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, June 17, 2018

Mapping the Battle of Bunker Hill

With the sestercentennial of June 1768 passing by, I have few days to devote to the Battle of Bunker Hill. But here’s Charles E. Frye’s map of that battle, completed in 2011 and available through Wikipedia. It’s unusual in positioning American army units on the Charlestown peninsula.

Frye is an army-trained cartographer. In this interview, Frye talked about how he came to make that map:
My wife suggested I help my oldest son with his 5th grade history project and that we could research to find out where [our ancestor] Isaac [Frye] was on the battlefield. Reading about the battle proved bewildering and disorienting. Therefore, my natural inclination was to make a map along with a timeline to organize that information. We started by mapping the Boston vicinity, including what was then known as the Charlestown Peninsula. Based on that and the major landmarks of the peninsula, we could then see the form of the battle and the sequence of events. My son hand-drew a one-page color map of the battle and wrote a short essay describing where Isaac most likely was located. We had narrowed it down to two possible locations. It took years before I finally located the documentation indicating which of the two was correct.

I ended up making my own map using GIS and because I learned the Library of Congress’s map division had copies of most of the maps depicting the battle, and already had a map-scanning program. GIS allows for scanned maps to be positioned relative to modern geographic data, which then could be used to create a historical map in the GIS. I knew a cartographer working at the Library of Congress, so I contacted her, and their staff bumped up the remaining maps of the battle so I could have faster access.

My map looked good to me, and it was rich with information. I shared it with the map division staff, and they liked it and cataloged a copy. However, the “Aha!” moment occurred for me two years later when I first visited the Bunker Hill Monument. There is a diorama there depicting the battle. Other than placement of the cannon, my map completely agreed with the diorama! How does a non-historian do that part-time in only a matter of months? With GIS of course. Mapping information in GIS forces rigor, which among other things affords efficiency because non-conforming information cannot be forced into database like it can be forced into a paragraph. I later published a data model and method for historians to use GIS in their work. I am happy to say many historians have since adopted, adapted, and expanded on that work.
Here’s more on Frye’s data model and method for others to use with G.I.S. systems.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

“Preserving a perfect Conciliation”

Late on 14 June 1768, a large committee from Boston town meeting headed by James Otis, Jr., visited Gov. Francis Bernard at his country house in Jamaica Plain. The governor reported receiving “a Train of 11 Chaises.”

The committee presented the governor with a petition that protested against:
  • taxation without representation, and thus the Townshend Act.
  • a petition to King George III being turned away (because it wasn’t sent to London through the official channel).
  • the Royal Navy’s impressment of sailors in Boston harbor.
That document concluded with a wonderful bit of trolling, saying that “the Board of Customs have thought fit, of their own motion to relinquish the exercise of their Commission here.” In other words, the Customs Commissioners had left their posts in Boston—no acknowledgment that they had done so out of fear of mob violence. Therefore, the committee continued, there was no need for H.M.S. Romney to stay around in Boston harbor since there were no longer any Customs Commissioners to protect.

Gov. Bernard shared wine with the gentlemen and promised them an answer the next day. His 15 June response was a collection of promises to do all he could, while noting that he could very little. “I shall not knowingly infringe any of your Rights and Privileges, but shall religeously maintain all those which are committed to me as a servant of the King,” he wrote. He couldn’t ignore Parliament’s laws, change a decision of the Privy Council, or give orders to the Royal Navy. But aside from all that, “I shall think myself most highly honoured, if I can be in the lowest degree an Instrument in preserving a perfect Conciliation between” Boston and the royal government in London.

The town meeting thus didn’t achieve any of its goals. John Hancock’s sloop Liberty remained in royal custody. The Customs service continued to collect tariffs, even if top officials were working out of Castle William. The Romney had already stopped drafting sailors because of the Liberty riot, and the governor had already promised the selectmen he’d speak informally to the warship’s captain. Nonetheless, the town’s formal and visible protest showed the people that the local political and mercantile establishment was pushing back, and that forestalled further violence.

That exchange wasn’t all Bernard had to deal with, though. On the same day that the governor sent off his response to the Boston petition, he received instructions from the Earl of Hillsborough, the new Secretary of State for North America. That letter stated:
it is the King’s Pleasure, that so soon as the general Court is again assembled at the Time prescribed by the Charter, You should require of the House of Representatives, in his Majsty’s Name, to rescind the Resolution which gave Birth to the Circular Letter from the Speaker, and to declare their Disapprobation of, & Dissent to that rash and hasty Proceeding. . . .

