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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Monday, April 28, 2008

Thomas Walker Seeks Help with Health Care Costs

On 25 Feb 1774, shipwright Thomas Walker (not to be confused with British army drummer Thomas Walker) delivered a petition to Boston’s selectmen, describing himself as “a very great Sufferer by the Barbarous Firing of the Soldiers of the 29th. Regiment upon the Inhabatents of this Town on the Memorable fifth of March 1770”—i.e., the Boston Massacre.

Walker doesn’t appear on the list of dead or wounded from that event. Instead, he really wrote on behalf of his teen-aged apprentice, for whom he had taken legal responsibility:

His Apprentice Christopher Monk then in the siventyth [i.e., seventeenth] Year of his Age, havng been at that time Dangerously wounded by a Bullett passing through his Lungs, Whereby you Petitioner besides loosing the most Valuiable Part of his Apprentices Time, was Obliged to surport him, and pay for his Nursing, which was a very Expence, and has also the Sergen’s Bill amountg. to One Hundred & Eighteen pounds five shillings, & four pence lawfull Money now laying against him, and altho the Surgeon has generously consented to give in his whole Charge for Dressing and Attendance, and to take only what the Medicenes amounts to charged at the Usal rate, yet this is more than yr. Petitioner us able to Pay without greatly Straitning himself and Family.

He Therefore Humbly Prays that you would take into Consideration, the Great share of that Public Calamity which has fallen to his Lott, that you would Commerate his Circumstances and grant him that Relief which your Wisdom and Generosity to a Distressed fellow Citizeon whose Missfortunes are not owing to any Crime or Indiscretion in him, or in his Aforesaid Apprentice shall point Out.
Walker signed this petition, but someone else had written it out for him. The matter appeared on the agenda for Boston’s 14 March town meeting.

That meeting came just after the anniversary of the Massacre, commemorated in 1774 by an oration from John Hancock (shown above). Unlike previous years’ orators, Hancock specifically mentioned Monk. Addressing the “bloody butchers” in the royal government who had supposedly instigated that shooting, Hancock declared:
surely even your obdurate hearts must shrink, and your guilty blood must chill within your rigid veins, when you behold the miserable Monk, the wretched victim of your savage cruelty. Observe his tottering knees, which scarce sustain his wasted body ; look on his haggard eyes; mark well the death-like paleness on his fallen cheek, and tell me, does not the sight plant daggers in your souls?

unhappy Monk! cut off in the gay morn of manhood, from all the joys which sweeten life, doomed to drag on a pitiful existence, without even a hope to taste the pleasures of returning health! yet Monk, thou livest not in vain; thou livest a warning to thy country, which sympathizes with thee in thy sufferings; thou livest an affecting, an alarming instance of the unbounded violence which lust of power, assisted by a standing army, can lead a traitor to commit.
Despite such ringing rhetoric, however, the town meeting responded to Walker’s petition like this: “it was moved that the Petition be dismissed, and it was accordingly dismissed.”

TOMORROW: What Boston did for Christopher Monk instead.

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