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, March 04, 2007

Piemont’s Boys Visit the Barracks of the 29th

Though soldiers and locals had brawled in Boston on the 2nd and 3rd of March, the town was quiet on the 4th. After all, it was the Sabbath.

That evening, three young wigmakers went to visit a co-worker—but not just any co-worker. One of those fellows, Richard Ward, recalled:

on the Lord’s day evening preceding the fifth day of March instant, about dusk, he went to see one Mr. Dines (who is a soldier of the 29th regiment, and work worked, when he was not upon duty, in Mr. John Piemont, peruke maker’s shop, with the deponent, a journeyman to said Piemont); the said Dines lives near the barracks at New Boston [i.e., the western wing of the peninsula]; when your deponent was there, he heard one of the officers of the said 29th regiment say to the sergeants, “Don’t let any of your people go out unless there be eight or ten together.”
I’m not sure Ward was a journeyman, as he described himself, since his co-worker Bartholomew Broaders later called him a “fellow-apprentice.” Here is Broaders’s recollection of the same visit:
he went up to see Patrick Dines, a soldier of the 29th regiment, who worked with Mr. Piemont, and in Dawson’s room heard Sergeant Daniels say, that the officers said, since patience would not do, force must. And the soldiers must not bear the affronts of the inhabitants any longer, but resent them, and make them know their distance; and further, that the inhabitants would never be easy, and that he should desire to make the plumbs fly about their ears, and set the town on fire around them, and then they would know who and who were of a side—

said Daniels asked Edward Garrick, fellow-apprentice to the deponent, if he knew where he could get a stick that would bear a good stroke?

Garrick replied, you must look for one.
I interpret young Garrick’s reply to mean, “If you want a club, that’s your problem; leave me out of it.”

What’s so interesting about this episode is the friendly relationship between these apprentices and their fellow worker Dines, and by extension to the rest of the 29th. The young men had apparently gone to socialize with some of the soldiers occupying their town. Officers and sergeants seem to have felt no compunction about speaking frankly in front of the apprentices. Garrick resisted being drawn into the fights of the previous two days, but he doesn’t seem to have complained about Sgt. Daniels to anyone.

In contrast, Garrick and his fellow Piemont apprentices had a grudge against another British military man: Capt. John Goldfinch of the 14th regiment. According to the 1835 book Traits of the Tea-Party:
Mr. [George R. T.] Hewes states...there was a barber at the head of the street [King Street], on the north side, named Piemont, a Frenchman, who usually kept several apprentices; that some of the British officers were in the habit of resorting there; that one of them had come there some months previous, to dress by the quarter, whose bill Piemont promised to allow to the boy who shaved him, if he behaved well; that the quarter had expired, but the money could not be got, though frequent applications had been made for it...
The custom of the time was to give people three months (“the quarter”) to pay their bills; if Goldfinch’s bill became overdue in early March, then he’d had his head shaved in early December. Piemont’s promise may therefore have been a version of the other small bits of money apprentices collected toward the end of the year: at Pope Night, through tip boxes, through New Year’s verses. In any event, in early March those apprentices were getting impatient.

The next time Edward Garrick saw Capt. Goldfinch, he yelled to any and all passersby that the officer “owed my fellow Prentice”! That was Monday evening, on King Street.

(Today’s illustration, showing a barber’s boy being rejected and ejected for trying to collect on a bill, is from the 1896 novel Under the Liberty Tree, by James Otis [real name: James Otis Kaler]. Click on the illustration for a closer look. In that fictional retelling of the riots in Boston in February and March 1770, the barber’s boy is named Hardy Baker, and he’s a troublemaker. Many accounts of the Boston Massacre, fiction and nonfiction, depict the barber’s boys as deliberately provoking British soldiers. But I think the situation was a lot more nuanced than that, as shown by their visit to the barracks the night before.)

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