If…the new Assembly should refuse to comply with His Majesty’s reasonable Expectation; It is the King’s Pleasure that you should immediately dissolve them
Rescinding the “Circular Letter”—yet another political confrontation of June 1768!

COMING UP: The “Circular Letter” comes home.

Friday, June 15, 2018

“The People are to be left to use their own Discretion”

The Liberty riot of 10 June 1768 wasn’t just about the seizure of John Hancock’s sloop for alleged Customs violations. It was also about how H.M.S. Romney, which helped in that seizure, had been impressing sailors in Boston harbor.

Of course, it was a lot easier to threaten Customs officers than to threaten a 50-gun warship. By Sunday, Collector Joseph Harrison wrote, he was the only top Customs official in town, “all the rest having taken shelter either on board the Man of Warr or gone into the Country”—and he had stayed in bed for two days recovering from his injuries instead of venturing out.

Boston’s Whig politicians were trying to calm the town—or at least to make it look calm. As in late 1765, when the Stamp Act riots both served the purposes of the elite and made them nervous, gentlemen sought a way to end the unrest before it harmed Boston’s reputation.

One idea was that the Customs service would return the Liberty to Hancock in exchange for a promise that if he lost the smuggling case in court he’d surrender it to the government. That didn’t work, for two reasons. First, the Customs Commissioners didn’t like the way the offer was delivered:
a verbal Message from the People by a Person of Character to this Effect “That if the Sloop that was seized was brought back to Mr. Hancock’s Wharf, upon his giving Security to answer the Prosecution, the Town might be kept quiet”; Which Message appearing to Us as a Menace, we applied to Capt. [John] Corner to take Us on board His Majesty’s Ship
Commissioners John Robinson, Henry Hulton, William Burch, and Charles Paxton were all on the Romney by Sunday.

The second problem was that Hancock himself soured on the idea of compromise. I think he was waking to the instincts that would make him a very successful politician and an unsuccessful businessman. Getting the Liberty back would let him keep making money with it. Not getting it back would make him a political martyr, a hero of the waterfront. So the sloop remained anchored beside the warship, protected from rescue by its guns.

Gov. Francis Bernard had met with his Council on 11 June, but heard “no apprehension in the Council that there would be a repetition of these violences,” so he had gone off to his country house in Jamaica Plain. But by Sunday he was receiving alarmed reports from the Commissioners like this one:
some of the Leaders of the People had persuaded them in an Harangue to desist from further Outrages till Monday Evening, when the People are to be left to use their own Discretion, if their Requisitions are not complied with.
Bernard gave permission for the Commissioners, Harrison and his family, and other Customs men to be admitted to the safety of Castle William. He called an emergency Council meeting for Monday morning.

The governor later wrote:
Before I went to Council, the Sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf] came to inform me that there was a most violent and virulent paper stuck up upon Liberty Tree, containing an Invitation to the Sons of Liberty to rise that Night to clear the Country of the Commissioners & their Officers, to avenge themselves of the Officers of the Custom-house, one of which was by name devoted to death:

There were also some indecent Threats against the Governor, if he did not procure the release of the Sloop which was seized.
In another letter Bernard said that paper invited the Sons of Liberty “to meet at 6 o’ clock to clear the Land of the Virmin which are come to devour them &ca. &ca.”

But Bernard and the Council weren’t the only men worried about further violence. By afternoon, there was a printed handbill being distributed around town:
Boston, June 13th, 1768.
The Sons of Liberty.
Request all those, who in this time of oppression & distraction, wish well to, & would promote the peace, good order & security of the Town & Province, to assemble at Liberty Hall, under Liberty Tree, on Tuesday the 14th. instant, at Ten O’Clock forenoon precisely.
That message came from street-level political leaders like the Loyall Nine who had organized the first anti-Stamp demonstration in 1765 and tried to steer most protests since. The handbill was most likely a product of Edes and Gill’s print shop. It superseded the call for an uprising on Monday night; as the 16 June Boston News-Letter reported, “the Expectation of this Meeting kept the Town in Peace.”

