Yesterday I quoted a story from George R. T. Hewes that was published in Traits of the Tea Party in 1835.
It described how he saw a British soldier he called “Kelroy” mug a woman on Queen Street in Boston and steal some clothing from her. Hewes said he followed the soldier, got the clothes back by threatening to expose his crime, and then returned those goods to the woman.
I tried various ways to test Hewes’s story:
- Was the action he described reasonable? Hewes said he followed the soldier from Queen Street (now Court Street) to the Common, south along Tremont, then east across town to Wheeler’s Point near Fort Hill. That’s a plausible route, especially for someone who wanted to avoid crowds on the main streets.
- Was there a “barracks on Wheeler’s Point,” also known as Windmill Point? The 29th Regiment was housed in several buildings around Boston in 1768-70, including some in the South End. But I haven’t found a specific reference to a barracks in that neighborhood.
- Was there “a notice of the assault in the papers,” as Hewes recalled? I couldn’t find one, though I may not have searched for the right terms. The Boston Whigs described army misbehavior through late 1769 in a series of dispatches to newspapers in other towns called “The Journal of the Times.” Boston newspapers published those reports weeks after the events they described, and that timing doesn’t fit Hewes’s story.
- Did a “Capt. Cobb” live in West Boston? I’ve found references to a sea captain named Cobb going in and out of Boston harbor, but I haven’t found him as a homeowner. It’s not clear from the story whether the woman was a relative, boarder, or house servant; either way, her presence was probably not recorded.
Hewes’s story gains a clear moral only in its second act. On the evening of 5 Mar 1770, he was in the crowd around sentry Pvt. Hugh White at the Customs house. Cpl. William Wemys led out a squad of grenadiers as reinforcements. According to Hewes:
His old acquaintance, Kelroy,…was one of the guard. “Get out of the way!— get out of the way!”—he cried, as he pushed roughly by, and dealt his old friend Hewes a pretty severe recognition with his gun, in the shoulder, as he left him.The violence escalated until the soldiers shot into the crowd, the event dubbed the Boston Massacre. Hewes and other witnesses claimed to see Pvt. Mathew Kilroy “running his bayonet into the brains of one of the dead or wounded”—most likely ropemaker Samuel Gray. In the morning, people saw dried blood on Kilroy’s bayonet. Other witnesses said that both Kilroy and Gray had both been part of the ropewalk brawl three days before.
That accumulation of evidence led jurors to conclude that Kilroy was more guilty than most of his fellow soldiers. He was one of the two men convicted of manslaughter, potentially a capital crime. And the lesson of the story Hewes told in 1835, if we can believe it, is that Kilroy had been a bad ’un all along.
TOMORROW: Seeking Mathew Kilroy’s voice.