Q: What made Boston such a hotbed of unrest and eventually the seat of open rebellion in the colonies?In fact, Boston and Massachusetts as a whole had a large anti-Irish English population. Eighty-five percent of the provincial population was English, according to Jon Butler’s Becoming America; less than ten percent was Irish, Scottish, and Welsh combined. Boston society was much less welcoming to non-English immigrants than Philadelphia, New York, Newport, and Charleston, the other four big American ports. Check out the story of young Hector McNeill’s arrival to see how Bostonians welcomed people from Ireland, even Protestants of Scottish extraction.
A: The fact that Boston had a large anti-English Irish population was not the least of the factors involved in Boston’s radical temperament. . . .
That there often were brawls between soldiers and civilians should have surprised no one, since many Bostonians were Irish and the soldiers came to the city directly from serving in restive Ireland.
There were definitely some Irishmen in the crowd on King Street, including victim Patrick Carr and witness Charles Conner, as explained by the latter’s testimony. There were also a few established businessmen from Ireland, such as John Field and James Forrest. Boston’s Irish population was big enough to start a mutual-aid society—but it was excluded enough to need one.
Carr’s presence among the Massacre victims allowed John Adams to characterize the mob on King Street as “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and out landish jack tarrs.” Of course, as a defense attorney he was highlighting the elements of that crowd that seemed most dangerous and expendable. Adams could make that argument because he knew the Suffolk County jury was prejudiced against all those other parts of the population.
The Smithsonian Q & A book misses the major fact that the greatest concentration of Irishmen on King Street that night were the soldiers themselves. Just look at their names:
- Cpl. William Wemys
- Pvt. James Hartigan
- Pvt. William McCauley
- Pvt. Hugh White
- Pvt. Mathew Kilroy
- Pvt. William Warren
- Pvt. John Carroll
- Pvt. Edward Montgomery (misnamed as “Hugh” in the local legal record, adding an extra touch of Hibernianism)
There are lots of other errors in this Smithsonian Q & A book. Page 26 says that “ten comrades” joined the sentry on King Street, for example, while page 27 says that “seven soldiers” were tried for the shootings; neither figure is correct. But the assumption that the fabled Irish-American dominance of Boston began in the late 1700s is the biggest error, at least in the section about the Revolution in New England, and apparently original to this book.