On Tuesday, 14 June, “vast Numbers of the Inhabitants” gathered at Liberty Tree under the British flag. Since the weather was “wet and uncomfortable,” they moved to Faneuil Hall. Someone proposed making this gathering an official town meeting, so the selectmen sent out a summons to convene at 3:00. So many men arrived that the crowd moved on to the Old South Meeting-House.

James Otis, Jr., presided over what the official minutes called “very cool and deliberate Debates upon the distressed Circumstances of the Town.” The meeting chose large committees to express Boston’s grievances—to present a petition to Gov. Bernard; to send a letter to Dennis Deberdt, the Massachusetts House’s lobbyist in London; and to draft a resolution protesting the Customs officers’ action. And then the first committee, again led by Otis, headed out to the governor’s house.

TOMORROW: Gov. Bernard’s response.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

“The whole Town was in the utmost Consternation and Confusion”

In a 17 June 1768 letter to his patron, the Marquess of Rockingham, Boston Customs Collector Joseph Harrison laid out the Liberty riot that he had triggered on the 10th.

A crowd of angry waterfront workers attacked the naval boats removing John Hancock’s sloop from his wharf. They attacked Harrison and his son and a colleague. And then:
All this happened about 7 o’Clock last Friday Afternoon and it was hoped that the People would have dispersed without doing any further mischief, but instead of that, before 9 o’Clock the Mob had increased to such a prodigious Number that the whole Town was in the utmost Consternation and Confusion.

When thus collected together, the First Attempt was on the Comptroller [Benjamin Hallowell, Jr.] whose House they beset; but on being assured that he was not at Home, they contented themselves with breaking a few pains of Glass and then departed in order to pay a Visit to the Collector, But before they got to my House several principal Gentlemen of the Town had assembled there in order if possible to protect my Family, but before the Mob got there it was thought proper to send my Wife and Children to a House in the Neighborhood.

On their Arrival the first Demand was for the Collector, but they were told he was not there, upon which they attempted to enter the House but were prevented by the Gentlemen there whose kind interposition in all probability prevented the Pillage and Destruction of all my Furniture. Finding this opposition within they concluded the Visit with breaking the Windows, and then marched off but in passing by the House of Mr. [John] Williams one of the Inspectors General of the Customs they served it in the same Manner.

After this in all probability the Mob would have dispersed if some evil minded People had not informed them that I had a fine sailing pleasure Boat which I set great store by, that they lay in one of the Docks, upon this Intelligence the whole Crowd posted down to the water side hauled the Boat out of the Water, and dragged her thro’ the Streets to Liberty Tree (as it is called) where she was formally condemned, and from thence dragged up into the Common and there burned to Ashes.
The crowd thus acted out a parody of the Customs service action of “condemning” Hancock’s sloop for seizure before the people proceeded to their traditional protest bonfire.

A few years before Harrison had written, “Sailing is so much my favourite Diversion,” according to the Collectors of Customs website. He also told Rockingham that his boat “has just before been nicely fitted out to send a present to Sir Geo. Saville,” a Member of Parliament for Yorkshire. But now it was in ashes.

Over the next dew days, Harrison and most of his colleagues in the upper ranks of the Customs house, starting with the Commissioners at the top, went on board H.M.S. Romney or to Castle William for their safety.

On Monday, 13 June, Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette carried this report:
Last Friday Evening some Commotions happen’d in this Town, in which a few Windows were broke, and a Boat was drawn thro’ the Streets and burnt on the Common; since which Things have been tolerably quiet; it being expected that the Cause of this Disturbance will be speedily removed.
“The Cause,” in the radical Whigs’ eyes, being the Customs Commissioners.

TOMORROW: How to keep the peace in Boston?

[The photo above comes from the Go Hvar blog. Evidently on the island of Hvar, Croatia, the locals burn a boat every St. Nicholas’ Eve.]

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

“Volleys of Stones, Brickbats, Sticks or anything else that came to hand”

Yesterday we left Customs Collector Joseph Harrison just after he confiscated the sloop Liberty from John Hancock. He thought he had escaped retaliation from the waterfront crowd. He thought wrong.

As laid out on this website titled “Collectors of Customs,” Harrison was then fifty-nine years old. He and his younger brother Peter, the architect, had been born in Yorkshire and moved to Newport, Rhode Island, in the 1740s. Joseph was a merchant, doing well enough to woo a genteel wife from Britain. But he wanted a royal government job with a steady income. By lobbying family connections, in 1760 he joined the Customs service in the port of New Haven, Connecticut.

