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, April 15, 2007

Dr. Thomas Bolton Answers Dr. Warren's Oration

It took nine days for Boston’s printers to issue a pamphlet of Dr. Joseph Warren’s oration on the Boston Massacre in March 1775. When it appeared, the British military officers in town made a parodic reply. Merchant John Andrews described the scene in a letter:

Last Wensday, the day the oration was publish’d, a vast number of Officers assembled in King street, when they proceeded to the choice of a moderator and seven out of their number to represent the select men, the latter of whom with the moderator went into the Coffee house balcony, where was provided a fellow apparrell’d in a black gown with a rusty grey wigg and fox tail hanging to it, together with bands on—who deliver’d an oration from the balcony to a crowd of few else beside gaping officers.
That “fellow” was Thomas Bolton (or Boulton), a Loyalist physician. He had reportedly left Salem after being attacked and perhaps even tarred and feathered—at least he said so later. Bolton served as a surgeon for the Royal Navy during the war, and may already have been doing so in March 1775.

Dr. Bolton’s oration was eventually printed in the same format as Warren’s—perhaps in New York or after the war had begun, because it would have taken a brave Boston printer to issue it without the protection of martial law. It’s a delightful source for fans of invective and gossip. Take this one sentence alone. It’s an apologia, as Warren had delivered at the start of his own speech (“You will not now expect the elegance, the learning, the fire, the enrapturing strains of eloquence which charmed you when a LOVELL, a CHURCH, or a HANCOCK spake”). But Bolton gets so much more personal about the Patriots:
I cannot boast the ignorance of Hancock, the insolence of Adams, the absurdity of Rowe, the arrogance of Lee, the vicious life and untimely death of Mollineaux, the turged bombast of Warren, the treason of Quincy, the Hypocrisy of Cooper, nor the Principals of Young...
And then Dr. Bolton got nasty.

He said John Hancock “courted popularity and fame almost as Long as he did ——— Miss ——— Miss ——— or Mr. Bernards Cook maid, Betty Price.” (At least two other Loyalists also accused Hancock of having affairs with serving-women, though one said he hadn’t actually been able to complete the job.)

About Dr. Thomas Young, the outspoken deist who had moved to Newport the previous September:
I can only refer you to——his own countenance, wherein you may read his true and genuine disposition. Suffice it to say, this man stands accused of rebellion, not only against his Sovereign, but against his God;—and he makes a mock at the merits of his Redeemer, and uses his God only to swear by.
Bolton accused merchant John Rowe of having “invented the new method of making Tea,” a reference to Rowe’s offhand remark during the tea crisis about mixing tea and saltwater. Rowe was desperately trying to stay on friendly terms with both political sides, at least until he was sure which way to jump. He went home and wrote in his diary: “This day an oration was delivered by a Dirty Scoundrell from Mrs. Cordis Balcony wherein many Characters were unfairly Represented & much abus’d & mine among the Rest.”

The published speech spent extra space attacking the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper of the Brattle Street Meeting, adding several lines in verse about the man (shown above). Bolton insinuated that Cooper was not only a hypocrite but a ladies’ man—something rumored around town for years. The physician also made a cryptic comment about the Seventh Commandment; according to Cooper’s modern biographer, Charles W. Akers, a penciled note on a copy at Brown University says that arose because “Dr. Cooper’s Wife is a Noted Thief.”

Finally, there are Bolton’s remarks on William Molineux, the radical merchant who had died suddenly the previous October:
The fifth of these chiefs is now no more—his name was Mollineaux, he had an aversion to all order, civil or Ecclesiastic, he swore the King was a Tyrant, the Queen a Whore, the prince a Bastard, the Bishops Papists—and the houses of Lords & Commons a Den of theives—through the Strength of his own Villainy, and the Laudanum of Doctor Warren, he quitted this Planet and went to a secondary one, in search of Liberty.
So, according to Bolton, one Patriot leader had supplied the poison that another had taken to commit suicide. Nice.


RCM said...

It is interesting that Dr. B did not include "Church" in the list of patriots he ridicules at the beginning of his parodic reply despite Dr. Church's prominence as a previous Massacre orator. Did he know something about Dr. C's true loyalties?

J. L. Bell said...

Interesting point, indeed. I suspect Gage kept Church's work as a double agent very quiet; a lot of the general's secrets got out to the Patriots, but not that one.

There were some other prominent Patriots left out of Bolton's main list: Dr. Cooper's brother William, the town clerk, whose name was on a lot of official protests; Thomas Cushing; James Bowdoin. Yet Rowe was on the list, despite his minor role in the movement. So what was the logic?

One odd possibility: Church had some family connection with printer John Fleeming, who might have been Bolton's source for Boston gossip. Since he and the army officers he spoke to were from out of town, they would have needed local informants. And Fleeming could have kept Church's affairs more discreet than the other men's weaknesses.