hooper and Lee diverged: Hooper cultivated the royal authorities and gained preference for his shipping, while Lee, believing that his business would be destroyed, became the leader of the anti-British faction, at the risk of all that he had amassed.

By the 1770s war seemed inevitable, and Lee, the colonel of the large militia regiment of Marblehead, prepared his men by bringing in a drill instructor. He imported munitions and weapons through his overseas contacts and traveled in Maryland and Virginia to arrange for supplies and to encourage his counterparts there toward rebellion.

Col. Jeremiah Lee became an outspoken rebel politician and served as the chairman of the Essex County rebel congress in fall 1774, which issued its own demands similar to Boston’s Suffolk Resolves. In the councils of the Massachusetts rebel congress, formed in October 1774, Lee stood very high. By the spring of 1775 he was a leader of the rebel movement intent on driving the British army out of Boston.
Lee died in May 1775, not in battle but from an illness contracted in the stress of 19 April. In the following months, some of his ships ferried Col. Benedict Arnold’s men up to Maine while others became some of Gen. George Washington’s fleet of armed schooners.

Robert Booth is a Marblehead historian, author most recently of the books The Women of Marblehead (2016), a feminist history of the town in the 19th century; Mad for Glory (2015), about Americans in the Pacific in 1813; and Death of an Empire (2011), on the 1820s demise of Salem as a worldwide center of trade.

This talk is free, though donations to support the museum will be welcome. It will start at 6:00 P.M. in the rooms of the Marblehead Museum, 170 Washington Street, across the street from Lee’s own home. Reserve tickets through this page.

Following the talk, the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati will host a buffet dinner at the Boston Yacht Club, 1 Front Street in Marblehead. The price for the dinner is $46. People who wish to attend both the lecture and the dinner must make reservations in advance. Use this page to reserve seats before Sunday, 23 September.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Anderson on the Lee Household in Marblehead, 20 Sept.

On Thursday, 20 September, Judy Anderson will speak at the Marblehead Museum about “18th-Century Women & Children, Servants & Slaves in the Lee Mansions.”

This illustrated talk will introduce the enigmatic women and children of the Jeremiah Lee family. The Marblehead merchant married Martha Swett, and over their thirty years of marriage they had nine children—though only four grew to adulthood.

Martha was a younger half-sister of Ruth Swett, rival merchant Robert “King” Hooper’s second wife. Each sister had lost her own mother by age seven. They raised their children (twenty combined!) next door to each other for twelve years until Ruth’s death at age forty-three after twenty-eight years of marriage.

About five years later, the Lee family moved into the grand residence associated with Col. Lee today, shown above in a photograph by Rick Ashley. By then the Lees’ eldest son had left for Harvard, and about three years later he married, soon starting a new generation.

This talk will include “some less familiar material” about the Lees, the Hoopers, and the Lee offspring in Marblehead. It is presented in cooperation with Marblehead Arts Association.

Anderson will speak at the museum, 170 Washington Street in Marblehead, starting at 7:00 P.M. Admission is $15, or $10 for members of the Marblehead Museum or the Marblehead Arts Association. Register through this webpage or by calling 781-631-1768.

Other Marblehead Museum presentations this month include:

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Season of Talks at the David Library

Here’s the lineup of upcoming talks at the David Library of the American Revolution in Pennsylvania. That’s a striking venue with a loyal audience, and its offerings cover the entire war—note how many different people and events proved absolutely crucial to the Revolution.

Thursday, 20 September, 7:30
John Oller, “A Patriot (But Not THE Patriot)”
The author of The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution will explore the life and military campaigns of Francis Marion. Like Robin Hood of legend, Marion and his men attacked from secret hideaways before melting back into the forest or swamp, confounding the British. Although Marion bore little resemblance to the fictionalized portrayals in television and film, his exploits were no less heroic. He and his band of militia freedom fighters kept hope alive for the patriot cause in one of its darkest hours, and helped win the Revolution.

Thursday, 4 October, 7:30
Bob Drury, “The Existential Moment: How The Valley Forge Winter Saved the Revolution, Created the United States, and Changed the World”
Bob Drury is co-author (with Tom Clavin) of the new book Valley Forge. In his talk, he will outline how George Washington and his closest advisers spent six months on a barren plateau 23 miles from enemy-held Philadelphia fighting a war on two fronts—militarily against the British, and politically against a Continental faction attempting to depose him as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. How he deftly prevailed on both of these fronts shaped the world as we know it today.

Sunday, 7 October, 3:00
Robert Selig, “The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail in the State of Pennsylvania”
In 2008, President Obama signed legislation establishing the land and water routes that were traveled by the allied French and American armies to and from Yorktown in the summer of 1781 as a National Historic Trail. That trail stretches from Newport, Rhode Island, and Newburgh, New York, and includes Pennsylvania from Trenton south to Marcus Hook. Yet the very existence of this trail is still largely unknown. Robert Selig, Ph.D., serves as project historian to the National Park Service for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail Project. His lecture will introduce the trail and its historic significance, showing contemporary and modern maps, and important sites he has identified in his research, some of which was conducted at the David Library!