Four years later, Harrison sailed to London to seek a more lucrative posting. (He traveled with Jared Ingersoll, who on that trip got to see Parliament enact the Stamp Act.) Harrison won the attention of the Marquess of Rockingham a few months before Rockingham became First Lord of the Treasury—score! In July 1766 Harrison was named Collector in the busy port of Boston, earning £100 in salary plus a share of fees, seizures, and bribes, whichever he preferred (though it appears the service was becoming stricter about bribery in that decade). He arrived in Boston and took office in October 1766.

Harrison confiscated the Liberty late on the afternoon of 10 June 1768. He was walking away with his colleague the Comptroller and his eighteen-year-old son, Richard Acklom Harrison. In his own words:
But we had scarce got into the Street before we were pursued by the Mob which by this time was increased to a great Multitude. The onset was begun by throwing Dirt at me, which was presently succeeded by Volleys of Stones, Brickbats, Sticks or anything else that came to hand:

In this manner I ran the Gauntlet near 200 Yards, my poor Son following behind endeavouring to shelter his father by receiving the strokes of many of the Stones thrown at him till at length he became equally an Object of their Resentment, was knocked down and then laid hold of by the Legs, Arms and Hair of his Head, and in that manner dragged along the Kennel [canal, probably the drain down the middle of a street] in a most barbarous and cruel manner till a few compassionate people happening to see him in that Distress, formed a Resolution of attempting to rescue him out of the Hands of the Mob; which with much difficulty they effected, and got him into a House; tho’ this pulling and hauling between Friends and Enemies had like to have been fatal to him.

About this time I received a violent Blow on the Breast which had like to have brought me to the Ground, and I verily believe if I had fallen, I should never have got up again, the People to all appearance being determined on Blood and Murder. But luckily just at that critical moment a friendly Man came up and supported me; and observed that now was the time for my Escape as the whole Attention of the Mob was engaged in the Scuffle about my Son who he assured me would be taken out of their Hands by some Persons of his Acquaintance.

He then bid me to follow him, which I accordingly did, and by suddainly turning the corner of a Street, was presently out of Sight of the Crowd, and soon after got to a Friends House where I was kindly received and on whom I could depend for Safety and Protection: And in about an Hours time I had the satisfaction of hearing my Son was in Safety, and had been conducted home, by the Persons who rescued him from the Mob; but in a miserable Condition being much bruised and Wounded, tho’ not dangerously, and I hope will soon get well again.

With regard to my friend the Comptroller he was a little Distance behind when the Assault first began and on his attempting to protect my Son, was himself beset in the same Manner, and would certainly have been murdered by the Mob, if some Persons had not rescued him out of their Hands: however he was very much hurt, having received two Contusions on his Cheek and the Back of his Head.
Comptroller Benjamin Hallowell, Jr. (shown above, courtesy of Colby College), had been one of the targets of the anti-Stamp mob of 26 Aug 1765, though he had nothing to do with the Stamp Act, and one of the principal figures in the 1766 stand-off outside Daniel Malcom’s house. Unlike Harrison, he was a native of Boston, son of a well known merchant captain. I sometimes wonder if Hallowell was especially unpopular with the local crowd because he was a local himself, and thus seen as betraying the community.

But enough of such musings—the Liberty riot had only just started!

TOMORROW: Property damage after dark.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

“I put the Kings Mark on the Main Mast”

On 10 June 1768, the Customs office in Boston determined that there was enough evidence to charge John Hancock with smuggling. They hadn’t caught him red-handed, but they had sworn testimony from tidesman Thomas Kirk saying that his staff had covertly unloaded casks of wine from his sloop Liberty the previous month so as to avoid paying duties.

What’s more, that ship had been reloaded to sail outbound without all the proper clearances—though ship masters almost always loaded while preparing that paperwork. The whale oil and tar now on the Liberty made it doubly valuable: the service could confiscate both the ship and the cargo, and the Customs officers involved would share in the proceeds.

Those officials knew, however, that such a seizure wouldn’t be easy. Collector Joseph Harrison described the situation in a letter to the Marquess of Rockingham dated 17 Jun 1768. He explained that Hancock, though “a generous benevolent Gentleman,” was “subject to the influence of [James] Otis and other Incendiaries.” Even worse, the young merchant was “the Idol of the Mob, just as Mr. [John] Wilkes is in England. Hancock and Liberty being the Cry here, as Wilkes and Liberty is in London!” So any move against Hancock would be unpopular.

