Yesterday's post discussed the nickname "Sam the Publican" for Samuel Adams, and why it almost certainly referred to his inadequate work as a town tax collector in the early 1760s. Biographer John C. Miller and other authors have taken that nickname as evidence that Adams hung around taverns, recruiting people for his political causes. After all, that was the West's image of "revolutionaries" in 1936, when Miller wrote. But Adams's political rivals in the 1700s had a very different complaint about him.
Probably the most delightfully cranky and gossipy account of the political disputes in Boston is Peter Oliver's "Origin and Progress of the American Revolution": A Tory View. Oliver was the last royal Chief Justice of Massachusetts, brother of the second-to-last royal Lieutenant Governor, and related by marriage to second-to-last royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson. Among Oliver's complaints about Adams was that he
had a good Voice, & was a Master in vocal Musick. This Genius he improved, by instituting singing Societys of Mechanicks [i.e., craftsmen], where he presided; & embraced such Opportunities to ye inculcating Sedition.Later in his account, Oliver refers to “Mr. Saml. Adams’s Psalm-singing Myrmidons.” (Myrmidons were fierce warriors in the Trojan War; out of that context, the word was an educated way of saying "thugs.")
John Mein, the printer who first published the "Samuel the Publican" insult, followed up by saying Adams was "noted for Psalm singing, & leader of the Band at Checkleys Meeting”—i.e., the Rev. Samuel Checkley's congregation at the New South Meeting-House. (Adams's first wife was Checkley's daughter.) John Fleeming, Mein's business partner, referred to Adams as "the psalm-singer" in the letter to Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr., that led to that doctor's exposure as a British agent in 1775.
In sum, the friends of the royal government agreed that Adams liked to sing psalms in church, and recruited working-men to the Whigs during choir rehearsals. That fits with Adams's conservative religious beliefs, which I've mentioned before. But it sure doesn't fit with our image of revolutionaries in taverns.