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, April 29, 2008

Passing the Hat for Christopher Monk

Yesterday I wrote about how shipwright Thomas Walker had asked the town of Boston for money to pay for the care of Christopher Monk, his apprentice wounded during the Boston Massacre of 1770. On 14 Mar 1774, the Boston town meeting turned down Walker’s request.

But that wasn’t because of lack of compassion. Rather, Bostonians had already provided a sizeable amount of cash for young Monk’s care through a voluntary collection after John Hancock’s oration about the Massacre on 5 Mar 1774 in the Old South Meeting-house (thumbnail shown here, courtesy of Prof. Jeffery Howe’s scrapbook of Georgian architecture).

The oration was also a legal town meeting, and Boston’s records say:

Upon a Motion made Voted, that there be a Collection made in this Meeting, for Mr. Christopher Monk, a young Man now languishing under a Wound receiv’d in his Lungs, by a Shot from [Capt. Thomas] Preston’s Bloody Party of Soldiers on 5th. March 1770.

A Collection for Mr. Monk was made accordingly, which amounted to the Sum of Three Hundred and Nineteen Pounds 13/3 old Tenor, & the same by Order of the Town, was lodged with the Select Men for the Use of the said Monk.
On 9 March this note appeared in the minutes of the selectmen’s meetings:
A Collection was made by the Town at their meeting on the 5 of March Instant for Christopher Monk of Forty two pounds twelve Shillings & 4d. which by Order of the Town was deposited with the Selectmen for the use of said Monk—The Selectmen having determined to deliver the same to him at twelve different times, the whole was lodged with Deacon [Timothy] Newell for that purpose, who has made him one of these Monthly payments.
How did the collection manage to shrink from £319 to £42 in four days? The first sum was calculated in “old Tenor,” or the devalued local currency, and the 9 March total was probably in real money. Wikipedia has a brief description of the fall of the Massachusetts pound over the 1700s. It says that after 1759 new money was worth ten times the “Old Tenor,” so the selectmen might actually have collected more for Monk since the night of Hancock’s speech.

It’s also interesting that the selectmen didn’t trust Monk—or, more likely, Walker—to handle the whole £42 at once, and doled it out over the full year.

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