Harrison described how he proceeded:
Under these Circumstances a Seizure must necessarily be attended with the utmost Risque and Danger to the Officer who should make the Attempt. However as I was judged to be the properest person to Effect it, I was deteremined that no Danger should deter me from the Execution of my Duty, tho’ I was then so ill as to be just able to stirr abroad.

So after sending on board the Romney Man of War (which then lay in the Harbour) to request their assistance in case a Rescue should be attempted, I proceeded to execute my Orders; first informing my Brother Officer Mr. [Benjamin] Hallowell the Comptroller of the Service I was going upon who generously declared that I should not singly be exposed to the fury of the Populace, but that he would share the danger with me, accordingly we set out together towards the Wharf where the Vessel lay and in our way thither my Son [Richard Acklom Harrison] (about 18 Years of Age) accidentally joined us in the Street and went along with us.

When we got down to the Wharf we found the Sloop lying there and after waiting till we saw the Man of Warrs Boat ready to put off the Comptoller and I, steped on board, seized the Vessel, and I put the Kings Mark on the Main Mast:

By this time the People began to muster together on the Wharf, from all Quarters; and several Men had got on board in order to regain Possession just as the Man of Warrs Boat well Man’d and Armed had got along side: They soon drove the Intruders out and I delivered the Vessel into custody of the commanding Officer. We then went a Shore and walked off the Wharf without any Insult or Molestation from the the People, who were eagerly engaged in a Scuffle with the Man of Warrs Men and endeavouring to detain the Sloop at the Wharf.
One of the young officers on the Romney, Midshipman William Senhouse, later told his service’s side of the seizure in a memoir:
Our Boats Mann’d & Arm’d were accordingly dispatch’d under the commnd of Mr. [John] Calendar, who was Master of the Romney, Mr. [William] Culmer, one of the Mates, and myself. We proceeded directly to the Sloop, wch was laying alongside of the Long Wharf [actually Hancock’s Wharf] and found her in possession of the Towns people, who on our near approach pelted us very severely with Stones. We nevertheless boarded the Vessel, drove the mob on shore, cut her fasts or moorings, and carried her off in triumph, bringing her to an Anchor under the Guns of the Romney.

Notwithstanding the rude reception we expected, form the people of the Town, we had received special directions not to fire upon them, but in the very last extremity. Billy Culmer however, tho’ he knew well how to obey, was extreamly urgent with the Master for his orders to fire and had this honest Madman been gratify’d in his wish, a terrible slaughter no doubt, wou’d have succeeded. As it was, we happily accomplished our purpose, at the expence only of some blows and bruizes of no great consequence.
But then the waterfront crowd turned its attention back to the Customs officers.

TOMORROW: The Liberty riot.

Monday, June 11, 2018

“I distinctly heard the Noise of the Tackles”

On 9 June 1768, a low-level Customs employee named Thomas Kirk told his bosses that, contrary to his declaration a month earlier, he had evidence of John Hancock’s ship Liberty being used to evade tariffs.

The next day, Kirk testified as follows before justice of the peace Samuel Pemberton:
I, Thomas Kirk of Boston, do declare and say, that being appointed one of the Tidesmen on board the Sloop Liberty, Nathaniel Barnard, Master, from Madeira, I went on board the said Vessel the 9th Day of May last, in the Afternoon, and about 9 o’Clock in the Evening Capt. Marshall came on board the said Vessel, and made several Proposals to me to persuade me to consent to the hoisting out several Casks of Wine that Night before the Vessel was entered, to all which I, I peremptorily refused;

upon which Capt. Marshall took hold of me, and with the Assistance of five or six other Persons unknown to this Declarent, they forcibly hove me down the Companion into the Cabin, and nailed the Cover down; I then broke thro’ a Door into the Steerage, and was endeavouring to get upon Deck that Way; but was forcibly pushed back again into the Steerage, and the Companion Doors of the Steerage also fastened, and was there confined about three Hours, and during that Time I heard a Noise as of many People upon Deck at Work a hoisting out of Goods, as I distinctly heard the Noise of the Tackles;

when that Noise ceased, Capt. Marshall came down to me in the Cabin and threatened, that if I made any Discovery of what had passed there that Night, my Life would be in Danger and my Property destroyed. The said Capt. Marshall then went away and let me at Liberty; and I was so much intimidated by the aforesaid Threatenings, that I was deterred from making an immediate Discovery of the aforesaid transactions:
Kirk’s story of being shoved around by a group of men working for Hancock echoed Owen Richards’s experience earlier in the spring. In Kirk’s case, however, he was pushed into the steerage deck of the ship rather than out of it.

