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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Thursday, March 19, 2009

“The Cause of His Being Assaulted”

As a foretaste of my presentation at Longfellow National Historic Site this evening at 6:30, here’s an item from the 6 Oct 1774 New York Journal, reporting news from Providence, Rhode Island, datelined 24 September:

We hear from Bristol, that on Tuesday, night last [i.e., 20 Sept], William Vassal, Esq; of that place, in returning home with his Lady from a visit, was assaulted by a number of men, who threw stones at his chaise, which they much injured, and attempted to stop the carriage; but having a fleet horse, he got safe home, and next morning set out for Boston.—

He was suspected by some to be unfriendly to the liberties of America, which we are told was the cause of his being assaulted.
Vassall was suddenly unpopular with his neighbors because in mid-1774 the London government had appointed him to the Massachusetts Council, which had until then been an elected body. Because of the writ of mandamus that named those men, the new body was called the “mandamus Council” or, by Patriots, the “new-fangled Council.”

It’s a bit odd that Vassall was named to that Council because by 1774 he was living mostly in Rhode Island, on his second wife’s estate. The ministers in London probably didn’t know that. They just knew that he was rich, Anglican, and loyal to the Crown.

Which was also apparently enough for people in Rhode Island to stone William Vassall’s chaise. After all:
  • The Massachusetts Council wasn’t really their concern.
  • He had already refused the appointment, and never attended a Council meeting.
By this date, in fact, Gov. Thomas Gage had written to London about a replacement for Vassall. What name did he have in mind? That’s one thing I’m going to talk about this evening.

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