Wednesday, 17 October, 7:30
An Evening with Nathaniel Philbrick
This program comes in cooperation with nearby Washington Crossing Historic Park, which will host the event. The New York Times best-selling author, hailed by the Wall Street Journal as “one of America’s foremost practitioners of narrative nonfiction,” will give a talk about his newest book, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown. Tickets are $50 for a single seat, and $80 for two. Each individual or couple admission price includes an autographed copy of In the Hurricane’s Eye. Proceeds benefit the David Library and the Friends of Washington Crossing Historic Park. Visit this site to buy tickets in advance.

Thursday, 25 October, 7:30
Stephen Fried, “Reclaiming Dr. Benjamin Rush, Our ‘Lost’ Founding Father”
Bestselling author Stephen Fried, whose latest book is Rush: Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, will help us see the American Revolution, the Federal Period and the human saga of the entire birth of our nation from the unique, fascinating perspective of founding father, physician, philosopher and confidant Benjamin Rush.

Thursday, 1 November, 7:30
Ricardo A. Herrera, “American Citizens, American Soldiers: Civic Identity and Military Service from the War of Independence to the Civil War”
From 1775 through 1861, American soldiers defined and demonstrated their beliefs about the nature of the American republic and how they, as citizens and soldiers, were part of the republican experiment. Despite uniquely martial customs, organizations, and behaviors, the United States Army, the states’ militias, and the war-time volunteers were the products of their parent society. Understanding American soldiers of all ranks, in war and in peace, helps us understand more about American society writ large and how that society shaped its armed forces in the years of the Early Republic. A former David Library Fellow, and currently Professor of Military History at the School of Advanced Military Studies in Kansas, Ricardo A. Herrera, Ph.D., is the author of For Liberty and the Republic: The American Citizen as Soldier, 1775-1861.

Thursday, 8 November, 7:30
Christopher S. Wren, “Vermont: The Most Rebellious Race”
Before Vermont was Vermont, it was a British territory fought over by such figures as Ethan Allen, who helped form the American Revolutionary War militia known as the Green Mountain Boys. This lecture, by the author of Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution, will consider the story of the tough, brave, and wild crew of characters who faced some of the harshest combat in the American Revolution, and made their own rules to create an independent Vermont.

Sunday, 18 November, 3:00
Tilar J. Mazzeo, “The Private Lives and Loves of the Schuyler Sisters”
Mazzeo is the author of the new biography Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton. Her lecture will take a lively look into the lives of Eliza, Angelica and Peggy, the daughters of Philip Schuyler, and the context of colonial and early national women’s lives in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The lecture will draw on information from private family letters and documents, and will cover everything from Eliza Hamilton’s first crushes to the Schuyler family wedding cake recipe to how colonial women leveraged coterie networks to support spy rings in the Revolution.

Thursday, 6 December, 7:30
Christian di Spigna, “‘The Greatest Incendiary in all America’: The Rise and Fall of Dr. Joseph Warren”
Joseph Warren was the Boston physician who played a prominent role in the earliest days of the Revolution. As president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress, it was he who enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes on April 18, 1775, to leave Boston and spread the alarm that the British garrison in Boston was setting out to raid the town of Concord. Christian di Spigna is the author of Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution's Lost Hero. His lecture will trace Warren’s rise from humble beginnings to his bloody death at Bunker Hill, and examine Warren’s postmortem journey over the years from Revolutionary hero to relative obscurity.

(My own talk at the David Library a couple of years back can be viewed here.)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The News from 250 Years Ago

While looking at the newspaper coverage from 250 years ago this month, I was struck by some of the stories that Bostonians were reading at the same time they digested news of the imminent arrival of army regiments.

For example, the Boston Evening-Post of 12 September contained several reports of lightning strikes on the evening of Wednesday the 7th. One bolt in Wrentham “tore to pieces” a “very large white Oak Tree, which was more than two Feet Diameter,” and threw some pieces ten rods away. Another hit Daniel Mann’s inn, causing lots of miscellaneous damage but not hurting any of the thirty-odd people inside. Unfortunately, that same night lightning killed a ten-year-old boy in Rehoboth. The next evening, lightning set fire to a barn belonging to Joseph Palmer of Braintree, causing £200 worth of damage.

In other news from the 12 September Evening-Post:
Last Wednesday sailed from this Port his Majesty’s Sloop of War the Senegal, as also the armed Schooners, supposed to be bound to Halifax: There now remains in this Harbour with their Pendants flying, his Majesty’s Ship Romney, of 50 Guns, and the Sloop Liberty.