What about the other tidesman assigned to work alongside Kirk? According to the Customs office in Boston:
The other Officer, who was also examined sayd he was asleep at the time of the above Transaction, but Kirk declared that he was drunk and gone home to Bed.—
Despite all the legal wrangling in this case, I haven’t been able to find the name of this tidesman, who would have been a significant witness one way or the other. Tidesmen were allowed to sleep on board the ships they were watching, apparently because people expected the noise of unloading to wake them up. But had this one really gone home to sleep off his drink?

What about Capt. John Marshall—how did he respond to Kirk’s accusation? Conveniently or not, Marshall had died on 10 May, immediately after this allegedly busy night. Indeed, some folks suggested that the exertion of unloading all those casks of wine had hastened his death at the age of only thirty-one.

The Customs office also stated that Hancock had “been heard to declare before her [the Liberty’s] Arrival, that he wo’d run her Cargo of Wines on Shore,” but it didn’t name anyone who had heard him say that.

Despite the questions about Kirk’s testimony, it was enough for higher-level Customs officers to move against John Hancock on 10 June 1768.

TOMORROW: Seizing a sloop.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

John Hancock’s Busy Month of May 1768

On 9 May 1768, A couple of weeks after the Customs Commissioners failed in their attempt to have John Hancock prosecuted for interfering with their employees, another of Hancock’s ships arrived in Boston harbor.

“Barnard from Madeira,” reported the Boston Gazette’s shipping news. That meant that Capt. Nathaniel Barnard on the Liberty had arrived from Madeira, a Portuguese island. Though Madeira wasn’t part of the British Empire, for over a century the laws had made an exception for importing Portuguese island wine, and North American ships could even trade there directly.

The Sugar Act of 1764 specified the duty to be paid on that wine:
For every ton of wine of the growth of the Madeiras, or of any other island or place from whence such wine may be lawfully imported, and which shall be so imported from such islands or place, the sum of seven pounds
Capt. Barnard declared that he had brought in 25 casks of wine. Two tide waiters from the Customs service watched the unloading and certified the next day that they had seen nothing unusual.

On that same day, 10 May, Hancock lost a captain. The 16 May Boston Gazette reported:
Tuesday Morning last died very suddenly, Capt. JOHN MARSHALL, in the 32d Year of his Age: For several Years Commander of the Boston Packet in the London Trade.—His Funeral was attended last Friday Afternoon.
The Boston Packet was Hancock’s regular back-and-forth ship to London, and Marshall appeared often in his correspondence from the mid-1760s.

Later in May, as I described in postings starting here, Hancock got into a dispute over whether his militia company, the Cadets, would serve as an honor guard for a banquet that included the Customs Commissioners. While that argument ended peacefully, it exacerbated the bitter feelings between the young merchant and the men in charge of the Customs office. In those same weeks, Hancock was voted onto the Council but then vetoed off by Gov. Francis Bernard.

Meanwhile, on 17 May H.M.S. Romney arrived in Boston harbor. This was a fifty-gun warship that required a crew of over 300 men. In the Royal Navy’s time-honored way, Capt. John Corner began stopping merchant ships and drafting men from their crews to serve under him.

Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson recognized that this spelled trouble:
It is unfortunate that in the midst of these difficulties the Romney has been impressing seamen out of all inward-bound vessels and although he does not take men belonging to the Province who have families, yet the fear of it prevents coasters [ships trading along the coast] as well as other vessels coming in freely, and it adds more fewel to the great stock among us before. It is pity that in peaceable times any pressing of seamen should be allowed in the colonies.
Gov. Bernard was likewise arguing against impressment, and thinking he should get more credit in Boston for doing so.

On Sunday, 5 June, locals threw rocks at boats from the Romney to keep them from landing, fearing that those sailors were coming to impress men. A couple of days later they rescued a sailor away from a press gang. As both a merchant and a politician, Hancock was involved the official protests against the navy’s practice.

