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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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Tea Party Rumor Reaches Brookfield

Today I braved the roads outside the American Antiquarian Society again—twice!—to look at documents and attend a lecture. And what have I learned? Well, if one asks a question from underneath the center of the dome above the reading room, the lecturer can barely hear it. However, questions asked more softly from seats further away, on the edge of the dome, are perfectly audible.

Oh, yeah, there was an interesting document, too. It came from Joseph Gilbert (1733-1776), a farmer in Brookfield, Massachusetts, who was active in town government and the local militia. When he died, he held the rank of colonel.

Daniel Waldo (1724-1808) was a Boston merchant until 1775. (This is a different Daniel Waldo from the one who told a story about George Washington.) After the war, he moved to Worcester, probably because his wife was a Salisbury, from one of that town’s leading business families. His portrait shown here, by Denmark-born artist Christian Gullager, is now in the Worcester Art Museum. In 1773, it appears Waldo might have been one of the principal purveyors of goods out to Gilbert and his neighbors, their contact with Boston’s merchant community.

On 22 Dec 1773, Gilbert wrote to Waldo—or “Waldow,” as he rendered it in his frequently phonetic spelling. Brookfield had heard big news about the Boston Tea Party, but some disturbing rumors had followed:

We have a Current Report that the Past friday teas is all throd into the Dock By a Number of Indians from Diffrint parts of the Countery and all Destroyed &C[.] if true We are very glad———

But of Late there is a Nother Report which Surprises us that Is the marchents of Boston has privately Convaied sd Tea a whay and are Determind to sell the same & have filled thee same Chists whith thare old mustea tea hay Chafe & such Like on purpos to mak a profitt to them selves & Decve the Cuntrey.

Can this Be so[?] I Cannot Belive it[.] if true I say no more In your favr nor Can any But Bid a Due to you and all your prosidings[.] pray send me a Line By the next post the Truth of the matter Dont faill & you oblige your frind & homil S[ervan]t

Joseph Gilbert

PS. This Last Report is Indousterisly spreding By your Enemyes throw the Cuntery that it stands you In hand to Clear up the matter for if true the Cuntery will not stand by you[;] if not true they Will Resque thear Lives & fortuens in your Care
And Gilbert wrote yet another postscript vertically beside the letter:
We Have a Town meating Worned to be on nex mondy at one O Clock that make it [word ripped away but obviously something like “important”] that Wee should know the Sartinte of this matter Befor that
Which confirms that it’s not just a modern tactic to spread completely false rumors when it looks like your political opponents are winning. Since the friends of the royal government were in the minority and controlled few newspapers or town meetings, we don’t see as many of their rumors as we see from the Whigs. But obviously they resorted to the tactic as well.

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