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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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The North End Caucus Mobilizes Against the Tea

So yesterday the North End Caucus—a group of more than sixty politically minded Bostonians—started meeting in 1772 to choose candidates for town offices. This appears to have been an outgrowth of an earlier, smaller, wealthier “Caucas Club.” That first year, the only times the North End Caucus met were just before town meetings in March and May, when Bostonians elected their officials and representatives to the General Court. The same pattern applied in early 1773. But then in late October a dire threat to British liberties loomed on the eastern horizon: tea.

On 23 Oct 1773 the North End Caucus assembled, elected shipwright Gibbons Sharp their moderator, and then:

Voted—That this body will oppose the vending any Tea, sent by the East India Company to any part of the Continent, with our lives and fortunes.

Voted—That there be a committee chosen to correspond with any Committee chosen in any part of the town, on this occation; and call this body together at any time they think necessary.—Paul Revere, Abiel Ruddock and John Lowell the Committee.
Revere was a well connected silversmith with some talent in engraving and dentistry. Ruddock was secretary of the caucus and heir to a late shipyard owner, John Ruddock. Lowell was a young lawyer (unless that was a different John Lowell). They thus represented the cross-section of their group: a well-established craftsman, a major employer, and a professional gentleman. [ADDENDUM, Dec 2008: I now believe this John Lowell was a thirty-three-year-old merchant from a Charlestown family, not a young lawyer. He had been part of a Boston town committee to promote a tea boycott in 1770.]

The North End Caucus met again on 2 November, for the first time gathering at the Green Dragon Tavern (shown above). This building had become the property of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons a few years before, but it continued to function as a tavern. The group chose merchant Nathaniel Holmes as their moderator and then began issuing demands:
Voted—That a committee be chosen to wait upon the Committee of Correspondence of this town, and desire their attendance here. Committee, B[enjamin]. Kent, E[dward]. Proctor, and G[abriel]. Johonnot.

Voted—That a committee be chosen to wait on John Hancock, Esq. and desire him to meet with us. Committee, John Winthrop, Capt. [John] Matchet, and G. Johonnot.

Voted—That this body are determined that the Tea shipped or to be shipped by the East India Company shall not be landed.

Voted—That a committee be chosen to draw a resolution to be read to the Tea Consignees to-morrow 12 O’Clock, noon, at Liberty Tree: and that Dr. Thos. Young and [Dr. Benjamin] Church, and [Dr. Joseph] Warren, be a committee for that purpose, and make a report as soon as may be.
To deliver its messages to town officials and rich merchants, the caucus called only on its more genteel members: other merchants and professionals.

The next day the group gathered again at noon and voted to accept the recommendation of its committee of three doctors:
And the Committee reported as follows. viz. that Thos. and Elisha Hutchinson [the governor’s sons], R[ichard]. Clark & Sons, and Benjamin Faneuil [the tea consignees appointed in London], by neglecting to give satisfaction as their fellow-citizens justly expected from them in this hour, relative to their acceptance of an office destructive to this Community, have intolerably insulted this body, and in case they do not appear, forthwith, and satisfy their reasonable expectation, this body will look upon themselves warrented to esteem them enemies to their Country; and will not fail to make them feel the weight of their just resentment.
The caucus had lined up support from other activists, the town’s standing Committee of Correspondence, and the most popular young merchant around. It had given the tea consignees a chance to resign. Now the North End Caucus took their crusade “out of doors.” Instead of meeting privately, they summoned the people of Boston to a public meeting:
Voted—That Capt. Proctor, John Lowell, G. Johonnot, James Swan, John Winthrop and T[homas]. Chase be a committee to get a flag for Liberty Tree.

Voted that Thos. Hichborn and John Boit be a committee for posting up said notification.
Boston’s Whigs had made a habit of flying a flag at Liberty Tree to gather crowds in the late 1760s, but apparently that practice had fallen into abeyance since the North End Caucus needed to roust up another flag. Thomas Chase owned the distillery under Liberty Tree, and the rest of the men on his committee were merchants and professionals. In contrast, Thomas Hichborn was a boatbuilder and John Boit a shopkeeper—probably seen as more fitting for the actual work of putting up notices for this public meeting.

The North End Caucus thus started mobilizing against tea imports in October and was calling meetings in early November—weeks in advance of the arrival of the first tea. It appears that the caucus was pushing other local groups and institutions along. In addition, the first group to patrol the wharf where a tea ship docked was led by the caucus’s Capt. Proctor, and the first four volunteers and eight of the first eleven on his list were also members of the North End Caucus.

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