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, April 28, 2009

“A Stop to All Credit Was Expected”

If you haven’t already read the fourth-quarter 2008 issue of Massachusetts Banker magazine (and I know you’ve been busy), you can download a copy here. It’s 4.9 MB, but some of those bytes consist of my article “A Bankruptcy in Boston, 1765.”

Nathaniel Wheelwright was one of Boston’s leading businessmen in the early 1760s: a merchant, wharf owner, supplier of specie to the British army, and backer of financial notes for people of all classes. He had married into the wealthy Apthorp family, and was the father of three young sons. To quote myself:

Then, in January 1765, Wheelwright suddenly stopped honoring his debts. There is no clue about what exactly prompted this decision, but its consequences were staggering. Governor Francis Bernard reported to London: “This was like an earthquake to the town; numbers of people were creditors, some for their all. Every one dreaded the consequences; lesser merchants began to fail; a stop to all credit was expected and a general bankruptcy was apprehended for a time.”
Eventually this financial crisis caught up several men who might be familiar to Boston 1775 readers: William Molineux, John Scollay, John Rowe, and especially Dr. Joseph Warren, whom Thomas Hutchinson as probate judge assigned to administer Wheelwright’s tangled estate. The repercussions of that crisis, I argue, helped to increase Bostonians’ anxieties about the Stamp Act later in 1765.

Check out Massachusetts Banker for the whole story. I wrote that article in a previous financial quarter, of course, but it seems to have only become more timely.

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