As all that happened, Hancock’s Liberty was being loaded with its outgoing cargo: 200 barrels of whale oil and 20 barrels of tar. It was ready to sail. And then on 9 June, one of the tide waiters who had watched the Liberty in May declared that in fact he had seen it used for smuggling.

TOMORROW: What the tide waiter saw.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Lydia—Have You Searched Lydia?

On Friday, 8 Apr 1768, as I mentioned yesterday, Owen Richards received an “Appointment & Deputation” as a tide waiter for His Majesty’s Customs Service in Boston. He later said that “His Sallary was £25 pr. an. & 1sh. 6d. when employed,” for a total of about £45 a year.

Richards may already have been working for the Customs department, which would make this a new assignment, a promotion, or a commission under a new legal authority. Under the Townshend Act, the Customs service in North America had a new structure, topped by a five-man commission headquartered in Boston. It had the added responsibilities of collecting new tariffs for the Crown, and it had additional resources from those tariffs, so the Commissioners were probably on a hiring spree.

On the very same day that Richards received his new paperwork, a cargo ship arrived from London: the Lydia, under the command of Capt. James Scott. The owner of the Lydia and of the wharf where it docked was John Hancock, a Boston selectman and representative to the Massachusetts General Court.

Hancock had already attracted the attention of the Customs Commissioners, they later wrote: “early in the Winter he declared in the General Assembly that he would not suffer our officers to go even on board any of his London Ships.” But Customs officers were supposed to go aboard a ship when it arrived to watch over the cargo.

The two tide waiters assigned to the Lydia were Owen Richards and Robert Jackson. According to a summary of events written by Massachusetts attorney general Jonathan Sewall, they boarded the ship about 1:00 P.M. and confirmed the cargo included “Tea, Paper, and other Customable Goods.” The tide waiters’ job was to watch until all those goods were unloaded and counted.

At 4:00, Hancock himself came on board and asked to see the Customs men’s paperwork. He also told Capt. Scott and the ship’s mate not to let Richards and Jackson “go under Deck.” The tide waiters remained on the ship Friday night and all Saturday. Sewall wrote:
About seven o’clock on Saturday Evening, the said Owen Richards went down into the Steerage; and in about ten minutes the Master came and laid his Hand upon their Shoulders and told them they must go out of the Steerage or he should lose his Bread and they accordingly went out:

and about eight o’clock the said Owen went down into the Steerage again and continued there until about eleven o’clock when Mr. Hancock came on board again, attended by eight or ten people, all unarmed, and after demanding of the said Owen what Business he had below deck and to come up, upon his refusal, he demanded sight of their orders, which were shown him, he also demanded a sight of their Commissions and the said Owen showed his; to which he objected that it had no Date;

he [Hancock] then demanded to know if they had any Write of Assistants; and being answered in the Negative, he ordered the Mate and Boatswain to turn him out of the Steerage; who accordingly took hold of him under the Arms and Thighs and forced him upon Deck, after which the Companionway being fastened, Mr. Hancock demanded of him whether he wanted to search the Vessel; to which he answered that he did not. Mr. Hancock then told him that he might search the Vessel but should not tarry below.
One of the people who came on board with Hancock was Capt. Daniel Malcom. He had had his own confrontation with the Customs service in 1766, and the Customs Commissioners were certain he had snuck “about Sixty pipes of Wine” into Boston just a few weeks earlier. As Richards was removed, witnesses reported Malcom helpfully saying things like, “damn him hand him up, if it was my Vessel I would knock him down.”

It’s not clear to me what exactly was going on here—why Richards went below, or why Hancock had him physically removed but then said “he might search the Vessel.” The historian Oliver M. Dickerson believed that the Boston Customs office operated as a “racket” and was out to penalize Hancock because of his defiant words that winter. He suggested Richards was acting on orders from his supervisors to provoke Hancock or catch him doing something illegal. Alternatively, Richards might have snooped around on his own; if he had detected smuggled goods, he would have shared in any fines the Customs service levied. As for Hancock’s statement that Richards might search the ship, that might have been contingent on him producing a legal writ, which Hancock knew he didn’t have.

