On 1 Mar 1775, a group of middling-class Boston activists sent a letter to the Sons of Liberty in New York, asking to set up a regular correspondence so as to share news and “contradict the many infamous lies which are propagated by the Enemies of our Country.”
Three of those Bostonians are well known to the authorities at Boston 1775: silversmith Paul Revere, printer Benjamin Edes, and decorative painter Thomas Crafts, Jr.
The other three were also active in the Patriot movement:
- Joshua Brackett, proprietor of the Cromwell’s Head tavern on School Street.
- schoolmaster Joseph Ward (in Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, Esther Forbes misidentified him as a distiller).
- Thomas Chase, whose South End distillery stood next to Liberty Tree.
The Bostonians asked to set up a correspondence with their counterparts in New York so as to share news and “contradict the many infamous lies which are propagated by the Enemies of our Country.” They added a postscript about Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie’s recent unsuccessful raid on Salem:
Enclosed you have an account of the late Expedition which terminated to the honour of Americans. In addition to the secrecy with which the maneuvre to Salem was conducted, we inform you that three persons were occasionally at the castle on Saturday afternoon and were detained there till 10 o’clock on Monday lest we should send an Express to our brethren at Marblehead and Salem.When that letter, now in the John Lamb Papers at the New-York Historical Society, was printed in Elbridge Goss’s 1891 biography of Revere, there was one small error. Instead of saying “three persons,” Goss’s transcription said “these persons.”
While writing her biography of Revere, Forbes interpreted “these persons” to refer to the men who had signed the letter, including the silversmith. At the time Revere was leading an effort to gather information about the army, so she concluded that he and his colleagues had gone to Castle William to spy on the troops. Later she fictionalized the same scene by adding her young hero Johnny Tremain, but then removed those pages from her final manuscript.
The letter to the New Yorkers is correctly transcribed in David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride, where I first read about this mixup years ago. What’s more, the word “occasionally” in eighteenth-century usage implies that the three people detained at the fort just happened to be there on business rather than to be spying on the army. Since the letter offers no first-hand details about being held at the Castle, we can feel certain that none of those three men were Revere or his colleagues (or Johnny Tremain).