The above Sloop Liberty was sold at public Auction last Tuesday, and was struck off to the Collector of his Majesty’s Customs for this Port, and its said is now to be improved [i.e., used] as a Cruiser for the Protection of Trade.
The Customs service, having confiscated John Hancock’s ship Liberty for alleged smuggling and other legal violations, had bought that ship and planned to hunt down other smugglers with it. I don’t think the Customs service had had its own patrol ship before.

The 12 September Boston Chronicle:
We hear from Salem, that a person there, having given information of a vessel that arrived there with molasses, the populace were so enraged, that they stript him, then wrapped him in a tarred sheet, and rolled him in feathers; having done this, they carried him about the streets in a cart, and then banished him the town for six weeks.
This was the first documented example of tarring and feathering in New England. It established the pattern for such attacks: a crowd publicly punishing a working-class man believed to have helped the Customs service capture smugglers.

The 19 September Boston Chronicle:
Captain [James] Scott brought the account of the arrival of Benjamin Hallowell, jun. Esq; after a passage of twenty-nine days.

Letters brought by Captain [James] Bruce mentioned, that Mr. Hallowell, since his arrival, has had frequent conferences with the ministry…
Hallowell was the Comptroller of Customs in Boston, as well as the son and namesake of a well known merchant captain. He was one of the officers that carried out the confiscation of the Liberty and was then attacked by the crowd. Hallowell had gone to London to complain to the government on behalf of all the Customs officers and to see what compensation he could receive. Eventually he was promoted to be one of the Commissioners of Customs.

More from the 19 September Chronicle:
The Rev. Mather Byles [Jr.]. who went home last May with Capt. Davis, met with a favourable reception from the Bishop of London, was ordained, and is appointed missionary for Christ’s Church in this town, with a salary, it is said, of 40 l. sterling, per annum, and is expected to return with Capt. Davis.
Byles (shown above) was another son and namesake of a well known figure in town—in his case, the learned, punning minister of the Hollis Street Meetinghouse near the Neck. For the younger Byles, a descendant of the Puritan Mathers, to take orders within the Church of England was a big deal. It presaged the family’s long-lasting Loyalism.

From the 19 September Boston Gazette:
Monday in the Night [i.e., on 12 September] the Post contiguous to Liberty Tree was sawed off, the Damage was inconsiderable, but discovers the evil Disposition of the Perpetrators of such a base Action.
The 19 September Gazette:
We hear that last Saturday se’nnight [i.e., 10 September] two Informers, an Englishman and Frenchman, were taken up by the Populace at Newbury-Port, who tarred them; but being late they were handcuffed and put into custody until the Sabbath was over:—Accordingly on Monday Morning they were again tarred and rolled in Feathers, then fixed in a Cart with Halters, and carried through the principal Streets of the Town, to the View of the Gallows, but what further we know not.
The practice of tarring-and-feathering spread rapidly in Essex County.

Finally, from the 19 September Gazette:
We are credibly informed, that the Selectmen of a neighbouring Town have taken Care that their Town be supply’d with a sufficient Quantity of Gun-Powder, as the Law directs; and that the Col. of the Militia there, has declared his Intention to order a strict Enquiry into the State of his Regiment, respecting Arms, Ammunition, &c. . . .

Thursday next there will be a general Muster of the Regiment in this Town, and we hear a critical View of the Arms of the Soldiers.
These actions reflected Boston’s discussion of strengthening the militia ahead of the troops’ arrival.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

“To cause the barrel to be forthwith removed”

What about that turpentine barrel on top of the pole on top of Beacon Hill?

The beacon pole had been standing since the 1630s. It got blown down sometime in the 1760s, and in late 1767 Boston’s selectmen put it back up. (Gov. Francis Bernard grumbled that he hadn’t been consulted.)

Then on the night of 10 Sept 1768, as the town digested news that army regiments were on their way, someone placed a barrel in the platform atop the beacon. People recognized that barrel as holding sometime flammable, turpentine or tar. They knew that a flaming beacon was a signal for the country militia to arm and march to fight off invaders. So that barrel provoked thought.

On Sunday, 11 September, the Council and the selectmen both had emergency meetings about the barrel. The selectmen decided to do nothing. The Council decided to do nothing besides asking the selectmen to take down the barrel. The selectmen received that message and again decided to do nothing. On Monday, Boston started a town meeting, received the Council’s message as forwarded from the selectmen, and decided to do nothing on a larger scale.

According to Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, someone finally took action on Thursday, 15 September:
The council, thereupon, advised the governor to direct the sheriff to cause the barrel to be forthwith removed. The sheriff, in the most private manner he could, executed his order, taking six or seven men with him just at dinner time, and in about ten minutes, luckily as he thought, effected his purpose.
Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf was a royal appointee, so he owed his position to the governor. He was Anglican, another common indicator of support for Crown policy. But when Greenleaf carried out the governors’ orders in this tumultuous period, he usually acted slowly or gently enough to avoid the wrath of the crowd.