On 15 April, the Customs service asked attorney general Sewall to prosecute Hancock and his employees for interfering with their enforcement of the law. After examining the testimony for a week, Sewall declined. No statute specified that tide waiters had the power to go below deck, he wrote, even “in extreme cold and stormy seasons.” Hancock and his men had therefore done nothing illegal in manhandling Owen Richards.

TOMORROW: The arrival of the Liberty.

Friday, June 08, 2018

The Life of Owen Richards, Customs Man

Owen Richards was born in Wales, according to what he testified to the Loyalists Commission in 1784. Two years earlier he had told the royal government he was “now near Sixty Years of Age,” meaning he was born in the mid-1720s.

In 1744, again by his own account, Richards came to Boston. He had been “bred a Seaman” and made his living as a mariner of some sort. On 14 Dec 1745 the Rev. Timothy Cutler of Christ Church, the Anglican congregation the North End, married Richards and Rebecca Sampson.

Owen and Rebecca Richards had three children baptized at Christ Church, as preserved in its records:

  • Elizabeth on 26 Apr 1752.
  • James on 15 Feb 1756.
  • Joseph Prince on 26 Feb 1758.
In addition, there were two older sons in the family: William and John Lloyd.

Owen Richards became a steady part of Boston’s Anglican community. At some point he bought pew #75 in Christ Church. He sponsored four baptisms at King’s Chapel between 1750 and 1769 and stood godfather to three babies at Christ Church in 1766 and 1767. (Notably, the third of those North End babies appears to have been the son of John Manley, America’s first naval hero.)

In 1759, Richards bought a house on North Street, showing that he had earned some money at sea—and in his thirties he was getting ready to settle down. That deed listed his profession as “rigger,” someone expert in rigging the ropes and sails of ships. In February 1761 Richards was one of two executors for the estate of another rigger named William Prince, whom Joseph Prince Richards might have been named after.

In early 1764, the Boston News-Letter ran a series of ads in which Owen Richards promoted his services as an auctioneer. At the “North End New-Auction Room” he offered “Sundry sort of Goods”: new and secondhand clothing, cloth, a mahogany table, tobacco, and so on. He promised people with goods to sell, especially in-demand “Checks and Linens of all Sorts,” that he would get them the best possible prices and prompt payment.

It wasn’t a good time to enter business. There was a postwar recession. By February, Richards had to assure customers, “The Small-Pox is not anywhere nigh to the North End New Auction-Room.” In January 1765 Nathaniel Wheelwright’s bankruptcy shocked the Boston business community.

At some point, Owen Richards gave up his own business and took a steady, if unpopular, government job: he went to work for the royal Customs service. Exactly when he became a Customs man isn’t clear in the sources.
  • In 1782 Richards wrote that he had “been in the Service of his Majesty by Sea and Land near Thirty Years, the greatest part of that Time in his Majestys Customs at Boston.” That might have included some naval or privateering service during the 1750s, and he probably counted the Revolutionary War years when he wasn’t really able to do the job.
  • Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton wrote that Richards “had been many years Tidesman in this Port” before 1770.
  • However, in 1784 the earliest documentation for his Customs work that Richards could supply was an “Appointment & Deputation dated 8th of April 1768.” Now that might have been after a promotion or a new appointment under the Commissioners, who arrived in 1767.
As a Customs officer, Owen Richards became significant in the development of the American Revolution, as I’ll start to discuss tomorrow.

Returning to Richards’s personal story, his wife Rebecca died on 1 Sept 1758, leaving an infant and a two-year-old. Less than three months later, Owen remarried to Elizabeth Tucker at the Brattle Street Meetinghouse.

In February 1771, Richards, now listing himself as a “gentleman,” deeded the house he was still administering for the estate of William Prince to his sons William, John Lloyd, and James, the last then fifteen years old.

(As for daughter Elizabeth, she had married a man named Charles Perrin at King’s Chapel in August 1768, when she was sixteen. Their first child, George, was born the following June but died at four weeks. Their daughter Mary was baptized in 1771.)

On the list of Loyalists departing Boston in 1776, Richards appeared among other Customs employees as a “coxswain.” No family members were listed as leaving with him. However, in 1782 he told the government he had “a helpless Wife & four Children” to look out for.

The Loyalists Commission awarded Richards £120 in compensation for his property lost in Boston, plus a pension of £30 per year. He collected that until 1800, when he presumably died.

TOMORROW: Owen Richards and the Lydia.