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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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Attack on Patrick McMaster

I’ve been meaning to mention Colin Nicolson’s article “A Plan to ‘banish all the Scotchmen’: Victimization and Political Mobilization in Pre-Revolutionary Boston” since I got the 2007 issue of the Massachusetts Historical Review last fall. (Some older articles from this periodical are available online, but not the latest.)

This article focuses on the suffering of Patrick McMaster, a merchant born in Galloway in 1741 who came to Boston in 1767 and lived to regret it. Here’s a capsule history of the man, in notes about his claim to the British government’s Loyalists Commission on 26 Dec 1785:

He is a Partner in the House of James & Patrick McMaster & Co., which consisted of the three Brothers... [the third being John].

They are all natives of Scotland & went to America before 1768, and at the commencement of the troubles they carried on Trade at Boston & Portsmouth. John left America in 1772, & has remained in London ever since.

In 1770 the Witness was seized by the Mob and carted through the streets of Boston, at that time the mob forced him to take an oath that he should not return to Boston—the cause of his treatment was that the House imported British Goods.

He took shelter with the 14th Regt. at Castle William.

In 1775 the Witness was settled at Boston, John was settled at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They were both uniformly attached to Great Britain & Patrick was enrolled in the North British Association at Boston.

He quitted Boston at the Evacuation—he has been carrying on trade within the British lines & at home ever since—he is now settled in Halifax as a Mercht.
The assault on McMaster in 1770 was a unique event in that turbulent period: he ended up nearly being tarred and feathered.

On 1 June, Dr. Thomas Young led a crowd of “hundreds of Men and Boys” to the McMasters’ shop and ordered them out of town by six o’clock on the 4th. Ever since the previous fall, the brothers had been defying the Boston Whigs’ “nonimportation” (or boycott) of British goods. They were relatively recent arrivals to town, and they were Scottish. Since March, after the Boston Massacre, there were no soldiers patrolling the town, and in May a mob led by a New London ship’s captain had tarred and feathered a Customs officer named Owen Richards.

The McMasters apparently communicated to Whig leaders that they were willing to compromise, and stayed in town. But on 19 June, a mob appeared at their shop (apparently without Dr. Young) and tore down their sign. Patrick was the only one home, so the people dragged him out and put him into a cart with a barrel of pine tar. As he was rolled around Boston, McMaster fainted, prompting a stop at an apothecary shop. According to Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton:
[McMaster] fainting away from apprehension of what was to befall him, they spared him this ignimony, and contented themselves with leading him thro’ the town in the Cart to Roxbury, where they turned him out, spiting upon him, & otherwise contemptuously & rudely treating him.
The merchant promised not to return to Boston. (That evening, a mob attacked Hulton’s home in Brookline.)

The fact that McMaster had fainted was clearly one factor in the mob’s leniency. He probably also benefited from deference to his class as a gentleman (most victims of such attacks were working-class). Furthermore, he may not have seemed like quite the right target for tar and feathers. Almost all the other victims of such attacks in Massachusetts were low- and mid-level employees of the Customs service. The McMasters had no connection to that branch of the Treasury.

McMaster wrote an account of his ordeal, dated 27 June 1770, which Nicolson reprints with his article. The merchant named three men among his attackers. One was John Ballard, who administered the oath in which the Scotsman swore not to come back to Boston. Ballard also ran a wharf that the McMaster brothers used for unloading their goods from Britain; his motivation for treating a customer this way is unclear.

Another assailant McMaster named was “Eliga Story.” Could that have been Dr. Elisha Story? It seems unusual for a genteel doctor to have been part a tar-and-feathers mob. Then again, McMaster might not have named Story as one of the mob’s leaders, merely as one of the few faces he’d recognized.

Dr. Story was born in 1743 to William Story, a local Customs official whose own house was mildly mobbed during the Stamp Act protests of 1765; after William’s career in the royal bureaucracy stalled, he retired to Ipswich and became a firm Whig. Dr. Story was also a son-in-law of John Ruddock, the “big man” of the North End. The doctor participated in the North End Caucus and helped to patrol the docks to ensure the East India Company tea would not be landed. I’ve seen his appointments book at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and he cleared his schedule in the week leading up to the Boston Tea Party. A few months after that event, Dr. Story moved to Marblehead, where he remained until his death in 1805.

As for Patrick McMaster’s fate after the war, Beamish Murdoch’s A History of Nova Scotia states:
About christmas, 1797, a small schooner was lost on the bay of Fundy shores, near Wilmot. Three mutilated dead bodies were found on the bank, and three others who had been frozen to death in the woods after escaping from the water. Mr. Patrick McMaster, a merchant of Halifax, was one of the three who had been drowned...
(I put that last bit in partly so I could include the name “Beamish Murdoch.”)

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