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, March 03, 2009

Dueling Depositions about the 5th of March

Yesterday I quoted from Edward Crafts’s deposition, dated 17 Mar 1770, about what he’d heard from a British corporal named “McCan.” Crafts was testifying about his encounter with soldiers in the hours shortly after the Massacre:

on Monday evening, the fifth instant [i.e., this month], between 11 and 12 o’clock, Mr. Joseph Ayers [Eyres] met me at my gate, and I asked him where he was going. He answered, “To call Mr. Thomas Theodore Bliss to attend at the Council-chamber, to give evidence of the Captain’s giving the soldiers orders to fire on the inhabitants.”

On leaving Mr. Bliss’s door, there passed by us two corporals with about twenty soldiers, with muskets and fixed bayonets; and on their observing our moving towards the Town-house [shown here], the soldiers halted, and surrounded us, saying we were a pack of damn’d rascals, and for three coppers they would blow our brains out.

One of the corporals (viz. Eustice), gave orders for one-half the soldiers to cock, and the rest to make ready. On which we told them, we had nothing to say to them, but were on other business. The corporal, Eustice, struck Mr. Haldan, then in company, and turning to me, aimed a blow at my head with his firelock, which I took upon my arm, and then, with all his might, he made a pass at me, with his fixed bayonet, with full intent to take my life, as I thought. This I also parried with my naked hand. Then a soldier stepped out from among the rest, and presented his musket to my breast, and six or seven more at about eight or ten feet distance also presented.

Upon this I called Corporal McCan, who came to me with a drawn sword or cutlass in his hand, and pushed the gun from my breast, saying, “This is Mr. Crafts, and if any of you offer to touch him again I will blow your brains out.”

Corporal Eustice answered and said, “He is as damn’d a rascal as any of them.”

The next evening about dusk coming by Rowe’s barrack, I saw Corporal McCan who saved my life. He asked me if my arm was broke, I answered no. He said the gun with which Eustice struck me, was broke to pieces. And continued, “You would have been in heaven or hell in an instant if you had not called me by name. One man in particular, would have shot you, seven more presented at you!”
We also have a deposition from Cpl. Hugh McCann of the 29th Regiment about his memories of that night. He was interviewed on 28 July 1770 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where the unit had been sent after the Massacre. At the time, royal officials were trying to gather information about how badly Bostonians had treated the soldiers. That effort might even have been designed to respond directly to details in the town report that contained Crafts’s deposition, and that might have reshaped the soldiers’ testimony. In any event, here’s McCann’s recollection:
on the fifth of March at the South End of said Town, in the Evening, as he was walking near the Neck Guard, he was assaulted and struck by Mr. Pierpoint without provocation given and A Mob with him, and with much ado got away with his Life, that the said Pierpoint struck this Deponent with A Broad Bludgeon, and said that the Soldiers were Murdering the Towns People at the Town House, that he the said Pierpoint would never be satisfied while there was A Soldier in the Town.
So who is this “Mr. Pierpoint”? That was almost certainly Robert Pierpont, who owned land near the Neck and made many complaints about soldiers stationed nearby stealing his firewood. In fact, his attempt to serve a writ on an officer there in October 1769 had prompted a nearly fatal riot.

And what do you know? Pierpont also left a deposition about the night of 5 Mar 1770:
that [while he was] going to see a sick neighbor between the hours of seven and eight on Monday evening, the fifth current [i.e., this month], two soldiers armed, one with a broad sword, the other with a club, passed him near the hay market, going towards the town-house, seeming in great haste. In a few minutes they returned and hollowed very loud, “Colonel.”

Before the deponent reached Mr. West’s house, where he was going, they passed him again, joined by another, with a blue surtout, who had a bayonet, with which he gave the deponent a back-handed stroke, apparently more to affront than hurt him. On complaint of this treatment, he said, the deponent should soon hear more of it, and threatened him very hard
Pierpont was one of Boston’s two elected coroners in 1770, so he got to preside over the inquiries into some of the Massacre victims’ deaths—which involved collecting more depositions.

All that legal testimony is wonderful for historians, but it’s vital not to look at the complaints from just one side. As these documents show, almost everybody resented the other side’s actions, and told only part of the story.

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