There are only sparse records about Boston’s town criers, even though they were licensed by the selectmen, as I described yesterday. I think that’s because they were essentially private businessmen, making announcements for whoever would pay them, rather than public officials.
John Tucker was Boston’s crier from before 1688 to his death in 1695. Historian Annie Haven Thwing reported that he applied for the job with two qualifications:
- “having been educated unto letters,” so he could keep records as the law demanded. (Though Charles Prosser, the New York crier in 1766, was unable to sign his name.)
- “being weake in Body,” so he needed a job with no heavy lifting, or else he might become a charity case for the town.
On 13 Nov 1753, the Boston selectmen made the following appointment:
Voted, that Mr. John Jenkins be and here by is appointed public Cryer within the Town of all money Goods & Things lost, & he is ordered to keep an exact account of all such Money Goods & Things he shall Cry the time when and the person that shall employ him to cry the same and return such account to the Town Clerk once in three months.Alas, there were at least two men named John Jenkins active in Boston at this time. One was baptized at Christ Church on 11 June 1727, the son of Robert and Elizabeth Jenkins, which would make him twenty-six when the selectmen made their appointment.
On 25 July 1748, one John Jenkins married a widow named Prudence (Marion) Taylor at Christ Church. They had a growing family: Elizabeth (1750), John (1753), Jeremiah (1755), Lewis (1757), and Prudence (1759).
Another John Jenkins and his wife Sarah had children Benjemin (1759) and Mary (1762) baptized at Christ Church. And there were also couples named John and Mary Jenkins in Boston slightly before and after this period, attending other churches.
In addition, in 1746 the selectmen refused John Jenkins of Paddy’s Alley from having a license to sell liquor. In May 1763 a John Jenkins was one of the “Town House Watch.” And in 1765 and 1766 a John Jenkins was elected one of Boston’s official “Cullers of Staves.”
So I’m not sure which John Jenkins was the town crier. But he filled the job for over a decade, until 7 May 1767. Then, as the Boston Gazette reported:
Thursday Morning Mr. Jenkins the Town-Cryer fell down just as he was going out to cry Fish, and died instantly.The young printer John Boyle recorded that Jenkins was still “in his yard” at the time.
The selectmen had already appointed another crier, back on 20 Feb 1765:
Thomas Webber apply’d to the Selectmen for their approbation of him as a public Cryer in this Town, and he was accordingly approbated.The next town crier appointment that Thwing noted came in 1782, so Webber may thus have held the job through the turbulent Revolutionary years. However, I haven’t found his name in connection with the many political events of the period. As a “common cryer,” he may well have acted as a “common carrier” today, staying neutral about the content of his announcements.
(The photo above shows Bill Turberfield, town crier of Ledbury in England, and was taken this past April by Pigsaw.)