The date of the sheriff’s action isn’t clear from Hutchinson’s account. As I wrote earlier, the newspaper printers didn’t touch the story. Historians John Miller and Hiller B. Zobel, the latter appearing to cite the diary of Capt. John Corner of the Royal Navy, state that Greenleaf acted on the 15th—250 years ago today.

One more thing—the barrel had been empty all along.

TOMORROW: Other news.

Friday, September 14, 2018

“A pretence for arming the Town”

We pick up the proceedings of Boston’s town meeting on 13 Sept 1768 after the voters present unanimously approved a call for a Convention of representatives from all of Massachusetts’s towns.

According to Gov. Francis Bernard’s report to the Earl of Hillsborough in London:
I should have mentioned before that in the middle of the Hall where they met, were deposited in chests, the Town Arms, amounting as it is said to about 400. These, as I have before informed your Lordship, about 4 or 5 months ago were taken out of the lumber rooms, where they had lain for some years past, to be cleaned; & have since been laid upon the floor of the Town hall to remind the people of the use of them. These Arms were often the subject of discourse & were of singular use to the Orators in the way of Action.
The resolution Boston’s Whig leaders next offered indeed related to such weapons as they proposed making sure the town’s militiamen were all armed:
Whereas, by an Act of Parliament of the First of King William and Queen Mary it is declared that the Subjects being Protestants, may have Arms for their Defence; It is the Opinion of this Town, that the said Declaration is founded in Nature Reason and sound Policy, and is well adapted for the necessary defence of the Community And for as much as by a good and wholesome Law of this Province, every listed Soldier, and other Householder (except [horse] Troopers who by Law are to be otherwise provided) shall be always provided with a well fixed Fire Lock Musket Accoutrement and Ammunition as in said Law particularly mentioned, to the satisfaction of the Commission Officers of the Company; and as there is at this Time a prevailing apprehension, in the Minds of many, of an approaching War with France: In order that the Inhabitants of this Town may be prepared in case of sudden danger; Voted, that those of the said Inhabitants who may at present be unprovided, be and hereby are requested duly to observe the said Law at this Time
“An approaching War with France”? Indeed, the 8 September Boston News-Letter had just carried a couple of alarming items from London:
By a Gentleman just arrived from Calais we are informed, that the common topick of conversation at that place, Dunkirk and other sea ports in France, is of an approaching war with England. . . .

One day last week, at a certain Coffee-House not 100 miles from St. James’s, a wager of 1000 guineas to 20, was laid that war would be declared between Great Britain on the one part, and France and Genoa on the other, before the 3d day of August next.
But if the Whigs were really worried about another French war, why were they objecting to the arrival of British regiments? Surely the people of Massachusetts would welcome their own nation’s professional military protection.

Gov. Bernard saw through the ruse:
As the Subject of their debates turned upon arming the Town & Country against their Enemies, The probability of a French War was mentioned as a pretence for arming the Town & a Cover for the frequent use of the Word Enemy.

It was said that the Enemy would probably be here before the Convention met, that is within 10 days; It was moved that the Arms should be now delivered out to oppose the Enemy; this was objected to for that they might fall into hands who would not use them.

But this flimsy Veil was not allways kept on: it was often said that they had a right to oppose with arms a military force which was sent to oblige them to submit to unconstitutional Laws; and when it was required to be more explicit, the Chairman [James Otis, Jr.] said that they understood one another Very well, & pointing with his hand added “there are the Arms; when an attempt is made agst. your liberties they will be delivered; our Declaration wants no explication:” and indeed it does not.
After this discussion, the resolution about military preparation passed “by a very great Majority.” The earlier votes were unanimous, which meant there were some brave dissenters in the meeting.

The meeting wrapped up with three votes:
  • Thomas Cushing shared a letter from New York merchants supporting non-importation, and the gathering voiced its approval.
  • The town asked local ministers to set aside the next Tuesday “as a Day of Fasting and Prayer.”
  • The town decided for the proceedings of this meeting to be “published in the several News Papers; and also that a Number of Copys be struck off & sent to the several Towns in this Province.”
On Thursday the Boston News-Letter and Boston Chronicle, which both leaned a bit toward the royal government and may have been partly laid out already, ran those proceedings on inside pages, where local news usually appeared. But come Monday, the Boston Gazette, Boston Post-Boy, and Boston Evening-Post all put the town’s business on the front page.

On 14 September—250 years ago today—Boston’s selectmen sent the broadside shown above to the other towns in Massachusetts, inviting them to a Convention in Faneuil Hall eight days later.

TOMORROW: Back to Beacon Hill.