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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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

“Hewes, who wanted nothing but justice”

With the Boston Massacre anniversary and reenactments coming up, I’m giving the writs of assistance a short rest in favor of more violent events.

The first tale comes from long-lived shoemaker George Robert Twelves Hewes (shown here, courtesy of C.U.N.Y.), in his second memoir of life in pre-Revolutionary Boston. In 1835 he told amanuensis Benjamin Bussey Thatcher about an encounter with a British soldier sometime between late 1768 and early 1770:

One moonshiny night, (as he describes it) Hewes was passing the Town House, (now City Hall [now the Old State House Museum]) when he noticed a woman turning up Prison Lane, or Queen Street—both names then given to what is now Court Street.

A soldier followed her; and Hewes’s curiosity was excited to watch the movements of the “red coat.” He walked behind him softly in the shade, and presently saw him overtake the woman, and deal her a blow with his fist, that felled her. He then, with a violent haste, stripped her of her bonnet, ‘cardinal,’ muff and tippet, and, having completed this achievement, started off on a run.

Hewes followed him up Prison Lane, and down Tremont Street, past the whole length of the Common, to the barracks on Wheeler’s Point (out of Sea Street.) There the soldier went in.

Hewes called there the next morning, and called for Mr. “Kelroy;” having made up his mind that he knew the fellow. He came out, and Hewes charged him with the outrage boldly. Kelroy persisted in denying it, till Hewes, threatening to complain of him to the General, turned to leave him; and then he called him back, and gave up all the things.

Hewes, who wanted nothing but justice, concluded not to report him. He afterwards looked up the woman, by the aid of a notice of the assault in the papers, and found her at Capt. Cobb’s, in New (now West) Boston. She did not so much as thank him for the property which he returned to her.
Was Hewes’s memory accurate? He told this story sixty-five or more years after the event, when there was no one around to contradict him. Some details in his other stories are surprisingly accurate, but a few (especially reflecting on his role) are contradicted by contemporaneous sources.

TOMORROW: The rest of the story.

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