As a Caldwell, I've always been interested in Boston Massacre victim James Caldwell (aka "a mate on Capt. Morton's vessel"). Accounts of the event (including the famous Gazette account) refer to "Capt. Morton" as if he were a well known figure to Bostonians of the day. Does anyone know who Capt. Morton was, what the name of his vessel was, or how I can find out more about him?I don't usually take requests because they so often involve work. But by happy coincidence, I wrote about James Caldwell (or, rather, about his body) and about Capt. Morton's response to his killing in one of my earliest entries, titled "The shoemaker's memory." So I already had an idea about who "Capt. Morton" was. How simple and impressive it would be simply to drop that information, I thought.
And this is why I don't take requests.
The Capt. Morton I had in mind was Capt. Dimond Morton, who died in Littleton, Massachusetts, on 2 Feb 1792 at the age of forty-nine. He was a witness in the trial of Capt. Thomas Preston. However, a little more research showed me that in 1770 Dimond Morton was running a tavern and stable with his father Joseph, not working as a sea captain and living on Cold Lane like Caldwell's master. Morton didn't acquire the title of captain until late 1775, when he was in Henry Knox's artillery regiment. (His younger brother Perez Morton was an attorney who delivered the oration over Dr Joseph Warren's body and then got into a sex scandal with his wife and sister-in-law. But that's gossip for another day.)
So I was back to the beginning with "Capt. Morton." Newspapers referred to lots of sea captains and militia captains only by their title. Since Boston had only about 16,000 people, over half of them children, most readers knew the major authority figures in town. And indeed, looking through the colonial newspaper database shows a great many references to Capt. Morton from Boston, sailing back and forth to Britain's Caribbean islands and mainland colonial ports. But was there one captain with that name or more? And what was his first name?
I started trawling in those newspapers for items with both "captain" and "Morton" as keywords. In 1765, a man named Morton captained the brig Hawk. So I looked for combinations of "hawk" and "Morton." On 9 April 1770, the Pennsylvania Chronicle reported that "T. Morton" was the captain of the Young Hawk from Boston. He had arrived in Boston from Hispaniola in early February, according to the 8 Feb Boston Chronicle. (That seemed to put him in Boston during the Massacre, a good sign.) From Philadelphia T. Morton and the "Young Hawke" headed to Newfoundland, per the 23 April Pennsylvania Chronicle.
Since eighteenth-century Bostonians didn't value a lot of variation in given names, I guessed Capt. Morton might be named "Thomas." Indeed, the 20 June 1768 New-York Gazette identifies the master of the Hawk from Boston as Thomas Morton. So does the 11 Jan 1762 Boston Post-Boy. The 12 Dec 1768 Boston Gazette describes a brig sailing from the West Indies home to Boston, "Thomas Morton, Master," being driven ashore "on the Rocks near the Light-House" in Boston Harbor. So that could explain why Morton was sailing the Young Hawk a year and a half later.
So, with more work than I expected behind me and no claim to a definite answer, I suggest that the ship's captain James Caldwell served in early 1770 might have been Thomas Morton of the Young Hawk. Was he also the Thomas Morton who joined the Charitable Irish Society of Boston in 1761? The Thomas Morton who owned a house near the Town House in 1798? Hey, do I have to do this all myself?