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, September 21, 2011

John Hodgson, court transcriber and bookbinder

Here is the advertisement for printer John Fleeming’s most famous publication: the transcript of the trial of soldiers after the Boston Massacre. Fleeming advertised that pamphlet on 27 Dec 1770, though it wasn’t available until 21 January.

The man who transcribed the proceedings was John Hodgson, an immigrant from Scotland like Fleeming. By the end of the trial his hands were so tired that he couldn’t get down Robert Treat Paine’s summary arguments for the prosecution. Some people—Richard Palmes, John Adams—complained that the printed transcript was inaccurate. But trial transcriptions were almost unheard of in America then, and Hodgson created the best record we have of that important event.

Isaiah Thomas later included Hodgson on his list of Boston booksellers, saying he had opened a shop on Marlborough Street (part of the town’s central artery) in 1762:

Hodgson…was bred to bookbinding in Scotland, and became a good workman. He was chiefly employed in this business, but sold a few books. By permission of the court, he took, in short hand, the trial of the soldiers who were concerned in the massacre at Boston, on the evening of the 5th of March 1770.
In the 2 Jan 1764 Boston Evening-Post, Hodgson advertised that he “Binds Books of all Kinds, gilt or plain,” and also “sells Books, Stationary, Plays, &c. &c.”

In October 1765, Hodgson was one of three trustees for the weaver Elisha Brown when he declared bankruptcy in a wave of insolvencies. Three years later, during a dispute over turning the Manufactory into barracks for the British army, Brown and his family defied the royal authorities by refusing to leave that building. By that point Hodgson was working for a bookseller and printer on the other side of the political divide.

According to Thomas, Hodgson “gave up his shop in 1768, and was, afterward, employed by John Mein,” yet another arrival from Scotland. Mein managed a bookstore, and partnered with Fleeming in publishing the Boston Chronicle. He was a loud and cutting opponent of the local Whigs, and in late 1769 a crowd of angry businessmen drove him out of town. Hodgson published one short letter in the 26 October Chronicle about that small riot, supporting Mein.

Eventually Hodgson went back out on his own, announcing in the 30 July 1772 Massachusetts Spy that he had moved into “the shop Mr. John Greenlaw lately improved.” His ad in the 18 Oct 1773 Boston Post-Boy says:
Bookbinding in its various Branches.

Hereby informs the Public,
That he carries on his Business of Bookbinding at his Shop, near Mr. Philip Freeman, jun. near LIBERTY-TREE.

ANY Orders Gentlemen in Town or Country may choose to favour him with, in the above Branch, he promises to execute as neat as any London Binding, and on the most reasonable Terms.

N.B. Gentlemens Libraries, or a single Book, regilt, cleaned and made look as well as new.—All Orders from the Country shall be strictly attended to.
TOMORROW: John Hodgson and the coming of war.


poyklr said...

Has a copy of the transcript of the trial ever been found? According to Zobel...at least as of 1970, none has ever been located.

J. L. Bell said...

No handwritten transcript has been found, to my knowledge. There’s a tantalizing hint in Richard Palmes’s complaint about the published transcript that some record—perhaps Hodgson’s, perhaps attorneys’ notes—was available for viewing in 1771. But since then, no.

On the other hand, a few years ago Judge Zobel and I were surprised to read that the original of Capt. Thomas Preston’s complaint published in London had surfaced at auction after 230+ years. Though Preston told Bostonians that he had been misquoted, that document shows he hadn’t been. So some papers may yet appear.