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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Friday, August 28, 2009

Roland Cotton’s Reward

The 27 Sept 1753 Boston News-Letter carried this advertisement from Roland Cotton of Woburn:

WHEREAS, some malicious Persons have of late violently broken into two small Houses belonging to me the Subscriber, at Woburn; have destroyed the Windows and Shutters, &c. and have stolen sundry small Things out of the same; and have cut Holes in the Bottom of my Fishing-Boat, and have with Stones sank her to the Bottom of the Pond: And whereas on the first Instant [i.e., of this month] some Person or Persons (suppos’d the same Gang) went into my Stable, and dangerously wounded my riding Horse in one of his Eyes:

IF any Person will inform of any one or more that have been guilty of any one of the Enormities aforesaid, that so he or they may be brought to Justice, shall be entituled to ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS from the Subscriber.
Roland Cotton.
September 21. 1753.
This sort of mob attack was a colonial community’s way of telling a gentleman he was unwelcome. They couldn’t assault his person, but they could damage his property. Several years earlier the town had chosen not to reelect Cotton to the Massachusetts General Court, but this sustained vandalism shows that by 1 Sept 1753 he’d completely lost his neighbors’ respect.

Reading between the lines of Samuel Sewall’s history of Woburn makes it apparent that Roland Cotton had not only spread rumors about the Rev. Edward Jackson fathering Kezia Hincher’s illegitimate child, but had also manufactured the evidence for those rumors—most likely paying Hincher to either point her finger at Jackson or to keep quiet about the real father. And suddenly in August 1753, his neighbors all knew what he had done.

TOMORROW: Meanwhile, at Kezia Hincher’s home...

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